Stop into McDonald’s on a Saturday afternoon in suburban Chicago and you may happen upon Mary Dillon and her four kids grabbing a quick bite. The company’s executive vp and global cmo eats there several times a week—and sometimes twice on Saturdays. And not just because of the discount. As a busy mom with a demanding career who is also a triathlete Dillon says she appreciates the convenience the value and quality of McDonald’s meals especially the newer healthy options such as all-white meat nuggets and apple dippers.
As its chief marketer Dillon’s job is to translate McDonald’s brand attributes to the 56 million people in 118 countries who eat at the Golden Arches each day. She heads up a direct staff of about 40 people that forms the hub of the company’s marketing operation where she focuses on global marketing and research initiatives and orchestrates the work of local marketing leaders with their own separate staffs throughout the world.
And as a working mom she does it all with the help of a stay-at-home-husband Terry a former biochemist at Abbott Laboratories who now handles household duties while Dillon focuses on running McDonald’s marketing machine. It’s an arrangement that Dillon appreciates but realizes doesn’t work for everyone.
“I have all the flexibility in the world and most working parents don’t have that ” she acknowledges. “I don’t take it for granted. It may sound corny but people need to focus on their values what is important to them what is going to make them happy and when they figure that out and make their family tick around it more power to them.”
This year besides her family one of her top priorities has been bringing the Olympics sponsorship to life through programs such as McDonald’s Champion Kids in which 200 kids from 40 countries will travel to Beijing watch the Games meet the athletes and experience the history and culture of China. Then there’s The Lost Ring a web-based Alternate Reality Game featuring Olympic track and field champ Edwin Moses that has more than two million participants working together online in multiple languages and 100 countries that also will culminate in Beijing. The company is also bringing its best 1 200 Chinese employees and an additional 128 others from 34 countries to the games as part of its Olympic Champion Crew. The employees who competed for the honor in their local markets will serve as the face of the brand in McDonald’s four on-site restaurants serving athletes the media and the public—that is when they’re not touring China.
“We like to think about the Olympics under the heading of bringing people together because the Olympics brings people together from all over the world in sports excellence and we have the ability in our global scope to bring people together as well ” Dillon says.
The Olympics may be McDonald’s largest activation ever but for Dillon the games were only one item on the marketing platter. McDonald’s is also a major sponsor of the Euro Cup which this summer provided the opportunity to connect with a billion soccer fans.
Outside of sports moms and kids and healthy menu options are an important focus. This summer McDonald’s partnered with DreamWorks and Conservation International in global events for Happy Meals and “Kung Fu Panda” that brought the movie’s characters to life with live events action character toys and packaging. A website happymeal.com offered games and information about pandas.
Dillon formed the company’s first Global Moms Advisory Panel and continues to activate in the area of children’s well-being. “We are innovating as it relates to how busy families live their lives and how McDonald’s can play an important role and make healthy eating fun for kids ” Dillon says.
A Chicago native she graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in marketing and Asian Studies which no doubt has served her well with the Olympics sponsorship. She began her marketing career at PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats division in 1984 and except for four years as vp-retail marketing for Gardenburger spent her entire career there holding leadership positions across several categories including serving as the vp-marketing for Gatorade and Propel Fitness Water and eventually vp-marketing for Quaker Foods. She became president of the division in 2004.
Since she joined McDonald’s in 2005 Dillon has prioritized the use of consumer-based insights and research to drive marketing strategy that of course includes live events. A recent example besides the Olympics is this summer’s Big Mac jingle contest in which consumers re-created the iconic “Two all-beef patties special sauce…” tune and submitted their versions on MySpace. (The winner Jason Harper of Boynton Beach FL garnered more than 47 percent of 12 000 online votes. His jingle aired as part of a McDonald’s commercial in late July.)
That consumer connection is what gives Dillon her marketing kicks. “Everything in marketing starts with having a good strong understanding of what makes your consumer tick—their attitudes behaviors and actions—and really focusing on that ” she says. “When you can identify a need and then actually bring something to the marketplace and see it succeed it is gratifying and fun.”
Dillon balances family duties with a successful career and still has time for daily workouts that keep her in great physical shape. “I learned years ago that physical activity is something that helps me operate at my best ” she says. “You have to make it a priority.”
With all she has going on Dillon still takes time to mentor others looking to get ahead in the business. “People have done that for me in the past and it is important to keep doing that ” she says.