Disney (DIS) Appoints First Chief Corporate Affairs Officer

Geoff Morrell, communications exec at oil giant BP, will fill new role at Disney

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) has hired Geoff Morell, executive vice president at British Petroleum Plc (BP), as its chief corporate officer, a critical role at the company that encompasses communications and public policy. Morrell will replace the company's chief communications officer Zenia B. Mucha, who will retire at the end of this year.

"Few companies are as beloved as Disney, and I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure it remains that way," said Morell, who will start his new job at the end of January.  

Key Takeaways

  • Disney has hired BP executive Geoff Morrell to take over as its communications chief.
  • Morrell has been given a new title—chief corporate affairs officer—in a nod to changing times for the entertainment industry and society.
  • Morrell is a former journalist and Pentagon spokesperson, and he is credited with helping BP manage its reputation in the aftermath of its massive oil spill accident in 2010.

A New Position

Many senior executives have quit Disney in the wake of former CEO Robert Iger's departure. Mucha, one of Iger's top lieutenants, was among them. She was a well respected executive and a tough taskmaster who blocked access to company officials as punishment for negative coverage. Her duties have been folded into the new title of chief corporate affairs officer. The company plans to hire a new communications chief later.

According to The New York Times, the purview of Morrell's new position combines multiple functions—communications, public policy, government relations, corporate social responsibility, and environmental issues.

Morrell is part of a new guard taking over Disney under CEO Bob Chapek. He comes to Disney during a pivotal time in its trajectory as a public company. The entertainment behemoth is moving to a digital-first model by expanding its streaming offerings and has incorporated technology into operations at its theme parks.

That reinvention of its business model has precipitated many public controversies, such as the one that occurred earlier this year when actress Scarlett Johannsson filed a case against the company for releasing the latest Marvel movie on streaming.

The rebranding and delineation of responsibilities for the new position may also be a nod to the changing calculus of public perception for corporations during a time of racial reckoning and climate change. Disney has generally steered clear of controversies and opinions in the past to maintain its family-friendly image and to cater to the broadest audience possible. But that slant may be about to change with the new appointment.

"In this unique time of industry disruption and social change, it is more important than ever that our consumers, communities, employees, and shareholders understand who we are and what we stand for," CEO Bob Chapek stated in a press release announcing Morrell's appointment.

For his part, Morrell has a reservoir of experience handling controversies. A former journalist and spokesperson for the U.S. Defense Department, he joined BP in the aftermath of a massive oil spill accident at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Morrell is credited with repairing BP's damaged reputation and changing public perception about its efforts to rehabilitate those affected by the accident.

BP CEO Bernard Looney wrote to employees that Morrell was responsible for "modernization" in the company's communication. "He helped me change the tone of the corporate voice so that it is hopefully now much more human," he wrote.

Article Sources
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  1. The Walt Disney Company. "Disney Names Geoff Morrell As New Chief Corporate Affairs Officer."

  2. New York Times. "Disney Hires Geoff Morrell to Head P.R. and Government."

  3. The Wrap. "Disney P.R. Powerhouse Zenia Mucha to Exit."

  4. Deadline.com. "Disney Hires Geoff Morrell to Take Over as Communications Chief."

  5. PR Week. "Political Thrills and Oil Spills."

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