Robert Gibbs’ Hire At Warner Bros Discovery Latest DC-To-Hollywood Move

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David Zaslav can now boast of having a former Press Secretary to the President of the United States among his corporate inner circle. However, even with trophy of Robert Gibbs on his shelf now,  the Warner Bros Discovery CEO may do well to remember the transition from DC to Hollywood has proved full of pitfalls over the years.

“Everyone wants a Dee Dee Myers, nobody wants to end up with a Geoff Morrell,” notes an industry insider of the top ex-Bill Clinton aide who had a smooth five-year reign at Warner Bros and the former ABC News correspondent and Pentagon spokesman who flamed out in 2022 after just four contentious months as Disney’s communications boss. “What works in campaigns and in DC, doesn’t always work in LA,” the insider added, stressing the pacing and stakes of Hollywood PR moves at a different click than in the corridors of power.

“You need a softer touch out here.”

A relentless advocate for his boss as Barack Obama’s first press secretary and later a senior advisor for the 44th POTUS’ successful 2012 reelection, Gibbs has subsequently taken on roles as a MSNBC contributor, podcast co-host, lobbyist and head of communications for McDonald’s from 2015 to 2019.

Whether that background can bring Zaslav the good press he craves is as unknown right now as where Gibbs will be based in his WBD gig.

One thing is clear – Robert Gibbs has no experience in the entertainment industry.

In contrast, before she landed at WB in 2014 and after she exited as the first female White House Press Secretary, Myers served as a consultant and script advisor on The West Wing for the acclaimed Aaron Sorkin series seven season run. Besides that time in the trenches, Myers was also the co-host of CNBC’s Equal Time from 1995 to 1997.

While acknowledging the gap in Gibbs’ CV, one top exec says he still has the chops for his new WBD job. “He may come from politics, but he has real corporate experience, with the right team that outsider perspective could be a real plus for Warner Bros.,” the exec states.

That plus can’t come soon enough for Zaslav and WBD.

Even with the official announcement of Gibbs’ hire this morning to take over the role Nathaniel Brown left in January, WBD shares fell to a 52-week low today of $6.96 – yes, under seven bucks. On that battlefield, it’s crucial that Zaslav, who is routinely pummeled for his high pay and faux pas, has a smart defender and the company can put the best spin possible on it its numbers, strategy and prospects at a really tough time for his company and media overall.

“They need someone who knows both corporate and entertainment,” another Hollywood vet states of where WBD finds itself two years after the merger that made Zaslav CEO. “Gibbs doesn’t know the first thing about the industry, and they will eat him alive as soon as he stumbles, just like Morrell.”

Of course, even after crashing into one crisis after another in his about 70 workdays on the job, GOP and BP alum Morrell did exit Disney with around $10 million in compensation and benefits, according a corporate filing earlier this year. Additionally, Morrell benefited from a Pasadena house that the company bought off him for $4.5 million on his way out.

Beyond Myers, Morrell and now Gibbs, there is a long history of White House officials and other DC aides moving to Hollywood jobs, often in top communications roles.

After serving as press secretary for Barbara Bush, Anna Perez joined CAA to head up media relations. Clinton White House veteran, Jim Kennedy, had a long tenure at Sony Pictures Entertainment , Sony Corp. and most recently News Corp. Presently at Fiji Water parent The Wonderful Company, Seth Oster was one of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s first aides and a leading public affairs aide at the EPA under President Obama before stints at SAG, the MPA and as a partner and Global CCO at UTA. Now the chief operating officer at CNN, David Leavy was the National Security Council spokesman during the Clinton administration before hitching his wagon to Zaslav at Discovery and later WBD.

A long time loyal aide to Donald Trump in his real estate years in New York,  Hope Hicks became communications director when the scandal plagued former Celebrity Apprentice host was in the White House. In 2018, Hicks took over as chief communications officer at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp. Leaving little impression in Hollywood, she returned to the White House in 2020 to help out in Trump’s failed reelection bid.

Last month, Hicks gave tearful testimony in Trump’s so-called hush money trial. At one point she detailed how in the heat of the 2016 campaign, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner tried and failed to get Murdoch to put the brakes on an explosive Wall Street Journal story about the candidate’s alleged affair with 1998 Playmate of the year Karen McDougal.

Hired in the aftermath of the Morrell train wreck, Kristina Schake has served as Senior Executive VP and chief communications officer at Disney since 2022, working for both Chapak and the returning Bob Iger. Before joining the Mouse House, ex-Instagram advisor Schake was communications director for First Lady Michelle Obama, Deputy Communications Director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and handled the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine campaign.

Judy Smith, a crisis management expert who served in George H.W. Bush’s White House and later worked at NBC (and whose career inspired the TV series Scandal) said that there is a benefit for corporations turning to the political world. 

“When you bring in someone from the outside, sometimes that different perspective, a fresh set of eyes, can be very beneficial,” Smith tells Deadline. Any figure from the world of politics will have a learning transition period when taking a job in a corporation, whether that is entertainment or any other industry, she notes.

One top communications professional, who has gone back and forth from politics and entertainment, noted that even though Gibbs does not have Hollywood experience it doesn’t mean he does not have relevant experience. McDonald’s is one of the world’s largest advertisers, and he could bring that vantage point at the time the media companies are grappling with a devastating downturn, the comms exec adds.

The move to tap White House officials for top communications posts also reflects changes in how corporations view P.R., as companies grapple with an array of regulatory issues, a more polarized environment and, in some cases, shareholder battles.  One corporate communications professional says that CEOs, once desirous of a faceless chief comms officer, now lean toward someone who has the regular experience of dealing with the press, whether at a White House briefing or, even more importantly, on a campaign. 

In that regard, coming from the razor sharp elbows of New York state politics, Zenia Mucha kept Bob Iger on message and put the fear into the heart of many a journalist during her 2005 to 2021 reign at Disney. Leaving around the time Iger’s first era as CEO came to an end, Mucha is now a top advisor to widely popular and besieged social media platform TikTok.

The Walt Disney Co; TikTok

Moreover, corporate images of the likes of the almost banned TikTok, Disney and Budweiser often run into partisan buzzsaws in these polarized times, and many issues are covered in the political press.

In that context, what a Washington, D.C. political background can bring, Smith notes, is experience in thinking quickly, making good decisions and understanding the impact of those decisions. At the White House, press and communications leaders typically juggle 20 different issues at once, including the unexpected, where “no two days are the same.” 

“Given the world that we live in, with things that are constantly changing, that experience is appreciated,” she said. “Our world is more complex.”

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report

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