Michael Gonda | Influence 100

Michael Gonda 

Chief Communications Officer



When McDonald’s chief communications officer Robert Gibbs stepped down amid the company’s restructuring in 2019, then-CEO Steve Easterbrook divided the top job between two communications leaders: Michael Gonda and Dave Tovar. Shortly after, however, Easterbrook was fired for violating corporate policies on personal conduct. 

Then earlier this year, Gonda, who left his role as Chobani’s senior VP of corporate affairs to join McDonald’s, was promoted to CCO, part of a larger corporate restructuring that makes the fast-food giant’s comms function one of four new 'Global Impact Centers of Excellence.' Tovar now serves as chief corporate relations officer.

In his new role, Gonda ensures a consistent voice, drive authentic content to better connect our positive impact with consumers to drive brand trust, and assure communication readiness for all issues that impact McDonald’s.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?When you champion – with real authenticity – an issue that transcends the product or service you offer, you see it pretty quickly. Without name checking each (or any), those are the moments when heads turn quickly within the building and people go: “wait, what just happened?” No doubt, affinity building programs drive significant business performance, and there are tons of examples of this. But often you're pulling on multiple levers to drive growth. The former really isolates the unique role of communications or PR.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
There's been a long conversation about gaining a seat at the table that I walked into when I started my career and didn't fully appreciate how hard fought the battle had been. The nice thing is that the bridge has been crossed: we’ve got a seat. One challenge is that the paths many had to forge to get that seat feel unlikely, unrealistic or even unappealing (too hard, too long, too confusing) for future leaders. We have many challenges facing society and our industry, but I think chief among them is creating and clarifying the path to the seat of the table that many occupy, and getting future leaders excited about it and seeing themselves in it. Otherwise the seats won't be filled by the best, but rather the most willing, and we'll be back to square one before long.

What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
There's been a real gravitation towards authenticity, transparency and humanity. Not just in how communicators are communicating, but in how they’re leading and showing up for their teams. I'm not sure that's been a big mark of the prior decades, and I’m proud that the team's showing up in big ways today are often focused on how they've worked, and not just what they've done or delivered.

What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
Signs of opportunism in light of social atrocity.

How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
Yes. In fact, I'm pretty open about it. I had (have) amazing mentors, but often the most senior or successful leader was she or he who would grind it out for 20 hours a day and create this long wake behind them. To miss the evidence that both are recipes for failure is, at this point, wilful. So I try to be very conscious of that and model it to the best of my ability. And when I or another leader is working late or long, we don't need the whole team to know it.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
Smartless for fun. Yellowstone for life's lessons. The West Wing and Wag the Dog for pilgrimage.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Living on another continent.

Sum up 2021 in one word.