Geoff Morrell absent as Disney communications chief after Florida fiascos; Kristina Schake and Horacio Gutierrez will share the roles
After less than four months, there is another change of the communications guard at The Walt Disney Company.
Beaten by the ongoing battle with Florida Governor and POTUS 2024 hopeful Ron DeSantis, as well as internal dissent, Geoff Morrell has stepped out as director of general affairs at the House of Mouse.
CEO Bob Chapek today sent a note to staff members announcing Morrell’s departure. “I am writing to share the news that Geoff Morrell, our Director of General Affairs, is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities,” the CEO succinctly said before naming the former Pentagon spokesman’s successors. See the full Chapek memo below.
Morrell also emailed Friday. “After three months in this new role, it became clear to me that for a number of reasons this was not the right fit,” he told his team.
Splitting Morrell’s role, Kristina Schake, a Biden administration insider and recent addition to Disney, will handle Disney’s communications efforts. The company’s general counsel, Horacio Gutierrez, will handle government relations and global public policy. Additionally, Executive Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Jenny Cohen will now report directly to Chapek as Disney tries to figure out where she stands and who she’s donating to.
The loss of Morrell also reveals the cracks in what has so far been a fairly solid wall of Chapek loyalists. Or rather, to paraphrase Disney Encantowe’re not talking about Florida – unless we have to talk about Florida.
Drenched by a constant storm of corporate missteps over Disney’s silence, then the ever-shifting stance on the Sunshine State’s discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” law and later the legislative removal of Disney World’s self-governing status , Morrell’s exit has been seen in recent weeks as a matter of when not if. Even with the dark outside clouds, Disney staffers who are members of the LGBTQ+ community reacted strongly to what was seen as abandonment by Chapek, Morrell and upper management. Some reacted in the halls of power, while others expressed their dismay on the streets and online – an extremely rare display for a company whose culture keeps things behind closed doors.
As Republicans and Fox News smear Disney with phrases like “grooming” and turn the company into an election piñata in the latest version of the culture wars, the hope at the highest level is that Morrell’s removal and the new reorganization will allow the media giant to come out from under the falling debris of the current situation.
In the final days of Bob Iger’s reign in December, Morrell was announced as the successor to Disney’s longtime, iron-fisted senior executive vice president and communications director Zenia Mucha. As former theme park boss Chapek sought to establish his own mark on the business he had served for so long, GOP and BP vet Morrell was seen as a clear indication of direction that the CEO wanted to steer the right Disney ship.
Now, with Morrell bloodless, the question is whether the new communications team can help his boss avoid more obvious icebergs.
Here is Chapek’s memo to the staff:
I am writing to share the news that Geoff Morrell, our General Affairs Manager, is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing management team, including relatively recent recruits, means there is no shortage of talent to guide our reputation functions. With the departure of Geoff, I am pleased to share the following changes:
First, Kristina Schake will lead the communications efforts of The Walt Disney Company, as Executive Vice President, Global Communications, reporting directly to me. In this expanded role, Kristina will oversee corporate and industry communications and continue to be our primary spokesperson. Our Heads of Business Lines and Content Communications will continue to report to both Division Leadership and Corporate Communications, now led by Kristina.
We are incredibly lucky to have Kristina with us at this important time. His more than 30 years of experience includes roles leading President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine education program, communications for Instagram, and leadership positions in political campaigns and the Obama White House. . Kristina has a strategic approach and a collaborative style, as well as an unrelenting optimism and a strong appreciation for our brand and its place in the world. These attributes will be invaluable as she strives to protect and enhance our reputation, and I look forward to working more closely with her.
Next, Government Relations and Global Public Policy will now be led by our General Counsel, Horacio Gutierrez. Since joining the company earlier this year, Horacio has integrated seamlessly into the Disney family and has quickly become a valuable advisor to me and the management team on a wide range of issues. His vast experience leading these areas will be extremely helpful in guiding our efforts.
In addition to her current direct reports, Susan Fox, Senior Vice President of Government Relations, and Yvonne Pei, Senior Vice President of External Relations for Greater China, will join Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy, in reporting directly to Horacio.
Finally, Jenny Cohen, Executive Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, will now report solely to me in her role of leading our CSR and ESG efforts. Jenny is a strong leader and has done an incredible job of modernizing our approach in key areas like environmental sustainability, community investment and philanthropy.
I have incredible confidence in this team and look forward to working with them and all of our leaders to set Disney’s course for the next 100 years of amazing entertainment and experiences.
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