Q&A: Kat Gomez-Limchoc on the Making of McDonald’s Classroom in The Philippines During Covid-19 Lockdowns

Branding in Asia recently spoke with Kat Gomez-Limchoc about the launch of McDonald’s Classroom – a campaign that transformed unused party rooms in the restaurants into safe, sanitized spaces for teachers and students across the Philippines to use during the country’s study at home policies and all the varied distractions to scholarly pursuit that went with it.

According to the campaign, by October 2021, the Philippines was the last country in the world with classrooms still shuttered by Covid-19. Teachers and students studying online were grappling with poor internet connections, a lack of space, and a variety of other difficulties. To address this problem, the Leo Burnett Group Manila and McDonald’s decided to offer a creative solution.

Over the course of our conversation with Gomez-Limchoc, we talk about how the idea was born, the challenges to making it happen, and more.

 
 

When did you first have the idea for McDonald’s Classroom?

In March 2020, COVID-19 brutally forced almost everyone to close their doors. A few people on our team were volunteering to create educational videos to prepare teachers for the sudden pivot to distance education. We worked closely with the teachers who were driving this pivot, and so we heard firsthand the struggles of our educators.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s asked us to find a relevant way that it could continue to be meaningful, even while its dining rooms were closed. Having just been immersed in our volunteer work, we wondered if we could transform unused McDonald’s party rooms into connected, safe classrooms. It felt super relevant and a great creative solution to an unused asset of the brand.

What challenges did you set out to solve for McDonald’s?

We had to make sure that our creative ideas would not be difficult to implement, given all the safety restrictions at that time, and would not require a large budget, given that the McDonald’s business was hard hit by all the pandemic restrictions.

 
 

McDonald’s showed real commitment to this idea when they agreed to scale it nationwide – saying ‘yes’ to this idea was saying yes to all the operational costs it entailed (staff, electricity, Wi-Fi, food and drinks, covid safety protocols for 249 locations).

“As we took McDonald’s Classroom from pilot into full blast, we saw a 168% increase in classroom participants – teachers and students who sincerely appreciated not just the space, but the change of pace.”

Operational cost has always been a barrier to scaling experiential ideas in the past, but we all believed in the difference it could create in Filipinos’ lives, so we all made it happen. In the end, by leveraging an owned asset – underutilized stores – the budget was far outweighed by media values earned.

In 2021, you launched McDonald’s Classroom officially, extending the program to students. Can you tell us about the scale and response?

What began as a pilot for teachers in 2020 was expanded to include students in 2021, with classrooms in 249 locations all over the country open for a total of 86,648 hours.

As we took McDonald’s Classroom from pilot into full blast, we saw a 168% increase in classroom participants – teachers and students who sincerely appreciated not just the space, but the change of pace.

What was the most difficult part of bringing this idea to life?

We put so much emphasis not just in turning the party rooms into connected and sanitized classrooms, but making sure they were happy classrooms. In 2020, only free coffee was given, but in 2021, we provided a full recess, offered fun virtual backgrounds for students and teachers, gave out covid care kits, and orchestrated surprise appearances by McDonald’s characters and celebrities to help teachers perk up their class.

For you personally, what has been the proudest moment from the initiative?

Personally, I am just proud of how our creativity gave birth to a real solution that was so intrinsic to the McDonald’s brand that helped teachers all over the Philippines at a super difficult time for many. I have a soft spot for teachers, who work so hard, often not getting paid a whole lot, because of what they feel is a vocation to teach. I’m glad we were able to help a community that educate and help us form our children.

How long have you been with Leo Burnett Philippines and what is proudest achievement?

I joined Blackpencil, part of the Leo Burnett Group Manila, 10 years ago. Recently, I was one of the leads in the development of Publicis Groupe Philippines’ Purpose, Values and Ambition. This involved roundtables with the leadership of 10 companies, as well as surveys and group discussions with young guns from all the teams. I was so happy to find that despite the diversity, we all stood on the same ground when it came to what we valued as a team: “Together, we make a meaningful difference.”

In many ways, the purpose and values of Publicis Groupe Philippines echo my own internal compass that has guided my creativity and leadership.

What are your goals for 2022?

I want to continue to do meaningful and impactful work for the brands in our care, and the causes my team and I care about, with a particular focus on sustainability. As always, I will continue do my best to fuel the culture of excellence, learning, collaboration and fun that is the hallmark of the Blackpencil Manila team, while sharing some of that ethos with the rest of Publicis Groupe Philippines.

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