CNN’s marketing chief steps down as Cuomo fallout continues

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Allison Gollust, the CNN marketing executive who allegedly had a consensual relationship with the now-fired CEO Jeff Zucker, has turned in her resignation.

Gollust, meanwhile, accused CNN parent WarnerMedia of making the announcement of her departure before she could, which she claims was their agreement.

“WarnerMedia’s statement tonight is an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks,” she wrote in a memo to staffers and obtained by Dylan Beyers.

On Feb. 2, 2022, Zucker, who had been president of CNN Worldwide and chairman of WarnerMedia and Sports, was forced to resign after it emerged that he and Gollust had a consensual relationship but did not disclose it as required by company policy.

Both Zucker and Gollust are divorced and Zucker has acknowledged the relationship.

Gollust’s departure is the latest in a saga that started when former New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo was accused of sexual misconduct.

The governor’s brother, Chris Cuomo, was a high profile anchor at CNN — and even interviewed his brother on air during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic despite an earlier ban on such interviews.

However, an internal investigation found that Chris Cuomo allegedly overstepped journalist ethics by providing his brother with support, guidance and contacts in the aftermath of the accusations and his eventual resignation as governor.

As a result, Zucker first suspended and then fired Chris Cuomo in December 2021.

Chris Cuomo himself was also accused of alleged sexual misconduct when he was at ABC 11 years ago, though he denied those allegations.

Meanwhile, the investigation reportedly also unearthed the unreported relationship between Zucker and Gollust.

Chris Cuomo’s camp fired back with claims that Zucker’s departure was never just about his relationship with a subordinate, but claim both Zucker and Gollust had been “advising” Andrew Cuomo during the fallout of the allegations. According to Chris Cuomo’s spokesman, this would make them guilty of the same actions he was fired for, NPR reported.

Both Zucker and Gollust denied those claims through a rep, reaffirming that it was the secret relationship that lead to the his departure.

The departures come at a pivotal moment for CNN.

The network is set to launch its much touted streaming service, CNN+, sometime in the spring of 2022. In addition, AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, is preparing to spin off the company and merge it with Discovery.

WarnerMedia and Discovery both already operate streamers, HBO Max and Discovery+, respectively, so there has been speculation over how CNN+ would fit into a scenario where the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery would operate three distinct streaming brands at a time when consumers are becoming overwhelmed with OTT options and questioning the value of paying for more than a few.

Some industry watchers suspect the company may fold CNN+ into the Discovery+ offering, while others say it could still be a standalone offering but also be made available bundled, similar to Disney’s strategy with Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. Disney also operates ABC News Live, a news focused streamer, but this service is free.

CNN has not announced a definitive launch date or pricing for CNN+. It’s also a bit late to the streaming news game — in addition to ABC’s platform, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and Fox all have streaming offerings already (with Fox Nation being a subscription service).

Marketing, which Gollust headed up, will likely be a big component in launching CNN+, though it’s likely a good amount of the planning of launch marketing has already been in the works for months.

With the looming merger, Zucker’s future at the company was already a bit up in the air. He himself had said he intended to step down in 2021, but then opted to stay on for an indeterminate amount of time, reportedly at least in part to help launch CNN+.

However, as with most mergers, one of the driving forces behind the spinoff is potential cost savings by de-duplicating roles and operations, but it’s not clear how all executive roles would be assigned after the deal is done — but typically with transactions of this size at least some end up leaving the company, albeit often with generous severance packages.