Research identified family involvement in education as an important issue in the NY Tri-State.  McDonald’s A+ Parents was developed to promote family involvement in education through an awareness campaign; an information booklet; and the A+ Parents essay contest.  Leveraging 600+ McDonald’s Restaurants, the Internet, local educators, and local media helped raise program awareness.  McDonald’s A+ Parents was a hit with the community and surpassed original objectives.  More than 3,000 essays were received, more than 65,000 information booklets, “How To Make A Difference In your Child’s Education,” were requested by educators and parents and 32.4 million total impressions were generated in Tri-State media outlets.

How can NY Tri-State McDonald’s Owners stand out in the community, take the lead in encouraging family involvement in education and demonstrate that McDonald’s and kids is just as much about education as it is Happy Meals?

The 220 NY Tri-State McDonald’s Owners who operate the more than 615 restaurants in 28 counties throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have always independently supported local educational initiatives as part their commitment to give back to the communities where they do business.  McDonald’s NY Tri-State education initiatives range from activities conducted by each McDonald’s Owner themselves, such as Crew scholarships, perfect attendance incentive coupons, and Ronald elementary school visits to major programs which have been developed and conducted by The MWW Group, such as the Arching Into Education Scholarship Program and the Check It Out Reading Program.  In as much that programs are educational in nature, McDonald’s Owners have always had a very difficult time “getting into the schools.”  It is no surprise that McDonald’s is viewed by most educational entities as extremely commercial.  The goal of The MWW Group was to develop a program that offered McDonald’s Owners an opportunity to “own” education in the NY Tri-State area; resonated with McDonald’s customers, key influencers, the education community, kids and parents; helped McDonald’s Owners reach parents in their community; and enabled Owners to frequent schools in their trading areas and be viewed as supporting educational initiatives in their communities.


Phase I:  What issues are important to the community?

MWW initiated a quantitative and qualitative research study of Tri-State consumers to identify important community issues, subject matters that resonated with consumers and those in which they would likely participate.  Approximately half of all respondents had children of school age.  Across all market segments, respondents frequently cited a need for “education programs” and participation if it “helps children,” is “good for community” and “family is involved.”  Respondents ranked "family programs" in the top 10 under-met community program needs and 82% said programs that enhanced parent/teacher relationships were important.  Consumers suggested that McDonald’s keep them informed on educational programs by posting information in the restaurants.

Family involvement in education was clearly an issue that resonated with consumers.  In fact, additional secondary research concluded that according to a 1999 PTA survey and National Commission on Children study, 91% of parents say it’s “extremely important” to be involved in their child’s school in order to get a quality education and 72% of students age 10 to 13 said they’d like to talk to their parents more about school work.  Further research indicated that community support is important to getting parents involved in their child’s education.

Phase II:  How can McDonald’s implement a program advocating family involvement?

Based on the research, MWW developed the McDonald’s A+ Parents Program -- an initiative to promote the importance of family involvement in education in the community through: 1) a publicity and in-store awareness campaign; 2) a free family involvement in education booklet for families and educators; and 3) the A+ Parents essay contest where children recognize parents, grandparents or guardians for being involved in their education.  To enhance the credibility of the program, McDonald’s partnered with the Partnership for Family Involvement in Education (PFIE), the U.S. Department of Education’s umbrella organization with the sole responsibility of advancing family and parent involvement in children’s education.

MWW wanted to ensure that A+ Parents would be well received and supported by schools and influencers in education.  MWW conducted a series of intensive focus groups with 30 Tri-State teachers in the public and private sector representing urban and suburban areas, and influencers in the education community (superintendents of schools and members of Boards of Education).  The focus groups provided valuable information on how to encourage teacher support and student participation; the most effective way to communicate with superintendents, principals, teachers and families; what is the best timing for the program; reactions to the program concept and each program element; and what other programs would be competing with A+ Parents in the schools.

Overall, teachers embraced the A+ Parents mission of promoting family involvement in education.  Teachers welcomed the A+ Parents essay contest since it could be easily incorporated into their curriculum and help make writing essays fun for students.  An issue that teachers mentioned was limited funding for class supplies.  Therefore, they suggested offering a $250 school grant for the winning student’s class as a great incentive to get teachers involved.  In addition, teachers suggested that we produce the “How To Make a Difference in Your Child’s Education” booklet in Spanish.  According to teachers, the best way to inform schools about the McDonald’s A+ Parents program, the essay contest and the free booklet was to distribute the information to school superintendents and school principals.


MWW leveraged the 600+ Tri-State McDonald’s Restaurants, the Internet, and a network of 1,700 local middle schools, area educators, and Tri-State media outlets to saturate the market and raise awareness for A+ Parents.  For consistency and recognition, MWW developed a graphic identity for A+ Parents and featured this logo on all in-store and in-school materials.  MWW initiated a top-down communications approach to inform schools.  PFIE posted information on their national web site and shared A+ information with their educator network.  Informational letters were distributed to all superintendents and A+ Parents program packets were sent to middle school principals which include a sample “How To Make A Difference in Your Child’s Education” booklet, a poster, A+ Parents nomination forms, and ways to incorporate the program into existing curriculum.  Teachers formatted the program information for easy duplication.

Six hundred McDonald’s Restaurants received an A+ Parents window poster, window decal, and tray liners featuring information from the “How To Make A Difference in Your Child’s Education” booklet.  A+ Parents nomination forms were available through the McFamily Activity Center information board.  The URL, which featured family involvement tips, a PFIE link and A+ Parents essay form, was featured on A+ restaurant signage and media materials.  MWW also created a special front door decal for each restaurant -- “This McDonald’s Restaurant supports education in our community” – to promote every restaurant’s support of education in the community.

The program was launched in conjunction with “National Parent Involvement Day” and MWW secured several broadcast interviews with local McDonald’s Owners and a third-party spokesperson to talk about the importance of family involvement.  MWW also executed a grassroots publicity campaign targeting local media outlets, and educator publications and web sites to promote the program components (launch, free booklet and family involvement tips).  The program budget was approx. $150,000.


McDonald’s A+ Parents was a hit with families and educators, and went beyond original objectives.  We attribute the success of the program to the teacher focus groups and the valuable input they provided.  Getting teacher buy-in early is an important lesson that we have applied to all McDonald’s programs; we are currently establishing an educator network to serve on the “Arching Into Education Council” -- a sounding board for all McDonald’s educational programs.

More than 3,000 A+ essays received:  MWW originally set a goal of 500 entries for the A+ Parents essay contest, a number based on essays received from Tri-State students for a recent national McDonald’s essay contest; that program received 4,000 applications nationwide.  Additionally, it was learned that a national History Channel essay contest received only 2,600 entries.

More than 7,400 unique web site visitors:  More than 7,400 people visited during the seven-week application drive (these visitors clicked around the site more than 81,400 times).

165,069 A+ booklet requests:  From publicity and a targeted letter campaign to principals and superintendents, to date more than 165,069 “How To Make A Difference In your Child’s Education” booklets have been requested and requests continue every day!  Due to the resounding response, MWW reprinted 250,000 more booklets to fulfill requests.  We also worked with McDonald’s Hispanic PR agency, The Vidal Partnership, to translate and print Spanish-language A+ Parents booklets, which Vidal distributed among schools in Hispanic neighborhoods.

10.8 million total audience reach in NY Tri-State media outlets:  The A+ Parents publicity campaign generated media coverage throughout the Tri-State area with a total audience reach of 10.8 million (32.4 million total impressions).
Recognition from leading educational groups:  McDonald’s Restaurant Owners signed an official compact with the U.S. Secretary of Education to “commit to family-friendly practices and will work with others to form partnerships that support children’s learning.”  Local McDonald’s Restaurants have been approached by the New York City Board of Education to get involved in Chancellor Harold Levy’s activities to promote family involvement in education.  Lastly, McDonald’s Owners are receiving personal recognition from educators about the success of the program in the schools and many McDonald’s Owners have received requests for information from schools in their local trading areas.