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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Media Organizations Should Be More Like McDonald's

In the January 11, 2009 Sunday New York Times' Business Section, an article on McDonald's is worth reading for a number of reasons. Newspapers especially might take note.

Entitled "The Happiest Meal: Hot Profits," the article by Andrew Martin related how McDonald's went through several years of declining revenues, questionable service and a public relations nightmare due to attacks from animal rights advocates like PETA and documentaries accusing McDonald's of contributing to the epidemic of obesity in America.

McDonald's over extended itself by creating thousands of new franchises and by offering products that people didn't want.

Due to their CEO, Jim Skinner who rose through the ranks, McDonald's is now one of only two companies in the food industry that made a profit last year. Shares reached their highest level in history last August - $67. Even with the stock market collapse, it's still only a few dollars below its all time high.

How did McDonald's do it?

According to the Times, McDonald's went back to basics - offering fewer products by all of a consistent high quality that people knew and wanted.

McDonald's also changed their availability and access - stores opening earlier, staying open later and offering white meat only chicken which Americans want - in addition to the usual burgers.

The company also made the restaurants cleaner and more attractive with a staff that was trained to provide better service.

How can media organizations learn from this?

Recent staff cuts at NPR might be a clue. Over the past few years, NPR expanded its range of programs in the hope that the public would accept them. But they didn't. And a downturn in corporate underwriting meant that NPR would have to kill two programs and lay off about 7% of its staff.

NPR's reputation was built on providing high quality news and information in a format that is accessible (radio) and unique (excellent journalism). When NPR deviated from that, the audience did not follow.

The same could be true of newspapers now laying off workers while attempting to attract new readers by offering their product online. It doesn't seem to be working.

The Toronto Globe and Mail has just offered buy-outs to 80 members of its staff - about 10% of its employees. Publisher Philip Crawley has said that 80 positions may still not be enough and more layoffs are possible.

Newspapers around the world are being faced with similar stark choices: lay off the most useful and experienced employees or run the risk of not surviving at all.

But McDonald's also had to downsize - closing thousands of franchises that it opened over the past years. But it seems to have found a route to success. It has, says the Times, "reinvented itself by putting quality ahead of expansion."

Memo to the editor: you want fries with that?

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