Marketer of the Week

The Woman Behind the Arches: Michelle Graham-Clare

McDonald's new feel-good campaign is just the latest in Graham-Clare's prolific portfolio of excellent work with Leo Burnett

By Creative Salon

Raise Your Arches, oh how we needed this right now - a delicious serving of joy to propel us through the start of the year and a rousing reminder of the power of advertising to get people buzzing about brands. It's little wonder that McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski has credited marketing’s role in driving the business, telling investors the brand’s strength is “attributable in part to our best in class marketing machine".

In Leo Burnett’s latest film for McDonald’s, office workers raise their eyebrows in homage to the McDonald’s M logo as a way of inviting each other to grab a Maccie’s; it’s the first ever McDonald’s ad to not feature a restaurant or burger. Directed by cult film-maker Edgar Wright and pumped by Yello’s Oh Yeah soundtrack, the ad's raised eyebrows gesture has already passed into the vernacular, achieving what so many ads aspire to: becoming part of popular culture.

The idea’s so spot-on for the brand you marvel that it hasn’t been done before.

What McDonald’s has done before – over and over – is produce snappy, empathetic enjoyable advertising; it’s one of the UK’s most prolific advertisers but manages to keep its creative bar impressively high. Most marketers would be happy to get away one or two campaigns a year of the quality Leo’s delivers for McDonald’s, month in month out.

The tight knit team behind this consistent excellence includes, from McDonald’s, director of marketing Steve Howells and head of marketing Hannah Pain, and, from Leo Burnett, the brilliant creative team of James Millers and Andrew Long, who keep a tight rein on creative standards under the leadership of ECD Mark Elwood and global CCO Chaka Sobhani.

But presiding over this formidable client/agency partnership is McDonald’s Chief Marketing Officer, SVP Michelle Graham-Clare.

Since she joined the McDonald’s team in 2015 from coffee chain Harris and Hoole, Graham-Clare has worked her way up the marketing ladder at quite a clip, taking the top UK marketing post in August 2021.

It’s her innate understanding of the brand and its customers that has seen Graham-Clare thrive at McDonald’s, and it’s the reason she’s such a supportive and encouraging client for Leo Burnett says Leo’s global chief creative officer Chaka Sobhani. “Michelle is an incredible partner and leader to work with on all fronts,” Sobhani explains. “She understands the McDonalds brand inside out and feels it in her bones, and constantly drives us all to push and be more ambitious for all the right reasons, and in the best and most enjoyable ways.”

Graham-Clare also has the sort of creative instincts that too many marketers often struggle to develop. Of the new campaign, she says: “In a challenging time, our Raise Your Arches invitation to McDonald’s provides the nation with a small but much-needed moment to let go and feel good.” And it’s her passion for effective creative excellence that has laid the bedrock on which this latest iteration of McDonald’s partnership with Leo Burnett is built.

“She does have incredible creative judgment and the trust and partnership she and her team afford us is genuinely second to none, and absolutely the reason we consistently get to the work we do and take leaps like Raise your Arches,” says Sobhani.

For Graham-Clare, working with an agency that understands your brand as customers do is key: “I’ve seen hundreds of ‘textbook’ creative presentations in previous roles, which haven’t been able to demonstrate connection or passion for a brand. All the creatives at Leo Burnett are brand fans and eat our food. They ‘get it’ and that shows in the output.”

This leads to a level of trust which fosters creative ideas and nurtures them through the whole process. “Creating campaigns isn’t always straight forward, but having confidence in your agency and the strong relationship between creative and client that has been built up over time, always means you’ll get there in the end. That, and a strong sense of humour,” Graham-Clare explains.

That sense of humour is all-important; it hardly needs saying, but when the client team and the agency team actually like each other everything falls into place. Sobhani says Graham-Clare is “simply a cracking human being and a hell of a lot of fun to hang out and work with. I know I speak for all of us at Leo’s in saying we feel very lucky to have Michelle and are very excited by all the things we’re planning with her and her brilliant team for the next year and beyond.”


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