Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill continues to cause upheaval for Walt Disney’s corporate office. Disney’s chief corporate affairs officer, Geoff Morrell, is out after only three months on the job. He is being replaced by Kristina Schake, who will lead the company’s communications efforts. The announcement of Morrell’s departure was handled via email to his staff. Disney CEO Bob Chapek made the announcement in a separate email to employees.
That was fast. Morrell led Disney’s advocacy against the Florida Parental Rights in Education Bill. He seems to have learned the hard way that corporate political activism isn’t appreciated by all of the company’s shareholders and customers. Too bad Chapek doesn’t seem to have received the same message just yet. Replacing one political communications activist with another looks like more of the same, just with a different face presented to the public. Morrell’s job is actually being split up among three people. Besides Schake, General Counsel Horacio Gutierrez will take over Government Relations and Global Public Policy and, EVP Corporate Social Responsibility Jenny Cohen will report directly to Chapek as Disney tries to figure out where it stands on political advocacy and donations.
Morrell led the Disney response to the Florida bill that is still a part of the news cycle despite Governor DeSantis signing the bill a month ago. Disney has been very vocal about its opposition to Governor DeSantis and the bill, finding lots of support from Democrats including a Disney heir, and national Democrats like Joe Biden and the Secretary of Education. They all decided to gaslight that the bill was homophobic, an anti-gay bill, which it is not. The word ‘gay’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the bill. But, that is how Democrats react when they want to shut down anything they oppose.
Perhaps Morrell forgot he is no longer a creature of Washington and regular Americans don’t see the world as Washington insiders do. Morrell is a former ABC News White House correspondent. He is also a former Pentagon press secretary/Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. When he left his days working in the government, he hired on with BP as a vice-president and the company’s head of US communications. He became Senior Vice President of US communications and external affairs where he was in charge of government and media relations. From there he moved to London as head of group communications and external affairs. In 2020 he was appointed Executive Vice President of Communications and Advocacy. He left BP at the end of 2021 to become Disney’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. With all that experience in the private sector with BP, you would think he could have transitioned to Disney without making such a bone-headed decision to politicize such important legislation in the minds of parents and grandparents – the people who Disney depends on as customers.
Disney is likely repeating its mistake with his replacement. Kristina Schake is an Obama White House alum and she led the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine education effort. Chepek’s announcement to employees boasted about her Democrat political experience.
First, Kristina Schake will lead The Walt Disney Company’s communications efforts, serving as our Executive Vice President, Global Communications reporting directly to me. In this expanded role, Kristina will have oversight for corporate and segment communications and continue to be our chief spokesperson. Our business segment and content communications leads will continue to dual report to both division leadership and corporate communications, now led by Kristina.
We are incredibly fortunate to have Kristina with us at this important time. Her 30-plus 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 collaborative style, as well as relentless optimism and a strong appreciation of our brand and its place in the world. These attributes will be invaluable as she works to protect and enhance our reputation, and I am thrilled to be working with her more closely.
Morrell lasted three months before he left saying he isn’t a “good fit” for the job. We’ll see how long Kristina lasts. Chapek says that the company is “reassessing our approach to advocacy, including political giving in Florida and beyond.” Disney may want to acknowledge that becoming the face of opposition to legislation that has support from one political party and the state’s legislature isn’t a practical approach to corporate partnership in a state. Liberals assume everyone thinks as they do so it’s been a surprise to Chapek that Disney has received the backlash it has from angry customers. I guess we’ll find out if any lessons have been learned by the new team in charge of communication and donation decisions.