Michael Gonda | Influence 100 2022
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Michael Gonda

SVP, Chief Communications Officer

In early 2021, 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.' 

In his centralised 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?
Moments often limit themselves to big victories, and probably unproductively so. You end up focusing on the more public accomplishments, rather than the times when we’ve truly protected the license to operate or avoided an event that would have demonstrably hurt the business. But nevertheless: I remember the collective sense of achievement when, at Chobani, we really landed our strategy for the brand to drive both trust and affinity through our purpose. It was scrappy, it was enterprising and it drove short-term business results and long-term reputation for the brand. It also saw the company showing up in places like 60 Minutes and on magazine covers, and as a team we felt very proud when sales figures suggested that these achievements drove an outsized impact on the business. This wasn’t vanity PR.

In my current role, the world has grown even more complicated than even the twenty-teen years. A moment of real pride came when we unveiled a new articulation of our purpose and a strategy to deliver on it with very clear (and new) measures. For a team with many new folks on it (myself included), it was amazing to the embrace around the world. Smaller things stand out: Securing a relationship with the Mayo Clinic to advise the McDonald’s System at the outset of the pandemic, while not necessarily impacting short-term business results, was massively important to so many aspects of our business performance. Equally, centralizing our communications teams to operate with a singular strategy and a common set of aforementioned measures has—I believe—taken us from a cost center to a more measurable and accountable growth driver. The examples are myriad and they cut across affinity driving programs, like our recent Camp McDonald’s, to powerful storytelling and recognition programs like our Thank You Crew initiative.

Today (and this isn’t unique to just our team), we try to put things down if we don’t think they’re having a direct impact on business performance. That means the list of moments or victories gets invariably longer. Stepping back though, I think the impact of Communications to the McDonald’s business has never been stronger, which has also been perceived by our stakeholders. Particularly for a brand as large and tenured as ours, that’s a big victory that’s shared across every member of the Communications team, even if it can’t be distilled to a single moment.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
It’s so tempting to get into the technical aspects of the work. Measurement, creativity, digital mastery. Yes, yes, yes and more. But if there’s one challenge that reigns supreme from my vantage, it is the lack of diversity in our field, which then impacts the equity and inclusion that exists.

What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
A broad and common recognition amongst every leader I speak with that we must take care of our people, first and foremost. 

What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
Much of what I expressed around lack of representation and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness over the past year?
In the past few years I’ve started running. It’s forced me to be a very early riser, and has led to a step change in how I think and move through any given day.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through the past year or provided inspiration?
I watched CODA on a recent solo flight from Virginia to Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that in public…ever. It’s a beautiful story of a family that has familiar elements to all of us who didn’t come from that family—and a reminder of all the common little things that make us feeling humans.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Trying to survive as a writer.  

Sum up 2022 in one word.