Friday, March 23, 2007

A McRose, by Any Other McName

I'm not surprised that the folks at McDonald's don't like the term "McJob," which refers to a crappy, low-paying job that leads nowhere and from which you can be fired at any moment. But their reaction to it is not smart:

The UK arm of the fast food chain is starting a campaign to get British dictionary publishers to revise their definitions of the word “McJob”, a term the Oxford English Dictionary describes as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector”.

The word first emerged in the US in the 1980s to describe low-skilled jobs in the fast food industry but was popularised by the Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, in his 1991 novel Generation X. It appeared in the online version of the OED in March 2001. McDonald’s plans a “high-profile public petition” this year to get it changed.

“We believe that it is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly it is insulting to those talented, committed, hard-working people who serve the public every day,” wrote David Fairhurst, chief people officer in northern Europe for McDonald’s, in a letter seen by the Financial Times seeking support for the petition. “It’s time the dictionary definition of “McJob” changed to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime.”

None of which is really the problem of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose mission is to provide accurate definitions of words. Ask ten people on the street what a "McJob" is and you can bet that, unless you run into someone from McDonald's PR, nobody is going to tell you that it means a fabulous job that leads to great things. If that's unfair to McDonald's, that's too bad; it's not the dictionary's fault that a word has come into use with a certain meaning. They're recorders of language, not creators of it.

And nothing McDonald's has said suggests that it is unfair:

McDonald’s says it has an excellent record of promoting female workers and entry level staff to senior executive positions. In the UK, half the executive team started on the shop floor and 25 per cent are women.

Its employment record was praised recently when Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine named it the “best place to work in hospitality”. It was also the first large employer to be accredited under the UK government’s revamped Investors in People scheme. Yet outsiders still think it is a poor employer.

That sounds rather different than the situation here in the United States. And throwing around irrelevant statistics about how many of the executive team came from the front line ranks (that's nice, but that tells us nothing about the likelihood of advancement for the overall front-line workforce) doesn't exactly bolster their case.  

McDonald's is trying to use PR to change a perception... but that really doesn't work well when the perception seems to be accurate. Here's what's missing from their story: what is the average pay of those workers? On average, how much does it increase? How long do they stay? How many get promoted? How many have health insurance (not relevant in the UK but important here)?

If they're not providing these statistics (which should be quite easy for them to produce) it's reasonable to conclude that they don't support their spin - and that's a reality problem, not a perception problem. You don't fix that one with PR.

Asking a dictionary to change a word's definition to reflect what McDonald's wants people to think is just Big Brother-ish, and makes them look even worse.

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