WBD hires former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as comms chief

Warner Bros. Discovery has tapped commercial and political communications and advisory veteran Robert Gibbs as chief communications and public affairs officer, in a newly created role.

Effective August 5, Gibbs, whose previous experience includes White House Press Secretary under former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, will oversee WBD’s public affairs and corporate and business communications. Gibbs will report to WBD CEO David Zaslav.  

"At this transformative time in our industry, Robert is the right leader to assume this new, critical global role, as we continue to grow the Warner Bros. Discovery brand and presence around the world," said Zaslav, while also noting Gibbs’ experience across Fortune 500 companies, the White House, and successful political campaigns. “He will be an invaluable part of the team as we create the most captivating stories and content for consumers around the world. I am thrilled to welcome him to WBD."

Gibbs brings both commercial, public and political experience to the table. He most recently served as a partner at Bully Pulpit International, a strategic communications, public affairs and corporate reputation advisory firm that has ties to the Obama Administration and which in 2020 was tapped by the Biden campaign to run an online mobilization advertising program amid the Covid pandemic. At the time it was called Bully Pulpit Interactive, before an acquisition late last year of consulting firm Boldt that expanded the firm’s operations internationally into Europe and resulted in a rebrand.

Gibbs earlier political experience includes comms and advisory roles in the Obama White House and presidential campaigns.  From 2009-2011 Gibbs was the Obama Administration’s first White House Press Secretary and Assistant to the President. Gibbs started working for Obama in 2004, serving as communications director for his then-U.S. Senate campaign. Gibbs continued to hold that position during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Following the White House, Gibbs acted as senior advisor to Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign.

His extensive Washington D.C. background could prove useful if WBD pursues any potential M&A opportunities that might require related regulatory review.

Separately, there’s also a planned launch this year for a sports streaming service named Venu Sports under a joint venture between WBD, Fox and Disney’s ESPN that bundles the companies’ respective sports assets. That effort has received some pushback, including questions from members of Congress and an antitrust lawsuit filed against the entities by sports-centric virtual MVPD Fubo TV, the latter which received support from satellite pay TV providers DirecTV and Dish. Earlier this year reports surfaced that the U.S. Department of Justice would scrutinize the JV once terms were finalized, although analysts at New Street Research have expressed skepticism that the DoJ would block or materially change the venture.

On the commercial side, WBD’s new comms chief Gibbs previously worked for fast-food giant McDonald’s as global chief communications officer and EVP of corporate relations from 2015-2019. In that role he was responsible for global corporate comms, internal and executive comms, government relations and public affairs. WBD highlighted Gibb’s work at McDonald’s including globalizing the company’s communications function, leading strategy for the QSR’s delivery service launch and driving awareness around strategic efforts such as improved food quality and an “America’s Best First Job” campaign.

“I couldn't be happier to join Warner Bros. Discovery and to help tell the incredible stories of so many iconic brands across entertainment, news and sports," said Gibbs in a statement. "I'm particularly excited to work with the global team to fully and clearly capture WBD's vision and communicate the meaningful growth potential in front of us. I am looking forward to getting started and being a part of this world-class organization."

Gibbs’ statement gives nod to global teams, where WBD earlier this year has emphasized planned and in-progress rollouts and relaunches of the Max SVOD service internationally. That includes launches in 39 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean at the top of the year, where the company has already touted early progress and engagement.  May marked European launches starting with the Nordics, Spain, Portugal, and Central and Eastern Europe, followed by additional markets in EMEA and APAC, including France and Belgium in time for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games this summer. Speaking on fourth quarter earnings in February, Zaslav cited international launches in key regions as a meaningful lever for growth as WBD continues work to build up streaming business profitability. That includes launching the ad-tier version of Max, which initially was only available in the U.S. but is expected to debut in 40 markets globally by the end of 2024.

At the time of Q4 earnings Zaslav noted Max is only available “in less than half of the addressable households and markets” compared to larger streaming peers.

“So we still have a huge opportunity for growth and globalization over the next two years, including many critical markets around the globe, such as the UK, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan,” he commented in February, adding that in these markets WBD has “a substantial amount of local content,” as well as sports in many.

As of mid-Jue, WBD said it completed the first wave of European launches after rolling out in France and Poland, with Max now available in 35 countries in Europe and more than 65 countries and territories globally. Additional launches in Southeast Asia are expected in late 2024. Exact timing of Max debuts hasn’t been disclosed for markets of UK, Italy and Germany, where the WBD has prior pacts with Comcast-owned pay TV operator Sky.

In the U.S. WBD this month raised prices on ad-free subscriptions to Max, including a $1 price bump for monthly plans without commercials and $10-20 increases on ad-free annual plans.