An attempt by fast food giant McDonald’s to help employees manage their finances has left a bad taste in workers’ mouths. The burger chain is being grilled this week for a sample budget contained in its brochure “Practical Money Skills,” part of a financial literacy program McDonald’s created with Visa and Wealth Watchers International. The budget suggests that an individual who makes $1,105 a month after taxes – about what a McDonald’s minimum-wage worker brings home – would need a second income of nearly the same amount to pay for basic monthly expenses. And even those expenses are debatable: the budget assumes rent or mortgage of a mere $600, health insurance for $20 a month, and a daily spending goal of $25 from which, presumably, things like gas, food, and child care are all supposed to be drawn.
The problem is not that the budget isn’t realistic; it’s that it is. McDonald’s inadvertent message to its workforce is, without a second job, you probably can’t survive on what we pay most of you. And that’s exactly what its workers have been saying in protests across the US. The project’s PR folks clumsily compounded the problem, saying it was only a sample budget (so it wasn’t meant to be accurate?) and that the “second job” was a theoretical partner’s wages (quite an assumption, and all the expenses appear to be individualized). McDonald’s also surreptitiously added in $50 in heating costs after the original plan presumed workers in chillier climates would simply shiver through the winter.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for McDonald’s, which is already fighting wage-related battles with employees in several states. This blunder gives workers some fine ammunition.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: All communications are public relations. The line between internal and external communications is effectively gone; all company materials must be looked at with a critical eye for the PR impact they might have. Most large companies have already learned this lesson – some the hard way – but still don’t understand it applies well beyond the company-wide memo from the CEO. As McDonald’s found out, even such well-intentioned projects as a financial planning tool for workers can cause reputational indigestion.