Amid political fallout and media backlash, Disney’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer has decided to leave the company.
Geoff Morrell, the communications lead who helped craft Disney’s public response to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, has resigned from Disney starting immediately.
Morrell’s brief role within the Walt Disney Company will be defined by Disney’s political feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, its refusal to provide a public statement about the controversial education bill, and his accidental reveal of a new Walt Disney World attraction’s opening date.
Morrell came from an interesting career background. In 2020, Morrell was appointed Executive Vice President of Communications and Advocacy at BP. Prior to that, he was a White House correspondent at ABC News and chief spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In December 2021, it was announced that he would be leaving BP to serve as Disney’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. Morrell transitioned into his role with the Walt Disney Company only in January this year.
Geoff Morrell’a goal was to “modernize” Disney’s approach to communications, even though his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, ran what was widely considered a successful comms strategy.
Morrell’s time at Disney was predominantly taken up by public relations chaos that started in early March. Disney initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and identities in schools. Disney’s statement against the bill caused a feud with Ron DeSantis, who set about dissolving Walt Disney World’s special Reedy Creek treatment in Florida.
In a letter to his team, Morrell explained: “After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons it is not the right fit. After talking this over with [Disney CEO] Bob [Chapek], I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.”
Kristina Schake, who Disney hired at the beginning of April as its new Vice President of Global Communication, will now lead Disney’s communications efforts and report directly to Bob Chapek. She previously reported to Geoff Morrell. Most recently, Schake was appointed to lead the nationwide COVID-19 vaccine education campaign by President Joe Biden.
Geoff Morrell was Chapek’s chief guide through Disney’s public stance on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which ultimately led to the widely-reported political feud with DeSantis. Disney’s silence snowballed into a high-profile PR disaster that ultimately led to Disney finally releasing a statement claiming “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law”.
Morrell reportedly believed that if Disney took a public stand against the Parental Rights in Education bill, that the company may also have to publicly fight future human rights issues, including those in China, an important market for Disney movies and content.
Morrell also feared potential 2024 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would retaliate if Disney opposed the bill. Disney’s promise to fight to repeal the legislature has now, in fact, caused a war with Florida’s governing body. The Walt Disney Company’s assertive stance has led Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to criticize Disney, saying, “They do not run this state. They do not control this state” – signing a bill to dissolve Reedy Creek last week.
Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort has been able to reside in Florida unregulated, basically acting as its own government through the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.
Thus, Morrell was proven correct. But the infamous political feud between Disney and Florida could have been avoided by simply explaining Disney’s decision not to take a stand on “Don’t Say Gay,” rather than not taking any public position at all. Disney’s brand is arguably its most important asset, and in the past Disney has mostly avoided public relations mistakes like this.
Morrell will also be known for his accidental reveal of EPCOT’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opening date. Morrell shared a photo from inside the Cosmic Rewind attraction, revealing that the ride would be opening Memorial Day weekend. The Tweet was immediately deleted, which made it seem like an accidental leak.
It seems Geoff Morrell is taking the blame for the past two months of PR turmoil by announcing his immediate resignation.