Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a placard as he protests outside Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees are organizing a company-wide strike today to protest Walt Disney Co.’s response to the controversial Florida-passed legislation known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Geoff Morrell, the head of corporate affairs who helped the architect 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 became clear to me that for a variety of reasons it’s not the right solution,” Morrell said in a letter to his team that CNBC got. “After talking about it [Disney CEO] bob [Chapek]I decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities “.
Kristina Schake, who Disney took over 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 continue to be our primary spokesperson,” Chapek said in a note to Disney staff obtained by CNBC.
Morrell’s three-month tenure was rocky. He accepted the position after years as the chief spokesperson for oil and energy giant BP. Previously, he was White House correspondent for ABC News and chief spokesperson for the US Department of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
According to the people who worked with him, Morrell decided to be more transparent with Disney’s communication than his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, who is known to closely protect Disney’s image.
After starting his job on January 24, Morrell led Disney and Chapek to publicly explain why he hadn’t taken a public stand on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which banned some elementary school instruction on orientation. sexual and gender identity. Chapek wrote a letter to staff on March 7 explaining why Disney had not publicly released a statement condemning the legislation.
“Corporate statements do very little to change results or minds”, Chapek wrote. “Instead, they are often armed on one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”
Morrell’s thinking, according to people familiar with the matter, was based on creating precedents. He feared that if Disney takes a public stance against “Don’t Say Gay,” the company may also have to publicly fight future human rights issues, including potential crime from China, an important market for Disney content. Morrell also feared potential 2024 presidential candidates Donald Trump and the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis, who backed the bill, would use Disney as a punching bag if the company opposed the bill.
Morrell has proved correct in recent weeks, after Disney quickly reversed its decision to remain silent amid large protests from Disney employees. Both Trump and DeSantis came after Disney’s “Don’t Say Gay” public challenge. DeSantis signed a bill earlier this month that removes some of the privileges granted to Disney for decades regarding the land that surrounds it. Disney World theme park.
But by explaining Disney’s decision not to take a stand on “Don’t Say Gay,” rather than simply not to take a public stand, Morrell’s strategy opened the company to months of protest that could have been avoided. Disney employees held strikes and conducted social media campaigns with 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 public relations missteps in the past. Morrell appears to have taken the blame for the past couple of months by announcing his immediate resignation.
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