10th annual awards program recognizes leaders in entertainment, education, sports and business– strengthening communities
McDonald’s 365Black Awards are given annually to salute outstanding individuals who are committed to making positive contributions that strengthen the African-American community. This year’s honorees include: legendary recording artist and “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight; supermodel Beverly Johnson; education leader Dr. Steve Perry; executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox Kenny Williams; McDonald’s owner/operator Roland Parrish; teen entrepreneur Leanna Archer and youth environmentalist Charles Orgbon.
Hosted by award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson, this year’s awards show was held in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the annual Essence Music Festival.
“From the youngest CEO to ever open the NASDAQ to a stellar songstress, McDonald’s is proud to recognize this year’s recipients for positively shaping our communities each day,” said Rob Jackson, McDonald’s U.S. marketing director. “We are excited to share this historic ceremony with the consumers whose lives are impacted by the work of our honorees.”McDonald’s 365Black Awards launched in 2003 as an extension of the company’s 365Black platform, which celebrates the pride, heritage and achievements of African-Americans year-round. “McDonald’s is committed to being deeply rooted in the communities we serve 365 days a year, both inside and outside of our restaurants,” Jackson said. “We are committed to engaging with our neighbors and strive to continually create positive programs that bring social awareness to areas that are important to them.”
I spoke to Jackson about McDonald’s ongoing commitment to community service–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: McDonald’s has established a solid reputation as a community partner for decades; how does the company monitor the impact of your investment, especially this particular event?
Rob Jackson: I think the inspiration for the awards is a platform that comes from two areas: one is the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc. He envisioned McDonald’s as a community based business. While there is a corporate side many of our owner operators who own and operate our restaurants are from the communities. The insight from the start was steeped in the thought that if you’re a community business then you need to be integrated in that community; you need to give back to that community as a strategic initiative to build relationships. So that’s part of our
DNA and our heritage. As we evolved, that philosophy within the construct of our segmented marketing African American initiatives is deeply rooted in the community. That is a passion point and a communications strategy that many African Americans support. McDonald’s has throughout its history been involved in communities and with the rise of target marketing, equally being culturally sensitive. Our messages and our activities really speak to the African American communities where they are located.
Talk2SV: You have a unique advantage given your background in advertising, as it were, you functioned as one of those cultural engineers, architects of those culturally sensitive messages that are broad concept albeit they have deep roots.
Jackson: Absolutely and I think again, McDonald’s being a pioneer in the industry, in some ways; the rest of the world has caught up to McDonald’s when we talk about multi-culturalism. Mass marketing looks at the demographics and the evolution of the population basis, which I think McDonald’s understood being in a business of neighborhoods and communities. It allows us to see where your business is coming from, who is coming to your restaurants, and who is exchanging money for goods and services. So we’re able to effectively build based on the framework that we talked about: first, giving back to communities, being a community based business and understanding from a strategic standpoint how to leverage broader based messages, supplemented or complimented by target messages. This is part of the strength of our overall business and marketing philosophy.
Talk2SV: The title 365Awards would infer that we (consumers) can consistently recognize the essence of this award every single day. Is that accurate?
Jackson: Well, in two forms. As we evolved in philosophy along with our strategic messaging we found that McDonald’s is very unique in that many brands only recognize African Americans during Black History Month. We quickly recognized that our programming and our messaging, essentially our business and our relationship are 365 days-24/7; the kind of relationship we want to have with customers. We’re able to then develop a platform– 365 Black –which for me is very powerful because it implies a commitment and also an understanding. As a brand, we have to live up to that commitment that we set for ourselves to be 365; to have the appropriate insight, understanding, passion, compassion, and relevancy for this particular audience. It’s still an evolution giving back to the communities we serve.
Now we have our framework and a touch point in contemporary terms to engage our customer and from that came the 365 Black Awards. The
award is designed to recognize African Americans of stature who are doing great things; to give back to the community and that give is philanthropic. That give back could be from an emotional, social, political, legal, academic, educational framework: we look at these different categories and trends and try to find individuals who represent impressive levels of giving back. It is a type discovery because you may know the person from an iconic stand point but you might not know the complete story. We’ve evolved this message and part of our strategy to take it to TV is to inspire people to give back and to make a difference. It starts individually, goes collectively and then you have a movement. You have people who are sensitized to things that are important; for them to make a difference in their own community whether that’s the specific community in which they live or the broader community of which we all exist.
Talk2SV: How long does it take to recognize change and impact within communities; how do you know what works and what doesn’t work?
Jackson: I think not only from a messaging standpoint but also when we look at our food and the evolution of our menu to provide more nutritious alternatives. Many consumers rely on us each day to provide a meal source. As a brand we are obligated to put choices in front of them that also help them have a more holistic and nutritionally balanced experience; that’s something I’m really pleased about. Often, our industry (fast food) and our brand are associated with the things identified in the “food desert” but we also have oatmeal, egg whites breakfast sandwiches, salads and so forth.
As a marketing person– and as an African American– I’m proud of those steps. We can inform and educate those aspects within our community about making better choices– about what we eat– and you don’t have to change your habits. You can come to McDonald’s and still get value, get on your way to the next thing, and it’s a huge benefit. This is something we’re doing across the country not just in African American
communities. Also, we want to be a modern and contemporary brand and move beyond the traditional and expected kinds of ways in which brands engaged with African Americans. I go back to this idea of technology; we have roughly 14,000 restaurants in the United States and inversely each one of those restaurants has free wi-fi, something we don’t talk a lot about, we just do it.
MORE on Robert (Rob) Jackson:
A seasoned advertising/marketing veteran, Jackson currently serves as U.S. Marketing Director for McDonald’s USA. Jackson is specifically responsible for leading strategies and consumer engagement programs that generate system growth within the African American Consumer Market.
Before assuming this role, Jackson held numerous marketing positions including McDonald’s Regional Marketing Director for the Greater Chicago Region which operated more than 700 restaurants and generated more than $1.5 billion in annual system sales.
Prior to joining the Golden Arches in 2002, Jackson refined his marketing skills on the account service side of the business. His last agency position was with Burrell Communications, where he was Senior Vice President Client Service Director. During his time at Burrell, Jackson lead the development of African American integrated marketing and communications campaigns for Bacardi, Nationwide, ExxonMobil, McDonald’s, Polaroid, Ford Motor Company and many other national and regional brands. Early in his career, Jackson spent time at Bozell and Leo Burnett where he worked on assignments for United Airlines, Kraft and Alberto-Culver.
Outside of McDonald’s, Jackson is very active in the community and serves on the Board of Directors for the Centers for New Horizons, Chicago Youth Programs and the Southeast Chicago Commission – a neighborhood planning organization.
His favorite sandwich at McDonald’s is the Double Filet-o-Fish.
Jackson is a native of Washington, D.C. and holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Florida A&M University. Jackson is married to Felicia, and they have three children – Robert, Justin and Sydney.
McDonald’s USA, LLC, is the leading foodservice provider in the United States offering a variety of wholesome foods made from quality ingredients to more than 26 million customers every day. Nearly 90 percent of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by local businessmen and women. Customers can now log online for free at any of the 11,500 participating Wi-Fi enabled McDonald’s U.S. restaurants. For more information, visit http://www.mcdonalds.com, or follow us on Twitter (@McDonalds) and Facebook (Facebook.com/McDonalds) for updates on our business, promotions and menu items.