Global CCO Robert Gibbs to leave McDonald's

The fast-food chain is restructuring its global corporate relations function.

Gibbs at PRDecoded 2018
Gibbs at PRDecoded 2018

CHICAGO: Robert Gibbs is planning to exit his role as EVP and global chief communications officer at McDonald’s next month. 

Gibbs will not be directly replaced. The company will divide his responsibilities between VP of global communications Michael Gonda and VP of U.S. comms David Tovar. 

Gonda will take on oversight of McDonald’s international operated markets’ and international developmental licensed markets’ corporate relations and global policy and engagement teams. He will report to CEO Steve Easterbrook. 

Tovar will take over responsibility for U.S. government relations and report to McDonald’s U.S. president Chris Kempczinski. 

Gonda and Tovar both previously reported to Gibbs.

"With a rich and fruitful tenure at McDonald’s, and with a team of highly talented communicators in place, [Gibbs] has decided this is the right time to pursue new challenges and opportunities," Easterbrook said, in a staff memo. "He will remain working with us through mid-October."

He praised Gibbs’ work on reputation management and campaigns including America’s Best First Job and MacCoin. Easterbrook added that Gibbs and his team have been instrumental in communicating McDonald’s turnaround plan and its velocity growth plan.

"Given where the team is and the incredible progress made in transforming communications and public affairs at McDonald’s, it’s a good time for me to seek another challenge," Gibbs said, via email. "Our function’s become globalized, our campaigns are winning awards and impacting McDonald’s bottom line and we’ve made strong gains in enhancing our reputation and building trust. In every way, I feel like I’ve accomplished what I came here to do."

Gibbs said he had "no announcements" on his next move.

Gibbs’ departure is the latest in a string of changes to McDonald’s in-house communications team. Tovar joined McDonald’s in July from Sprint, where he led communications, and Gonda, who was Chobani’s SVP of corporate affairs, began working for the chain in February.

Jano Cabrera, former SVP of U.S. comms for global media and PR, departed the company a month later. In August, Cabrera joined General Mills as global communications head. When Cabrera left, McDonald’s split his former responsibilities, such as overseeing field communications, media relations and aspects of corporate comms. It placed media relations under corporate communications, reporting to Gonda, and brand engagement and systems communications under Tovar. 

McDonald’s also promoted Molly McKenna to senior director, leading U.S. brand engagement, and Jason Greenspan to senior director, leading U.S. system communications.

Other recent appointments at McDonald’s include Dionne Parker as lead of corporate relations for international markets; Jesse Lewin to the newly created role of senior director of corporate communications; Danielle Cupp as director of CEO and financial communications; and Artemis Hiss to the new role of senior director, leading global leadership, internal and strategic communications.

McDonald’s CMO Silvia Lagnado is departing in October and will not be directly replaced. Her responsibilities are being split between Colin Mitchell, SVP of global marketing, and Bob Rupczynski, SVP of marketing technology.  

Last year, Cabrera reorganized McDonald’s in-house comms group. The fast-food chain primarily works with three agency partners, Golin, WE and Purple Strategies, each focused on a specific area of storytelling. From 1956 until last year, McDonald’s had principally worked with Golin.

Gibbs has worked at McDonald’s since 2015, as the fast-food company tried to turn around its fortunes in a rapidly changing and more-health-conscious U.S. dining market. That same year, Easterbrook, formerly McDonald’s senior executive brand president and chief brand officer, was appointed CEO. He replaced Don Thompson in the company’s top job.  

Gibbs stepped down as President Barack Obama’s first White House press secretary in January 2011, becoming an adviser to Obama’s reelection campaign. He was succeeded as press secretary by Jay Carney. Gibbs also helped to develop Obama’s communications strategy during his successful 2004 Senate run and both presidential campaigns.

In June 2013, Gibbs teamed up with former Obama for America national press secretary Ben LaBolt to launch a Washington, DC-based strategic communications firm known as the Incite Agency. 

Gibbs has made PRWeek’s Power List several times, most recently this June. Last October, he spoke at PRWeek’s PRDecoded conference in Chicago about life after the White House

McDonald’s Q2 earnings beat expectations. The company reported revenue of $5.34 billion, topping expectations of $5.33 billion. Excluding the impact of currency, revenue rose by 3%. Global same-store sales were up 6.5% in the period, according to CNBC.

This story was updated on September 27 with comment from Gibbs. 

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