Geoff Morrell is leaving Disney three months after the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy

Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds up a sign while protesting outside Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees are staging a work stoppage across the company 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 | Getty Images

Geoff Morrell, chief corporate affairs officer who helped architect Disney’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 a number of reasons it is not the right fit,” Morrell said in a letter to his team that CNBC has received. “After talking about this [Disney CEO] Bob [Chapek]I have decided to leave the company to pursue other options. “

Kristina Schake, who Disney hired earlier this month, will lead Disney’s communications efforts and report directly to Chapek. Schake will “oversee corporate and segment communications and continue to be our chief spokesman,” Chapek said in a note to Disney staff received by CNBC.

Morrell’s three-month term has been stoned. He took the job after years as chief spokesman for oil and energy giant BP. Prior to that, he was a correspondent in the White House at ABC News and chief spokesman for the US Department of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

According to people who worked with him, Morrell set out to be more transparent with Disney’s communications than his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, who was known for closely guarding Disney’s image.

After starting his job on Jan. 24, Morrell guided Disney and Chapek to publicly explain why they had not taken a public stand on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which ruled out some elementary school education in sexual orientation and gender identity. . Chapek wrote a letter to staff on March 7 explaining why Disney had not made a public statement condemning the legislation.

“Business statements do very little to change results or minds,” Chapek wrote. “Instead, they are often armed 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 might also have to publicly fight future human rights issues, including potential offenses from China, a key market for Disney content. Morrell also feared that potential presidential candidates in 2024, Donald Trump, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have been proponents of the bill, would use Disney as a punching bag if the company opposed the bill.

Morrell has proven to be right in recent weeks after Disney quickly reversed its decision to remain silent amid huge protests from Disney employees. Both Trump and DeSantis have come after Disney’s public challenge with “Don’t Say Gay.” DeSantis earlier this month signed a bill that removes certain privileges granted to Disney for decades over the land around the Disney World theme park.

But by explaining Disney’s decision not to take a stand on “Don’t Say Gay,” instead of just not taking a public stand, Morrell’s strategy opened the company to months of protest that could have been avoided. Disney employees have held outsiders and run campaigns on social media with the hashtag “FireChapek” following the company’s shock response.

Disney’s brand is without a doubt its most important asset, and the company has largely avoided these types of PR missteps in the past. Morrell looks set to take the fall in the last two months by announcing his immediate resignation.

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