You Deserve a Break Today

I read recently that McDonald’s is reintroducing its McRib sandwich for a limited time.  Memories immediately flooded me, not necessarily of the boneless pork sandwich drenched in barbecue sauce, but of the six years I spent right out of college toiling for Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees publicizing their products and corporate good works.

I had graduated from UC Berkeley in June of 1981 full of hope and no job prospects.  Armed with my superior education, (a Bachelor of Arts degree in history), I felt certain that the business world would vie for my services.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The United States was consumed by a severe recession that had begun just a month after I graduated and continued unabated until the end of 1982.  I didn’t understand the meaning of a recession, only that I couldn’t get a job.

At Christmas, my sister Cathy visited me and my parents (with whom I had resumed living) from the Midwest where she resided.  We went for a run during which I practically hyperventilated about my sorry lot in life.  She asked me what I wanted to do and I replied “public relations,” because it had sounded glamorous and appealing when I was researching my career options.

Cathy advised me to hand-carry my resume to PR firms around town and offer to do entry level work.  I swallowed my pride and within a week I had a job.  Within a month I had moved out of my parents’ house.

I worked as a secretary for a public relations agency known as Lowry & Partners.  The firm had several high-profile accounts including the Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees.  Within three months, one of the account executives had moved on and her job became mine.  I had finally made it.

I remember my first assignment.  I booked Ronald McDonald, the corporate clown mascot, at a birthday party where he had been requested, and finalized all the details in writing, crossing my “t’s” and dotting my “i’s.”

Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald

Then I received a wake-up call from the clown, which shattered me.   As I recall, Ronald McDonald scolded me for my failure to book him in a high profile appearance, thereby rendering him “cheap.”   I had mistakenly arranged for Ronald to appear at birthday party off site from a McDonald’s restaurant, which was against all rules.  Birthday parties, unless they celebrated famous people, had to take place at McDonald’s.

First, I felt stunned that Ronald McDonald could act so mean.  Then I cried as I realized the error of my ways and the futility of my life.  After I hung up the phone, the jaded and more experienced PR pros with whom I worked howled with laughter.  Watching me get chewed out by a clown and take it seriously pretty much made their day.  My bosses’ response served to ease my pain, but I scrupulously paid attention to the McDonald’s account rules (and there were thousands of them) from that point forward.

Within a year, one of the partners at Lowry & Partners left to start her own public relations agency and tried to take me and the McDonald’s account (not necessarily in that order) with her.

I was only 22-years-old, but I had come to know the McDonald’s account inside out.  It had its own special culture filled with acronyms and idiosyncrasies.  I had demonstrated a fondness for minutiae and an ability to get along with a wide variety of people and personalities, which made me the ideal candidate for the job at hand.  Ronald and I had also resolved our initial misunderstanding and I had earned his respect with my dedication and sensitivity to his myriad needs.

I remained with the partners who hired me and helped them retain McDonald’s.  I worked there for six more years and have a lifetime of stories and experiences that still make me laugh.  I never quite developed “ketchup in my veins,” which was the expression the McDonald’s corporate honchos used to assess one’s loyalty to the Golden Arches.

I faked it for an awfully long time though and feel grateful for everything I learned at the oversized feet of the clown.

8 responses to “You Deserve a Break Today

  • Kim Blue

    Hi Nancy. I don’t know why you make me laugh so hard… but you do. The idea of Ronald McDonald chewing you out is too funny for words! Though at the time it was probably rather disturbing. Is there really a Ronald, or are there just a bunch of them that trade off wearing the goofy costume (kind of like Oski)? Frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of clowns and I still think there’s something creepy about most of them… your story supports my intuition! Keep up the blogging! You could write a good one about Oski and the time he tried to hit on you at a Cal game…

    • Nancy Hayden Crowley

      Hi Kimmy. There really is a Ronald, but I am sworn to secrecy regarding his identity or if there’s more than one. This is the McDonald’s code that I lived by and on some level, I still feel I need to uphold it. I remember Lisa and I trying to tackle Oski but I don’t remember his trying to hit on me. Maybe it was Lindsey. Her suitors were in the thousands and could have easily included Oski. Thanks for reading and sharing your comments with me. xo

      Nancy Hayden Crowley

  • Lulu

    My advice worked out for me too — as we benefited from your business trips to Chicago — lots of Nancy time plus free Happy Meal toys for Ted! (as if he didn’t have enough from our own trips to the Golden Arches…)

  • Alicia Donahue Silvia

    Another greatvtrip down memory lane. I vividly remember calling you at Lowry and Partners about 5 x a day to plan our next social event or rehash the last one….usually in that order. I was usually calling from the pay phone at USF Law School and thought your corporate life in the fast food lane was most impressive. Didn’t you attend Hamburger U, the McDonald Corporate citadel?
    Keep blogging..McDonald’s loss is our gain!

    • Nancy Hayden Crowley

      I toured Hamburger U, but I never enrolled there. It’s still on my bucket list (or not). Now you are living the glamorous life and I’m using my PR skills to organize sandwiches for the football team. How times have changed! xo

  • Ethan Leavy


    I’ve been racing through your blog in an effort to delay a 10 pager I must complete by Sunday morning, I’m in the home stretch just under a year left of my masters program. This post in particular really did make me “LOL” and I greatly enjoy your style and wit. I think the McRib should have stayed in retirement, but some consumer marketing firm thought otherwise…

    Keep up the posts, you really have a great talent, and if for nothing else, to help me procrastinate even more.


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