As one of the state’s largest employers, the company initially stayed publicly neutral on the legislation, adopting an attitude, once common to corporate America, to avoid cultural fault lines. As it became clear that the legislation was likely to become law, CEO Bob Chapek reversed himself and publicly spoke out against it, acknowledging that our original approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done. Shortly after DeSantis signed the bill, Disney came out with a forceful statement vowing to work to repeal it. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that, the company. That set off a backlash by DeSantis and conservatives. Suddenly, Disney wasn’t just a corporation opposing a statewide bill but, in the words of commentators on the right, a woke company seeking to indoctrinate kids with the agenda of the LGBTQ left. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted that next year, the woke Disney lobbyists will ask Congress to extend Micky [sic] Mouse’s trademark. I think not. She appears to have conflated traded trademark with copyright, but you kind of get the point of the rhetoric and the new threats to corporations for speaking out.
Similar bills are being proposed in other states, including Georgia, where there is a major production presence. A version of the parental rights bill was introduced there last month and, though it’s not getting far this legislative session, there’s some expectation for next year, as well for it being a topic during the campaign. Back in 2016, as a religious liberty bill was making its way through the Georgia legislature, all of the major studios condemned it, along with a host of other corporations. Nathan Deal, then the state’s Republican governor, ended up vetoing the legislation. Disney, Netflix and WarnerMedia each raised public objections to a Georgia abortion law that has been stayed in the courts. In an interview with Chris Wallace last week, former Disney CEO Bob Iger made the case for companies to take a public position. It’s about right and wrong, he, while dismissing the impact of a backlash. The issue didn’t really come up at a Disney-hosted Wall Street investor event last week in Orlando. There is no evidence that I know of that right wing backlash results in corporate bottom lines being hit, Martin Kaplan, professor of entertainment, media and society at USC Annenberg. Boycotts are more powerful as public relations tools than they are at economic sanctions. I don’t think there is any risk at all in following Disney’s lead.
Employee pressure was a factor in compelling Disney to speak out publicly on the Florida law. Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at global marketing and communications firm Weber Shandwick, that while Disney is facing a backlash now from the right, it would have been greater had Disney continued to stay mum on the Florida law despite the pressure from its workforce to do so. She credits the company for reversing itself and going public. I have been researching and understanding CEO activism for many years now,. When comes to boycotting, it does fade. It doesn’t last long. But when it comes to your own employees, it can be damaging and have much more of an impact on things like recruiting and questions of equality and fairness. Today companies have to worry more about their own employees than who they cannot win over,. NBCU parent Comcast contributed to some of the same lawmakers behind the Florida law that Disney did. Yet it’s not surprising that Disney, and not its rivals, that has taken so much of the heat, as it is in its own league. Disney is a major cultural force in this country and abroad. The eyes are always on Disney, Burghardt Tenderich, professor and associate director of the USC Center for Public Relations.