Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign as he protests outside Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees will stage a company-wide walkout today to protest Walt Disney Co.’s response to controversial legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images News | fake images
Geoff Morrell, the director of corporate affairs who helped design DisneyFlorida’s public response to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation has decided to leave the company.
“After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that, for various reasons, he is not the right fit,” Morrell said in a letter to his team obtained by CNBC. “After discussing this with [Disney CEO] beto [Chapek]I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.
Kristina Schake, who Disney hired earlier this month, will lead Disney’s communications efforts and report directly to Chapek. Schake will have “oversight of corporate and segment communications and will remain our primary spokesperson,” Chapek said in a note to Disney staff obtained by CNBC.
Morrell’s three-month tenure has been difficult. He took over after years as chief spokesman for oil and energy giant BP. Before that, he was a White House correspondent for ABC News and a senior spokesman for the US Department of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
According to people who worked with him, Morrell made it a point to be more transparent with Disney communication than his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, who was known for closely protecting Disney’s image.
After beginning his job on January 24, Morrell led Disney and Chapek to explain publicly why he had not taken a public position on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which banned some sexual orientation and identity classes from gender in primary schools. Chapek wrote a letter to staff on March 7 explaining why Disney had not made a public statement condemning the legislation.
“Corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” chapek wrote. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”
Morrell’s thinking, according to people familiar with the matter, was based on setting a precedent. He feared that if Disney took a public stand against “Don’t Say Gay,” the company would also have to publicly fight future human rights issues, including possible wrongdoing from China, a major market for Disney content. Morrell also feared that potential 2024 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who championed the bill, would use Disney as a punching bag if the company opposed the bill.
Morrell has been proven right in recent weeks, after Disney quickly reversed its decision to remain silent amid major protests from Disney employees. Both Trump and DeSantis came after Disney’s public challenge of “Don’t Say Gay.” DeSantis signed a bill earlier this month that removes certain privileges granted to Disney for decades with respect to the land surrounding his Disney World theme park.
But by explaining Disney’s decision not to take a position on “Don’t Say Gay,” rather than simply not taking a public position, Morrell’s strategy opened up the company to months of protests that could have been avoided. Disney employees staged walkouts and ran social media campaigns using the hashtag “FireChapek” after the company’s hesitant response.
The Disney brand is arguably its most important asset, and the company has largely avoided these types of PR blunders in the past. Morrell seems to be taking the blame for the last two months by announcing his immediate resignation.
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