McDonald's takes a hard line on mascot bullying!

"Ronald McDonald is an ambassador to McDonald's and he is an ambassador for good. Ronald McDonald is going nowhere."

                             - McDonald's CEO, Jim Skinner

I've blogged about this before (see March 29, 2010 post), but given recent events, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to defend my pal Ronald McDonald once more.

Yet again, obesity watchdog groups have targeted the beloved fast food icon, because they mistakenly believe that a clown is to blame for our country's childhood obesity problem.  That's right ladies and gentlemen, the clown did it!

Dr. Andrew Weil and his other kookie allies who seem to believe that parents shouldn't be held accountable for what their children eat, have launched an aggressive campaign to oust the 43 year old smiling face of the burger franchise through lobbying and grass roots activism.

I'm glad that McDonald's is taking a very dismissive approach toward this misguided effort.  For some reason these activists simply refuse to acknowledge the real problem:  parents who allow their children to eat unhealthy food all day.  And the federal government seems to be in their camp by clamping down on how companies market to children. 

When did McDonald's become the authoritarian voice on what children eat?  I'm a parent, and so far no one from McDonald's, Wendy's or Burger King (whose mascot should be targeted because that king is friggin' creepy) has knocked on my door demanding I shove burgers and fries down my son's throat.  When I was a child, I couldn't wait to eat at McDonald's, but my parents were smart enough to allow me to enjoy fast food in moderation while encouraging an active lifestyle.  I'm very unclear as to when that responsibility shifted from the parents to Ronald McDonald.  I guess I'm just out of touch.

Seriously, child obesity is a growing problem.  No one is denying that.  However, advocates need to become more sensible and pragmatic by placing the blame where it belongs: squarely on the backs of ambivalent parents who simply refuse to hold themselves accountable.  After all, it's always easier to blame big business.  It's become such a popular sport.  But targeting a clown mascot? 

If this is just some sort of PR stunt to bring greater attention to the problem, then I think Dr. Weil and the clowns he surrounds himself with are doing their cause a disservice because this campaign risks damaging their credibility, which will ultimately hurt children even more.

The problem starts in the home. Maybe the activism should start there as well.

Do you manage your consultants or do your consultants manage you?

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a colleague about a consultant who is providing supportive services to his organization.

My colleague's perception is that the consultant is beginning to portray himself as the decision-maker, who doesn't like opposing viewpoints or people questioning his recommendations. While incredibly bright, the consultant can become irritable, patronizing and on the verge of unprofessional. Mind you, my colleague is a very accommodating individual who works well with everyone. Additionally, I have worked with this consultant before and had similar problems, though not to the same extent.

My colleague isn't opposed to having a spirited dialogue when disagreements occur. A healthy discourse often results in identifying the best strategy. But when input is neither wanted nor welcome by someone you're paying, perhaps the next conversation should be about the future of the relationship.

While a consultant's job is to make recommendations, the client is still the ultimate decision-maker. Simply asking for clarity or suggesting a preferred strategy is the client's prerogative. If the consultant disagrees, they have a duty to state their position clearly, but not to become abrasive or unprofessional.

I have worked with consultants before who felt that their opinions were infallible. I recall working on a major event several years ago that was the linchpin to a broader marketing strategy. It was a huge undertaking so we hired a consultant to provide creative guidance and production support. While I had some reservations before we contracted with the consultant, my concerns grew into complete frustration as our relationship became more and more contentious. Ultimately, the event was successful in spite of our differences. As a result the consultant felt that she had earned a new contract to produce the following year's event. However, I clearly explained that we would not be working together again as I had no desire to continue battling with her to get things done. The success of the campaign simply didn't outweigh the challenges of the strained relationship. I wasn't looking for someone to tell me what to do and have me execute their vision. I was looking for someone that would work with me and help execute MY vision. I wanted recommendations, suggestions, ideas and support.  She acted unilaterally, was dictatorial and dismissive. She simply didn't get it.

The following year, we managed the event completely in-house and it became an award winner.

According to, "a client will perceive a consulting firm highly if there is the assurance that the passion and drive of the experts are in line with the goals and objectives of the individual or corporation that is in need of help."

So the question is, why do so many companies allow their consultants to run their businesses? How many companies have you worked for that showed greater faith in the opinions of their consultants than in the opinions of their employees? If I were to value the opinions of a consultant more than those of my employees, I would have to question whether I had the right employees in place. While I understand and appreciate the value of consultants, businesses must remember that consultants are their to "consult" not "direct". The businesses leadership team is still much more engaged in daily operations and most likely has a better sense of what will have an impact on the customer. That doesn't mean that an employee's opinion should always carry more weight than a consultant's, but the employee's position shouldn't be dismissed either, just because it may be contrary to the consultant's. Unfortunately, I've seen the latter occur frequently to the detriment of the company.

A good manager will find the right balance while respecting the opinions of both the consultant and the team being consulted.  They must be aligned.  A consultant should not be given the keys to the candy store.  Defending a position is fine if the consultant feels strongly about it.  Becoming overly aggressive in that pursuit is not.  However, at the end of the day, a consultant can only do what the client allows him/her to do.  If the organization's leadership allows the consultant to dictate policy and procedure while refusing to listen to diverse points of view, then the company only has itself to blame if things go awry.

So I ask again - Do you manage your consultants or do your consultants manage you?

Is Ning on the Ropes?

So much for creating your own gi-normous social network for free on Ning, which was touted by everyone from Silicon Valley to Wall Street as the "next big thing".  It appears Ning is no longer giving away the house for free.

According to an article in picked up by, Ning is eliminating its free model, and laying off 40% of its staff. 

So what happened to the up-and-comer?  Well, apparently "free" doesn't pay the bills.

Ning has raised $120 million in venture funding since its launch in 2004, but seven years later, it has yet to turn a profit.  Interesting that this model was attempted again after the collapse of thousands of dot coms 10 years ago that were long on ideas, but short on revenue streams. 

It's great if you can take a strong understanding of code and a good concept to develop a unique digital business model , but companies still have to incorporate the fundamental principles of economics into their business plans.  You can't spend money without making money, and you can't spend more than you make.  Seems that the golden children at Ning may have forgotten this, not to mention all the big spenders on Wall Street who couldn't wait to invest.

"Free" is a powerful word to be sure.  But "profit" is a more powerful word.