Web Exclusive | November 2008 | By John Gregerson

McDonald’s Marketing to Hispanic High Schoolers

Why the Golden Arches is becoming well schooled in Hispanic college initiatives.

McDonald's helps Hispanic teens pursue college education.
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McDonald's Corp. long has been lauded for promoting diversity among its ranks, having established entire networks to help advance the careers of its Asian, African American, and Hispanic employees.

Less well known is that the Oak Brook, Illinois–based chain has been quietly awarding millions of dollars in minority scholarships for years, or that it has begun sponsoring workshops that encourage Hispanic high-schoolers to pursue college educations.

Its latest initiative, sponsorship of 11 workshops presented by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), is currently under way across the country and drawing up to 1,000 participants per event.

"To know we're having that kind of impact is very exciting," says Cristina Alfaro, communications manager with McDonald's USA.

The events are especially effective because they are conducted in both English and Spanish, a feature Alfaro says figured prominently in McDonald's decision to join forces with the San Francisco–based HSF.

"In the past, language barriers have presented a problem for Hispanic parents at events like this," she says. "The HSF workshops ensure that parents are apprised of all the necessary steps to prepare their children for college, from filling out applications and financial aid forms to studying for SAT and ACT tests."

"Many of these children will be the first in their families to attend college," says HSF President and CEO Frank D. Alvarez. "The goal is to provide parents and students with the essential tools to help guide them through the college admission process."

The daylong workshops recruit community volunteers to serve as coaches. Sessions run concurrently, with each customized to a particular grade level. Before departing the event, participants receive materials written in Spanish and English to continue the planning process at home.

McDonald's sponsored five workshops in 2007, but expanded its involvement to 11 this year in order to better blanket the country. Current workshops are targeting Hispanic-rich cities such as Chicago, Phoenix, San Jose, and El Paso.

To date, McDonald's is the only restaurant company to join the ranks of HSF donors, which include such heavy hitters the Altria Group, Time Warner, Anheuser- Busch Companies, Target, The Coca-Cola Company and Wal-Mart Stores.

"Few quick-service chains have the resources of a McDonald's," says Bob Garfield, advertising critic and editor-at-large with Advertising Age. "That said, McDonald's has always had an understanding that charity is a good way to build good will. For the most part, it comports itself with dignity, very rarely discussing its charitable endeavors, most notably Ronald McDonald House.

“When the endeavors speak for themselves, as they invariably do, they build the type of brand loyalty that money can't buy," Garfield says. "That's something else that McDonald's has always been very, very good at—building consumer loyalty."

Alfaro's enthusiasm for McDonald's Hispanic-oriented endeavors is practically contagious.

She says the HSF workshops are a particularly good fit because they introduce participants to scholarships available to Hispanics under the auspices of RMHC/HACER, a program administered by Ronald McDonald House Charities and its local U.S. chapters.

"Through the collective efforts of our chapters, we've awarded $19 million in scholarship funds to 14,000 Hispanic students," Alfaro says. "We've also established a national scholarship program that awards $100,000 apiece to four Hispanic students."

Launched in 1985, RMHC/HACER is currently one of the nation's largest educational scholarship programs.

The program was founded by El Paso–based McDonald's franchisee Richard Castro, who learned that Hispanic students were not only dropping out of his hometown high school at alarming rates, but high schools across the country.

Castro persuaded fellow franchisees and McDonald's Corporation to develop a scholarship program for young Hispanics, then secured the support Ronald McDonald House Charities to establish the RMHC/HACER program.

An initial fund of $97,000 helped launch the program, which awarded $1,000 a piece to qualifying high school seniors. "Now, every region in the country has a scholarship program,” Alfaro says.

For its part, HSF awards the Hispanic community more college scholarships than any organization in the country. Since its founding in 1975, it has awarded 86,000 scholarships worth more than $247 million. During the 2006-2007 academic year alone, it awarded nearly 4,200 scholarships valued at $26.5 million.

To learn more about HSF, visit www.hsf.net.