Disney split from its senior communications and government relations executive on Friday after a tumultuous two months in which Disney became a political punching bagin particular for gov. Ron De Santis of Florida.
Geoff Morrell, who only joined Disney in January as Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be leaving his job with immediate effect, the company said.
Mr. Morrell was explicit about the need to “modernize” Disney’s approach to communications, even though his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, performed what was widely regarded as one of the best trades in its class. Most of his time at Disney, however, was occupied by a public relations nightmare that began in early March, when Disney refused to take a public position on Florida’s school legislation which, among other things, restricts class discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity. The company is the largest private employer in the state.
With Disney employees in open revolt over the company’s public silence, Mr. Chapek then aggressively denounced the bill, only to find himself in the crosshairs of Fox News hosts and Mr. DeSantis.
“Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing management team, including the relatively new all-star hires, means there is no shortage of talent to lead our reputation-driving functions,” said Bob Chapek, chief executive officer of the company. Disney, in an email to senior Disney executives on Friday regarding Mr. Morrell’s departure.
Mr. Morrell previously did similar work at BP, the fossil fuel giant, and served as the Pentagon’s press officer during the Iraq war. “After three months in this new role, it became clear to me that for a variety of reasons it’s not the right solution,” Morrell said in a note to his Disney staff. “I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities”. He declined to comment further.
Mr. Morrell’s position at Disney was new. He combined several global functions – communications, public policy, government relations, corporate social responsibility, and environmental issues – that had been distributed across the Disney departments. Mr. Chapek stated in his e-mail that he would not replace Mr. Morrell, but rather would go back to the old facility. Notably, Kristina Schake will become Disney’s top communications executive. You were hired this month by Mr. Morrell and you will now report directly to Mr. Chapek. Ms. Schake’s resume includes leadership positions on Instagram and in Democratic political campaigns and serving in the Obama and Biden administrations.
“Kristina has a strategic approach and collaborative style, as well as relentless optimism and a strong appreciation of our brand and its place in the world,” said Chapek. “These attributes will be invaluable as you work to protect and enhance our reputation.”