Geoff Morrell, Disney’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, is leaving the company after just three months in the wake of multiple company missteps in addressing an anti-LGBTQ law in Florida.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek wrote in a note to employees Friday that Morrell is leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”
Morrell had a rocky go at the company in the three months he was there – from accidentally leaking the opening date for a new Walt Disney World attraction to the bungled response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in which Chapek faced walkouts from his own employees and he finally had to issue a detailed apology for failing to fight against the legislation.
In Morrell’s place, newly-hired Executive Vice President of Communications Kristina Schake will now lead the comms team. She is a former Biden administration communications official.
An individual with knowledge of the situation said Chapek decided not to reorganize global communications under Morrell, which was his original plan, with the intention of having Morrell do the triage among HR, Culture and other PR priorities for Chapek. The structure instead will remain as it was under former CEO Bob Iger.
With that strategy abandoned and tough public criticism over the Florida episode, both decided to make a move before Morrell’s family moved from London to Los Angeles.
In an email to his 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. After talking this over with Bob, I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.”
Morrell is a former ABC correspondent who moved into politics as the Pentagon’s press secretary during the Iraq War. He eventually moved back to the private sector when, in 2011, he served as vice-president and the company’s head of U.S. communications for BP. He was present for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the fall of 2010, in which 210 million gallons of oil were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico. In 2020, he was appointed Executive Vice President of Communications and Advocacy for BP.
In late 2021, Morrell joined Disney after the combative Zenia Mucha, former head of communications for the company, left with Iger. As the New York Times noted, Morrell’s position was a consolidated one. “The position will combine several global functions — communications, public policy, government relations, corporate social responsibility and environmental issues — that previously had been distributed between Disney departments,” the New York Times wrote.
Morrell moved from London to Los Angeles for the gig, serving under Chapek, who had taken over for the revered Iger.
Among other things, Morrell was jeered by the fan community for sharing a photo on Twitter of himself inside the show building for the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind rollercoaster at EPCOT, accidentally revealing the opening date for the attraction before an official announcement (Memorial Day weekend) and tagging an EPCOT joke account instead of the actual Twitter handle.
Later, actual outrage would emerge over the company’s handling of its response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a problematic attack on the LGBTQ+ community that soon devolved into a PR nightmare, with orchestrated employee walkouts and various business units publicly expressing their disapproval.
While the company is clearly under a huge amount of scrutiny, this could be a response to try and make good.
Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.