The Walt Disney Company is parting ways with Geoff Morrell, its head of corporate affairs, after a series of public relations debacles.
Morrell, ousted after less than four months on the job, joined Disney in January from a post as the executive vice president of communications and advocacy at oil and gas company BP. But the transition was bumpy, coinciding with a bruising period in which Disney CEO Bob Chapek was faulted for his stumbling response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” laws. Disney said Morell is “leaving the company to pursue other opportunities.”
His role will be split in half. Kristina Schake will lead The Walt Disney Company’s communications efforts, serving as our executive vice president of global communications reporting directly to Chapek. Schake joined Disney in April, and was previously deputy communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. She also served in the Obama and Biden administrations.
Horacio Gutierrez, who serves as Disney’s general counsel, will take over Morrell’s government relations and global public policy purview. He joined the company in February and previously served as head of global affairs and chief legal officer for Spotify.
In an email to staff, Morrell wrote, “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.”
On paper, Morrell seemed to have the kind of experience Disney wanted as it looked to replace Zenia Mucha, its long-time communications czar, who was known for her message discipline and bare-knuckle tactics. He boasted both communications chops, as well as government experience, having spent four years at the Pentagon as chief spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislators backed and ultimately passed a bill that prohibits instruction around gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, Chapek was under pressure from staff to take a forceful public position. Disney is one of the largest employers in the state of Florida, where it owns and operates Walt Disney World and other theme parks. Initially, Chapek declined to publicly condemn the legislation, only to backtrack in the face of a near revolt from staffers. When he ultimately came out against the bill and said the company would reassess its political donations, DeSantis and his allies responded by passing legislation abolishing Disney’s self-governing district in Orlando. The halting response from Disney has led to questions about Chapek’s leadership and a growing sense that the company needed to shake things up.