McDonald’s (MCD) said on Tuesday it has hired President Obama’s former spokesman to head the burger chain’s communications operations, a potentially crucial role as the struggling company looks to improve the perception of its food among customers and fight back at an onslaught of bad press.
Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary from 2008 until 2011, and advisor to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, will serve as McDonald’s executive vice president and global chief communications officer, managing internal and external communications and government and public affairs. McDonald’s also announced that Silvia Lagnado, a former official with Bacardi Limited, will take over its global marketing function.
“Returning excitement to our business proposition and brand is foundational to our turnaround plan, and Robert and Silvia — with their respective teams — will play critical roles in bringing this strategy to life,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbook said in a statement.
The appointments come as Easterbrook redoubles his efforts to stem a long slide in the restaurant chain’s business — a decline that has been particularly acute in the U.S., its biggest market. Earlier this week, McDonald’s reported its 12th straight month of global comparable sales declines.
Easterbrook is trying to improve business by paring down a menu that had become bloated and slowed service, and he’s testing ideas such as letting patrons customize their own burgers. But he is also fighting against a strong perception that McDonald’s food is less than healthful, and that its burgers are of a lower quality than more upscale rivals. (McDonald’s recently announced it would scale back the use of chickens with antibiotics, one step in its attempt to address the reputation of its food.)
The move is akin to Walmart (WMT) hiring a former advisor to President George W. Bush, Dan Bartlett, in 2013, as the company dealt with the fallout of a probe into whether it broke U.S. anti-bribery laws in Mexico.