Lizette Williams
Head of Cultural Engagement and Experiences, U.S.

Behind McDonald’s Latest Music Collabs Sparking Local Cultural Conversations

With an impressive brand-building background at PepsiCo and Kimberly-Clark, Lizette Williams found her niche in driving growth with diverse consumers. But professional experience aside, Lizette says growing up in The Bronx, New York is what led her interest in all things culture and music. See how she’s putting that passion to good use, leading McDonald’s first African-American campaign in 16 years and new musical collaborations.

Why did you choose to join McDonald's?

What sparked my interest in McDonald’s was it being one of a few companies that I believed had the ability to drive cultural conversations. I view McDonald’s as one of the most democratic brands in the U.S., literally accessible to any and all socioeconomic groups, races, religions and neighborhoods. Its deep roots in American culture and communities and the ability to shape and impact culture really excited me as a marketer.

McDonald’s recently launched its first African-American campaign in 16 years. Why now?

While this is the biggest launch we’ve had in 16 years, our relationship with the African-American consumer is not new. With more than 300 African-American franchisees whose restaurants represent approximately $2.7B in sales, McDonald’s has served as a community pillar for decades – from providing resources like tuition reimbursement and other education benefits, to the many employees in the more than 1,500 McDonald’s restaurants in African-American communities. Black and Positively Golden is a refresh…we realize the demographic has evolved, and because of that, so are we.

View of the finished mural at the Black & Positively Golden event in Los Angeles’ historic Leimert Park neighborhood.

What drove the decision for both a national and local focus for the campaign?

We conducted extensive consumer research to really understand what’s driving our consumers, what they care about and how we, as a brand, continue to build an authentic and relevant relationship with them. African-American consumers connect with brands that drive relevancy for them as a community and who support causes that directly impact the empowerment and elevation of the culture.

What are you currently working on that’s new and exciting?

We are very excited about the new McDonald’s “Beat of My City” music initiative that launched last weekend. [It’s] a multi-faceted initiative that merges our deeply-rooted commitment to the neighborhoods we serve with our long-standing connection to music and pop culture. The experience is taking top artists to their hometown to give back and celebrate community through exclusive musical performances, impactful service, and McDonald’s feel-good moments – with a goal of driving cultural relevancy and increased brand affinity with our consumer.

We’ve partnered with Teyana Taylor and Juice WRLD for the inaugural tour, both of whom are committed to community and culture.

Teyana Taylor performs at the kick-off of McDonald's "Beat Of My City" at Pier 36 on September 21, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky)

Beyond artist partnerships, how else are you amplifying the initiative? 

We partnered with Genius and Spotify, which were integral to elevating our position in the music space. Partnering with Spotify allows us to tell the Beat of My City story through audio and tap into Spotify's streaming intelligence. We not only are able to cater our message to speak specifically to each city and artist, but we can layer on national audio to drive further scale and excitement.

What does it mean to you to impact culture as a marketer today?

"We have the ability to bring people together, diminish divisiveness, and celebrate inclusion."

We have a tremendous responsibility not only to our brands but also to our consumers. Every year, this industry doles out billions of dollars to reach U.S. consumers, and these messages become deeply engrained in people’s minds… We have the ability to bring people together, diminish divisiveness, and celebrate inclusion. And by amplifying those messages, we are in the driver’s seat to influence a culture that is truly about inclusiveness and connectedness.

What's the biggest learning moment you've had in your career?

One instance that stands out was early in my career. I was passed over for a promotion after I had been doing well at the company and receiving great reviews and feedback. Confused about what happened, I set up a meeting with my manager and she seemed surprised that I was concerned.  Her exact words were “I didn’t even know you wanted to be promoted.”

I had been doing a great job with my head down and focused on my work with great team relationships. I thought I would simply be recognized and promoted for the quality of the output. What I failed to realize is that advocating for yourself is equally important. There is a quote by Oprah Winfrey that I love that states: “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

What advice can you share with marketers who want to impact culture in their roles?

"Keep your passion and vision alive even when things get challenging."

Keep your passion and vision alive even when things get challenging. It’s important to do things outside of work that allow you to experience culture as it is happening, because it is dynamic and evolving. I often take time to do things like meet with a young, hungry entrepreneur or influencer to really find out what’s driving them, or engage in events completely outside of my own interests.