McDonald’s reorganizes global comms function

The fast-food chain is shifting communications into three core areas.

A McDonald's in Chicago's River North neighborhood. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
A McDonald's in Chicago's River North neighborhood. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

CHICAGO: McDonald’s is reorganizing its global communications team into three newly formed core areas to drive business impact and deliver business value.

The three core areas are strategies and campaigns, focused on food, people and planet; core capabilities, comprised of strategic communications, media relations and international comms; and inputs, which includes insights and issues, according to an internal memo. The changes went into effect last month.

“We needed to rewire how we are set up to deliver work that drives the business and connects to our customers,” said Michael Gonda, VP of global communications, who is overseeing the groups. 

The communications department’s leadership wants to simplify its structure for more clarity, he said. Previously, there was a long list of sub-functions under global comms, such as global policy and engagement, developmental licensee communications, international operated market comms and internal communications.

Claire DiMattina, senior director of strategies and campaigns, is leading the strategies and campaign function, overseeing global campaigns. Senior director of strategic communications Artemis Bakopoulos Hiss, senior director of media and external engagement Jesse Lewin and head of international corporate relations Dionne Parker are overseeing strategic communications, media relations and international communications, respectively. 

Hiss will also take on responsibilities to “better connect our signature communications,” such as CEO comms, which will continue to be led by Dani Cupps, according to the memo. Lewin will continue to build and lead McDonald’s media relations team, and Parker has been promoted to lead a newly created international corporate relations team.

McDonald’s is seeking a senior director to lead the insights and issues function. Research and intelligence will report into that group, creating a single source to guide McDonald’s strategies and inform the business of present and emerging reputation risk, according to the memo.

McDonald’s is also eliminating its international public affairs role, which was held by Melissa Musiker.

Julian Hilton-Johnson, VP of global policy and engagement, is exiting after 21 years at McDonald’s to set up his own business offering executive coaching to individuals and organizational dynamics tutoring to teams. He is planning to stay at the company until the end of this month to work on the transition to the new structure. 

McDonald’s is also focusing on digital communications to better connect with customers, Gonda said. 

“What we are doing in 2020 probably won't work in 2022,” he said. “To keep up with the pace, that requires investing in it and empowering a leader to keep McDonald’s at the forefront.”

In the memo, Tovar also disclosed a series of promotions, hires and other changes on McDonald’s U.S. corporate relations team. 

“The emphasis in 2020 is telling great stories of the people who work at McDonald’s and the unrivaled ability McDonald’s has to create jobs and provide opportunities to build a career,” Tovar said in the memo.

The fast-food chain named Kathleen Strand as director of U.S. strategy and campaigns, reporting to Tovar. She is managing the company’s U.S. people campaign while developing and driving strategic initiatives and communications across the U.S. market. 

McDonald’s also appointed Katie Condon to a global role that is part of the strategy and campaigns function and named Susanne Barham as senior director of government relations reporting to reporting to Genna Gent, VP of U.S. government relations. 

It also promoted John LoPorto to manager of grassroots and advocacy and Ashli Nelson to director of Chicago legislative affairs and diversity outreach. 

The company also promoted Jessica Schulze to manager of U.S. PR and brand engagement and named Heather Norris-Garcia to field brand reputation manager, effective March 9, on McDonald’s brand PR and engagement and field teams, led by Molly McKenna. 

The changes follow a year in which McDonald’s saw significant personnel changes in communications. Robert Gibbs left his role as EVP and global chief communications officer in October, and his responsibilities were divided between Gonda and VP of U.S. comms David Tovar. 

Gonda took on oversight of the corporate relations and global policy and engagement teams for McDonald’s international operated markets and international developmental licensed markets. Tovar received responsibility for U.S. government relations and oversees system communications, PR and brand engagement and field media teams.

Tovar is reporting to McDonald’s U.S.A. president Joe Erlinger and Gonda reports to CEO Chris Kempczinski.

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 last February.

Jano Cabrera, former SVP of U.S. comms for global media and PR, departed the company in April. 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 McKenna to senior director, leading U.S. brand engagement, and Jason Greenspan to senior director, leading U.S. system communications.

McDonald’s CMO Silvia Lagnado also departed in October. Her responsibilities were split between Colin Mitchell, SVP of global marketing, and Bob Rupczynski, SVP of marketing technology, with no plans to directly replace her. 

In 2018, 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 2018, McDonald’s principally worked with Golin.

The internal reorganization will not affect the company's PR agency relationships. 

The company has also experienced a leadership transition at the top level. In November, Kempczinski replaced Steve Easterbrook as CEO after Easterbrook violated company policy when he engaged in a relationship with an employee. The company described the relationship as consensual. Kempczinski previously served as president of McDonald's U.S.A.

McDonald’s Q4 earnings beat expectations. The company reported revenue of $5.4 billion, increasing by 3.7% and topping expectations. Global same-store sales were up 5.9% in the period.

This story was updated on February 26 with additional information. 

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