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McDonald's drafts Obama vet to beef up PR

Politics is often likened to making sausage, so perhaps it's fitting that McDonald's (MCD) would turn to White House veteran Robert Gibbs to help it sell burgers and fries.

The fast-food chain on Tuesday said it has hired Gibbs as its global chief communications officer. Gibbs worked as President Barack Obama's press secretary from January 2009 to February 2011 and later also served as an adviser in his re-election campaign.

Gibbs, who after leaving the White House co-founded a strategic communications advisory firm in 2013, will have the rank of executive president in leading McDonald's corporate relations group, which manages internal and external communications and government and public affairs for the company.

9 things fast food is doing right
9 things fast food is doing right

The appointment drew fire from Corporate Accountability International, a watchdog group, which cited McDonald's move to hire Gibbs as an example of what it describes as the revolving door between the world of politics and corporate America.

The move "reflects the Golden Arches' desperation amid an increasingly adverse regulatory and public climate," Sriram Madhusoodanan, director of the Value [the] Meal campaign at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement. "Coupled with McDonald's lobbying through front groups like the National Restaurant Association, [it] raises serious concerns about the corporation's manipulation of public health policy."

The National Restaurant Association declined to comment specifically on McDonald's hiring of Gibbs, but spokeswoman Katie Laning Niebaum said in an email that the NRA had developed a children's nutrition program, with "more than 42,000 restaurant locations nationwide offering healthful menu items for children."

McDonald's also tabbed Silvia Lagnado, the former chief marketing officer for Bacardi, as an executive vice president and global chief communications officer. She'll be responsible for global brand management.

"Robert and Silvia are both highly respected, talented leaders who will bring a wealth of experience and outside perspective to McDonald's as we build a more modern, progressive burger company," McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. "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."

The appointments come as Easterbrook tries to turn things around for the struggling chain, whose growth has slowed amid health concerns about fast food, changing consumer tastes and mounting competition from so-called fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle (CMG) and Panera (PNRA).

The hiring of Gibbs extends the list of former Obama White House advisers joining corporate America, Politico reported.

E-Commerce company Amazon (AMZN) in February hired former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to lead its global public relations and public policy strategy.

Ride-sharing service Uber last year brought on former campaign manager and White House adviser, David Plouffe, as senior vice president of policy and strategy, then in May announced Plouffe was transitioning to an advisory and board member role.

Former Obama campaign manager and adviser Jim Messina also advises Uber, Airbnb and other tech upstarts, and Peter Orszag took a job as vice chairman of Citigroup (C) in late 2010. Orszag, the director of Office of Management and Budget for two years, does not have direct contact with government officials, but serves as part of a senior strategic advisory group.

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