The McDonald's Sue T-Rex Sponsorship
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Holmes Report
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The McDonald's Sue T-Rex Sponsorship

The Field Museum asked McDonald’s to consider partnering in the purchase and unveiling of Sue, the largest, most complete, best-preserved T. rex fossil ever discovered.

Paul Holmes

In 1997, McDonald’s began to research possible programs that could serve as their “gift to the world for the millenium” (consistent with the brand and having possible reach to families across the country) when they were approached by The Field Museum.  The Museum asked McDonald’s to consider partnering in the purchase and unveiling of Sue, the largest, most complete, best-preserved T. rex fossil ever discovered.   Because the exquisite specimen was certain to provide valuable scientific information and joy to families for generations to come, McDonald's agreed that this would be the perfect way to celebrate the millenium. 
 
While the unveiling of Sue was expected to be a “must-see” media event, McDonald's involvement could easily have been overshadowed.  Burson-Marsteller worked with McDonald’s to create numerous McDonald's ownable programs that would: maximize the partnership, ensure positive McDonald's visibility and provide local markets with Sue-related tools.  To do this, McDonald’s created four different educational programs including: the McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab, the Colossal Fossil™ Education Kit distributed to over 60,000 teachers, making Sue a star in the "Ronald McDonald and the Amazing Thinking Machine™" school show, and taking casts of Sue on tour in the McDonald's "A T. rex Named Sue" traveling museum exhibit.
 
McDonald's worked with educational experts such as The Field Museum and Scholastic Inc., to create the McDonald’s education kits and school show, relying on their expertise in the field to provide the most appropriate content.  Burson-Marsteller worked with The Field Museum to determine the most appropriate locations to host the traveling exhibit based on research of exhibit space, museum specialty, ability to pay rental fees and ability to work in conjunction with a local McDonald's Co-op.
 
Prior to the unveiling, Burson-Marsteller conducted soft sounding with media to discern the appropriate time to announce the traveling exhibit, unveil the dinosaur and educate the media about McDonald's role. 
 
The soft sounding revealed that the tour story should be pitched prior to the unveiling, in order to educate reporters about the tour and McDonald’s involvement with Sue.  This ensured reporters’ understanding about McDonald’s initiatives and allowed reporters the luxury of pre-writing all or part of their stories before unveiling day.  It was also determined that a live, fully orchestrated press conference timed to coincide with national morning shows would drive excitement and coverage. Additionally we were encouraged to use McDonald's top spokesperson, CEO Jack Greenberg, to lend weight to the story and to serve as the only “non-scientist” spokesperson.  To ensure local markets had an angle, we included representatives from Boston, Honolulu, St. Paul and Los Angeles in the festivities.
 
Research also was done to determine which media to target.  Strong, positive coverage needed to be generated from McDonald’s involvement in the unveiling and exhibit tour.  Also, coverage would help ensure that McDonald’s customers knew about McDonald’s involvement in bringing Sue to their local museum.  So based on the objectives and research, McDonald’s determined the target audience to be kids and families, elementary school teachers, the science community, and the media.
 
The objectives identifed on a national level included building recognition for Sue as McDonald’s “gift to the world” for the millennim and increasing positive exposure of McDonald’s among kids, families, and educators.  On a local level, the objectives were to provide McDonald’s field with an impactful program for the new millennium, help increase restaurant traffic during the tour promotion time period, and to contribute to the community “trust bank.”
 
PLANNING
 
Planning for all Sue programs began in 1997, with a focus on integrating McDonald’s traveling exhibit story into unveiling day.  The challenge was make McDonald’s part of the Sue story while not being overly commercial and to excite the McDonald’s U.S. system about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
McDonald’s constantly communicated with their local counterparts who would host the traveling exhibit to determine their needs (e.g. marketing and PR materials) for a successful program.  A comprehensive Host Market Planning Guide was constructed, which provided the markets with all the requested information.  Burson-Marsteller also produced two b-rolls: one before the event focusing on the U.S. Tour and handed out as background, and one immediately following the unveiling highlighting the event and McDonald’s participation.   
 
Educational materials for teachers, students, and children were created to educate them about dinosaurs and Sue, while integrating the message of McDonald’s dedication to education.  McDonald’s has a history of creating successful education kits for teachers, as well as many successful Ronald McDonald education shows, and of these venues were good prospects for the Sue project.  All of these materials had specific information on Sue’s background, how she was discovered, and how she made her way to the Field Museum, enticing teachers and students to visit the Sue exhibit.
 
EXECUTION
 
Burson-Marsteller’s challenge was to make McDonald’s a visible part of the story without posting the golden arches all around the museum.  Several tactics were undertaken to weave McDonald’s news about the educational initiatives and U.S. tour into the unveiling day story. These tactics included bringing U.S. Tour market kid-ambassadors to Chicago to participate in the unveiling, making the education programs and tour story the focus of media pitching and messaging, and supplying b-roll heavily focused on the tour. Subtle branding on unveiling day such as children in the audience wearing Sue/McDonald’s T-shirts, education and tour mentions in countdown remarks at the unveiling, and high-profile participation by CEO Jack Greenberg generated awareness without making the company’s involvement appear overly commercialized.  
 
To accomplish this, Burson-Marsteller:
  • Arranged for the Boston and Hawaii representatives to be featured in the unveiling moment on stage with Chicago's Mayor Daley, and arranged for McDonald’s to be mentioned in the countdown remarks delivered by the Museum president.
  • Positioned CEO Jack Greenberg to the media as a key leader in bringing Sue to the Field Museum as McDonald’s gift to science education. This was successfully communicated through interviews at the event with CNN, CNNfn, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, National Public Radio, Univision, WGN News Chicago, WMAQ-TV (NBC Chicago) and Voice of America.
  • Conducted focused media pitching before, during and after the event.  Press kits created in partnership with The Field Museum were distributed to more than 200 media and included background information on McDonald’s partnership with The Field Museum, photos and fact sheets on McDonald’s “A T. rex Named Sue” traveling museum exhibit and the McDonald’s Fossil Preparatory Lab.
 
RESULTS:
 
Burson-Marsteller’s strategies and tactics resulted in a blockbuster program and an abundance of media coverage.  The media coverage generated an estimated 750 million impressions worldwide.  The message to the media was deemed successful after reviewing the quality of clips.  The clips reflected the message originally intended by McDonald’s as a generous corporation willing to give back to the community.  The coverage also reached a large audience, educating them about the Traveling Exhibit and Sue’s presence at the Field Museum. The Field Museum attendance grew from 1.2 million last year to 2.5 million this year, the second highest in the museum’s 108-year history.  It also became the No. 2 site visited in Chicago (up from No. 4) after Sue arrived.
 
Other markets, including Boston and Hawaii hosted successful travelling exhibit events.  The Sue exhibit at the Bishop Museum in Boston became the No. 1 travelling exhibit.  The local markets’ use of the Host Market Planning Guide that Burson-Marsteller developed helped elevate the program to a higher level, by the use of the banners, trayliners, and Sue posters that were provided in the guide.
 
The Sue T. rex education programs supporting the Sue Unveiling and Exhibit Tour proved to spark interest among teachers and students about the unveiling.   An estimated five million students and teachers watched the unveiling day Webcast which featured interviews with two McDonald's tour market representatives.   Educators were also polled shortly after the Colossal Fossil Education kits were sent out, and the results showed 95% of teachers rated the program excellent/good overall and 98% of teachers polled felt this fit into their plans well.
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