Reporters often joke that journalists are going to the “dark side” when they go into PR. After reading about Geoff Morrell, a hero I didn’t know I needed, I understand the temptation.
Here’s the deal: A regulatory filing from Disney last week, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, has put a spotlight on Morrell’s incredibly brief but wildly lucrative tenure at the company.
As the head of Disney’s head of PR for just three months, from January to April of last year, Morrell made about $150,000 a day, my colleague Chris Isidore reports.
That sum included salary, bonuses and $537,438 for relocating his family from London to Los Angeles, as well as an additional $500,000 to “account for his unique circumstances” of having relocating the family again upon his departure.
On top of that, Disney is buying out the rest of Morrell’s contract. He’ll receive an additional $4 million in the current fiscal year that ends October 1 to pay out the rest of his contract, along with the target bonus he would have received for 2022.
So, in total, adjusting for an unvested performance bonus and payments yet to come, Morrell is walking away with $10.3 million for exactly one-quarter of a year’s work. And he’s already landed himself another gig as president of the global strategy and communications unit of Teneo, a CEO advisory firm.
Morrell did not respond to a request for comment on his Disney pay package, and Disney declined to comment beyond the details in the filing.
Why the brief tenure?
Morrell got handed a pretty raw deal soon after he started, when Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek waded clumsily into the debate around Florida’s legislation that prohibits teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation through the third grade — commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay.”
Long story short, Disney, the state’s largest private employer, tried to stay silent on the bill. Employees were furious. So Chapek spoke out against it. Then Republican leaders were furious.
The company announced Morrell’s departure within days of that PR nightmare.
(To be fair, I don’t think having Olivia Pope on the payroll would have gotten Disney out of that scandal unscathed. But also…someone had to take the fall. Ultimately, Chapek also got the boot, cushioned by a $20 million severance that just barely takes the sting off the embarrassment of being replaced by his own predecessor, Bob Iger.)
Bottom line: The story of Geoff Morrell confirms my suspicion that executive titles are meaningless and Corporate America is all just a big game that you can learn to play medium-well to medium-bad and still make out like a bandit.
NUMBER OF THE DAY: $16 billion
Citadel is now the most successful hedge fund ever after bringing in $16 billion last year. The Miami-based fund, founded and run by Ken Griffin, topped the 2022 ranking of the world’s best-performing hedge funds based on estimates from LCH Investments.
Citadel’s record-breaking performance last year took total gains for the fund since its inception to nearly $66 billion. That knocked Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater — with gains of $58.4 billion — off the top spot for the first time in seven years.
As I gaze into my 2023 crystal ball, I’m envisioning the business and economics stories that will so dominate the news that you’ll all be sick of them soon. I’m seeing the words “recession,” “crypto,” “debt ceiling,” the “M&M’s spokescandy scandals…”
And yet, I am bound my duty as a journalist not to shy away from the hard candy shell news. I know, I know, you’re all tired of the media’s relentless coverage of the M&M Spokescandy Saga, aka the Culture War Battle that is shaping social discourse in the Year of Our Lord 2023.
Here’s the thing: After all the (manufactured?) drama surrounding the de-sexing of the Green M&M and the feminist-ing of her Purple counterpart, M&M is suspending the entire spokescandy campaign. For a bit, anyway.
The company claims it didn’t think anyone would notice when it released the changes to the characters’ appearance. “We definitely didn’t think it would break the internet,” it said in a press release that frankly reeked of champagne and high fives.
Oh you didn’t think anyone would notice, M&M marketing wizards? Well, we did.
ICYMI: Last year, M&M’s unveiled a new look for its anthropomorphized candy characters.
While most of the updates were subtle, the substitution of Green’s go-go boots for more-practical-looking white sneakers — “the kind that Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl changes into at her desk to signal she’s a Girlboss with a head for business and a bod for sin,” wrote EJ Dickson in a provocatively titled Rolling Stone article that, frankly, I wish I’d written — did not escape the internet’s wrath.
“Give Green her boots back,” cried a Washington Post op-ed. A petition to “keep the green M&M sexy” garnered over 20,000 signatures. M&Ms didn’t give in, but it did note in its statement on Monday that “even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing.”
Then came another change: A new character, Purple, joined the lineup as part of a limited-edition package honoring International Women’s Day.
Apparently the gender identity of — and I can’t stress this enough — fictional representations of junk food in human form, is fodder for the Fox News woke police.
“If this is what you need for validation, an M&M that is the color that you think is associated with feminism, then I’m worried about you,” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum said, adding that the move checks notes… emboldened China? “I think that makes China say, ‘Oh, good, keep focusing on that. Keep focusing on giving people their own color M&M’S while we take over all of the mineral deposits in the entire world.’”
So rather than just, like, ignoring those performatively pearl-clutchy reactions, M&M’s is taking an “indefinite pause” from the spokescandy crew.