McDonald’s Fries Reporters

Yesterday, McDonald’s announced that it was beginning the search for a fashion house to redesign its employees’ uniforms. And, like an expense-account cheeseburger, reporters just couldn’t resist.

The fast-food chain is in talks with a number of designers, ranging from hip-hop star P. Diddy to Ralph Lauren and even Giorgio Armani. That’s it — that’s the whole story. And while we here at CJR Daily like the idea of being served our McNuggets by youths dressed like the bad guys from “The Matrix,” we’re not sure this really qualifies as news — especially since nothing has actually happened yet.

Nonetheless, the story was picked up by dozens of outlets, including, the San Jose Mercury News and the Boston Globe.

Doubt that this story was carefully concocted by Ronald McDonald’s press handlers? Look no further than the nearly identical sound bites dispensed to reporters by various execs involved in the deal. Reuters quoted Steve Stoute, head of the branding firm Mickey D’s has contracted with: “‘McDonald’s is acknowledging fashion is part of pop culture,’ Stoute said, adding that the uniforms ‘may have some elements that you see on MTV’ and may be able to be worn as street clothes during non-work hours.”

The Associated Press quoted McDonald’s spokesman Bill Whitman, who, not-so-coincidentally, sounded the same note: “It’s about taking the contemporary look and feel of our restaurants and embodied in our advertising and incorporating that into our employees’ business attire … The desire is to create uniforms that our crews would want to wear outside the restaurant environment.”

And the Chicago Tribune (in a story asking, “Would you like fashion with your fries?”) noted that “‘It would be pretty cool if our employees liked their uniforms so much that they would also want to wear them while they were not working,’ said McDonald’s spokesman Bill Whitman.”

But the award for turning non-news into free corporate PR goes to Mike Colias of the Associated Press, who included this passage in his piece:

The uniform plan is an extension of McDonald’s ongoing effort to shape its image as a hip, active brand. Healthier menu options and upgrading about 1,000, mostly older U.S. restaurants has helped McDonald’s grow same-store sales 25 consecutive months in the key U.S. market.

That echoes a June 15 article by AP reporter Dave Carpenter about how McDonald’s is trying to reinvent itself, in which he noted that “Same-store sales have increased for 25 straight months in the key U.S. market. … Snazzier new restaurants are part of the makeover; about 1,000, mostly older U.S. McDonald’s have been either renovated or rebuilt since 2002.”

Maybe it’s something in the Happy Meals? Perhaps it’s time for the AP to switch to Burger King.

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.