Charles Ramsay and McDonald’s Navigate PR Relationship

UPDATE 4:10PM: We have been notified by McDonald’s that there are some inaccuracies in this article regarding the offers extended to Mr. Ramsay from McDonald’s as a brand and individual franchises. We apologize for the mistake and will make updates soon with new information.

UPDATE 8:47PM: In reference to inaccuracies in this post and more specifically the “Not Lovin’ It: Charles Ramsay Declines Lifetime of Meals from McDonald’s, And Everyone Wins” headline, McDonald’s provided the following details:

“In light of numerous inquiries, we can confirm that the local owner-operators of the McDonald’s restaurants in Mr. Ramsey’s neighborhood have connected with him and offered complimentary McDonald’s food for the next year. In addition, we have made a $10,000 donation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the names of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, the kidnapping survivors in Ohio, and Mr. Ramsey.”

Original post:

The skinny: McDonald’s offered national hero Charles Ramsay free food for life. Mr. Ramsay declined, bringing to a close an odd but compelling public relations predicament for the fast food chain and the individual man.

As PR people, we think this is the best possible outcome. This conclusion allows both parties to move on with their dignity intact. Here is why:

Charles Ramsay, who was catapulted to fame after helping rescue three women and a young girl in Cleveland, is a good guy. Part of being a good guy is not exploiting a sensitive situation like that terrible kidnapping for personal gain. Yes, we all agree that Mr. Ramsay deserves something, but free Big Macs just feels wrong. McDonald’s, after being thrust into this situation by Mr. Ramsay’s now renowned comments, suddenly found itself in the middle of a PR conundrum—should it reward the hero or not?

Either way, McDonald’s response was going to be newsworthy as the public was intrigued by both a dramatic situation and tricky public relations dilemma. By offering some type of reward, McDonald’s could be perceived as an opportunistic brand exploiting an emotional event. By not offering a reward it could be perceived as being tone deaf and a callous corporate entity void of soul.

At the end of the day, both McDonald’s and Mr. Ramsay did what was right. McDonald’s acknowledged Mr. Ramsay’s selfless actions with the free food gesture, and Mr. Ramsay declined the offer as he should have. In public relations, that’s breaking even, which is the best case scenario in this situation. The public has a short-term memory, and it wouldn’t be long before McDonald’s customers were taking photos of Mr. Ramsay every time he ordered fries and posting them all over social media.

And no one deserves that type of hell, especially good guys.