Will McDonald’s Decision to Pay SXSW Performers Undo Its #PRFail?

McDonald's screwed up. Can they fix it?

ex cops

McDonald’s is a multi-billion dollar corporation, so if they’re going to ask someone to perform a service for free, they had better be prepared to demonstrate some finesse and do some fancy footwork. Unfortunately, the fast food giant employed neither of those tactics when approaching indie band Ex Cops with an offer to play at SXSW sans monetary compensation.

In response, the band skewered McDonald’s and its clumsy, buzzword-filled request on Facebook. Their open letter read in part:

“As of 2013, McDonalds is valued at 90.3 billion dollars…In lieu of being paid like a real artist, or anyone who is employed to do a service, McDonald’s assures us that we will “be featured on screens throughout the event, as well as POSSIBLY mentioned on McDonald’s social media accounts like Facebook (57MM likes!)”…It is a horrifying and gross reality when one sees the true nature of corporations and their pathetic attempts to achieve relevance with millennials.”

The company’s initial response to the band’s complaint was combative rather than cooperative; McDonald’s addressed the controversy surrounding the issue with the hashtag #SlowNewsDay, which only fanned the flames. Now, McDonald’s has changed its tune, announcing that they have decided to pay their SXSW performers after all.

In a statement to AdWeek, McDonald’s said:

“We are excited to expand our support of music at our SXSW activation where the lineup features a great assortment of more than 20 bands, honoring the spirit of the festival. To further support these artists, all bands performing at our showcase will be compensated.”

But is this enough to undo the uproar?


Alan Sartirana, CEO & Founder of ANTHEMIC Agency and FLOOD magazine  — who has been to SXSW 23 times and will run this year’s FLOODfest presented by Lyve — shared his perspective on the multifaceted PR problem McDonald’s has created for itself, saying, “This particular situation was really less about one bad call as it was a series of missteps on the part of McDonald’s.”

Those missteps, according to Sartirana, were threefold (numbers are ours):

1: “It was clear when reading the ExCops statement that McDonalds does not have experience communicating with artists.”

2: “The second misstep was in their first reaction statement. Using adversarial language like “#slownewsday” only ignites the fire and is tone deaf to the issue at hand, once again demonstrating that McDonalds doesn’t have a good read on the audience or situation.”

3: “Finally, their resolution – a flippant ‘ok fine we’ll pay you’ – was weak and will likely not put an end to the controversy. Unfortunately, with their lack of experience dealing with the world of music, McDonalds has set themselves up for a SXSW full of negative press and harsh spotlight. This is a risk when a brand rushes to enter a new space or reinvent their image overnight. The world of music is a tricky one to navigate, and it takes an experienced hand to communicate and cater to that audience in an impactful and authentic way.”

In short, it looks like an uphill climb for the corporation; we’ll be curious to see how it all plays out during the festival.

And in case you’re wondering: while the Ex Cops still have no intention of performing in the SXSW McDonald’s showcase, they did tweet about the satisfaction McDonald’s change of heart has given them:

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