Special Report: Planning

Kelly Hoyman, marketing director for the Northwest region for McDonald’s USA, has a little anecdote she tells when asked about Teri Bauer, general manager of OMD’s Seattle office and this year’s Media All-Star in the planning category.

“Teri is great at saying the same thing over and over in a very professional, respectful way,” says Hoyman, apparently with deference to Bauer’s mastery of the concept of frequency. “Imagine sitting in a room with 28 McDonald’s owner/operators and reviewing a plan targeted to young adult men,” she continues. “She must have to say five times a meeting: ‘Remember, you are not the target.’ The franchisees always chuckle and remind themselves that they are no longer the young ones of days past.”

Bauer does not think conventionally, and it can be tough to sell unorthodox ideas to fast-food franchisees. (Remember Burger King’s “Herb”? That campaign was unconventional—and a huge flop—for the fast-food chain back in the mid-’80s.)

A recent, unconventional McDonald’s execution in the Seattle metro area involved a tricked-out taxi dubbed the McDonald’s Fry Cab, also known as “the tipsy taxi.” Its purpose: to get young men to visit McDonald’s drive-up windows between 10 p.m. and dawn. It also had the more public-service function of getting drunk drivers off the streets.

The campaign—which also included messages via drink coasters and a gambit that involved “losing” 10,000 wallets containing Ronald McDonald’s driver’s licenses and food coupons—was a big hit.

Business shot up 6 percent in the pre-midnight hours and 17 percent post-midnight, while DUI arrests in Seattle dropped 4 percent during the campaign, the winner of this year’s Mediaweek Media Plan of the Year Award in the under $1 million spending category.

In another cleverly unconventional execution for McDonald’s, Bauer and her savvy team cooked up a plan in which a group of volunteer Seattle firefighters were recruited to schlep a pumper truck to Key Arena, home of the Seattle Supersonics, where they deployed—then began hosing down—a 30-sheet billboard promoting the McDonald’s Spicy Chicken sandwich.

Naturally, fans arriving for the Sonics game were curious about what appeared to be a billboard in flames being doused—before it became clear it was all a ploy to promote the chain’s latest, “hot-as-fire” menu offering.

“If that is not breakthrough, what is?” asks McDonald’s Hoyman. “The ideas they come up with are just phenomenal—the innovation, and the new ways of looking at how to reach an audience.”

By “they,” Hoyman means Bauer’s team of seven planners at OMD Seattle, to whom Bauer, reflexively, gives all the credit. “We feed off of each other,” she says. “We have some very talented people out here. Sometimes people think of Seattle as southern Alaska. It’s not.”

But Bauer’s work is hardly confined to the McDonald’s account. She and her team also developed a campaign for the Montana Meth Project that got the public, in a statewide contest, to paint anti-meth messages on everything from barns to cows. The agency followed up the execution with ad messages drawn directly from teens’ own experiences. The result: a reported 50 percent drop in meth use in the state. The campaign has since been adopted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Another effort, for the anti-gay-bias group the Gil Foundation, involved the placement of bogus employment ads in newspaper classified sections, purposely written to seem discriminatory against gay prospects.

That unconventional plan was not an easy sell, as Bauer explains, but it worked, winning Mediaweek’s Media Plan of the Year in the newspaper category in 2005.

Those two campaigns, in particular, are among her favorites. “I get to play around in an area that I love—media,” she says. “But then, at the same time, I get to make a difference.”

“She doesn’t care where an idea comes from,” says Page Thompson, CEO at OMD North America. As a manager, he says, Bauer “allows people to think.” And as a planner, “she’s just sort of magical. And she’s probably one of the most caring people you will ever find.”

Thompson says the Montana Meth Project “is something I am so proud of. Here is something you can show your family and say, ‘This is what we are doing.'”

Adds Thompson, “It’s not a big office, but the ideas that come out of there are some of the best in all of OMD.”

A Seattle native, Bauer began her career at Western International Media in Los Angeles, where she studied under Dennis Holt and the legendary Bill Croasdale. Then, she went to work with Chuck Bacharach at Rubin Postaer before signing on with Janice Merlino, the former media director at DDB Seattle, who Bauer considers her mentor. When Merlino moved over to DDB, after the media unit became OMD Seattle, Bauer rose to general manager.

The different jobs she’s had have given her the kind of perspective that usually manifests itself in the grizzled veterans of New York and Chicago ad shops. Having been around the likes of Holt, Croasdale and Bacharach, she says, has helped her navigate the current fractured and fragmented media markets.

“I definitely think it’s a factor in terms of being more nimble,” she says. “The other day, I was thinking back to when I started. [NBC’s] The Cosby Show had like a 50 share in prime time. I had to laugh about it.”

When asked how she dreams up her innovative and uncommon media plans, Bauer thinks for a minute before answering: “I think it comes from loving what we do.” She mentions her staff, singling out Katie Bergerud, associate director of strategy.

And Bauer credits the clients, “who consistently take risks that are slightly out of their comfort zones. If they weren’t willing to push the envelope a bit,” she says, “we wouldn’t even be talking.”