Indiana Hires Public Relations Firm To Fix Its Reputation After The Religious Freedom Law Backlash
"Hell hath no fury like the nation's collective scorn" is perhaps a new maxim that all lawmakers should keep in mind following Indiana's self-inflicted fall from grace. The nationwide outrage set off by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act caught local lawmakers flat-footed, and as public officials scramble to mend the situation, Indiana hired a public relations firm to fix its RFRA-tainted image.
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), the organization in charge of developing the state's economy, announced Monday that it hired Porter Novelli, a leading global public relations firm, to brand Indiana as "a welcoming place to live, visit and do business." The state's Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith said in the press release:
Indiana continues to have one of the best business climates in the country and hosts a robust travel, tourism and hospitality industry. We are engaging with our partners in state tourism and the internationally-respected firm Porter Novelli to enhance our state’s image and remind the country that Indiana remains a great place to live, work and visit.
Along with Porter Novelli and the state's Hoosier stakeholders, Indiana will develop a public relations strategy — to which $2 million of the state's budget is allocated, according to The Indianapolis Star — to market Indiana as a hospitable state to everyone.
Gov. Mike Pence's signing of the RFRA into law late last month triggered an unexpected backlash that resulted in activists, celebrities, businesses, cities — even whole states criticizing Indiana, with some vowing to keep their money out of the state. The legislation allowed individuals and corporations to turn away customers based on their religious beliefs, but many viewed it as essentially legalizing discrimination against the state's LGBT community. By some estimates, the boycott could cost Indiana some $256.4 million in the next six years.
Pence backtracked in the wake of the debacle, promising to tack an anti-discrimination clause on to the act, but it did little to fix the damage. The controversy proved not-terrible for everyone, as neighboring city Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to capitalize on the national anger towards Indiana to lure businesses to relocate to Chicago.
Some of Indiana's progressive activists, however, criticized the boycott as an act of abandonment during an already-difficult time for them. The decision to hire a PR firm to rebuild its sour reputation points to an active acknowledgement of the negative impact on the state's economy brought about by the RFRA. Chris Gahl, marketing vice president for the city's tourism division, told The Indianapolis Star:
We know that having an agency with outside perspective and one that has helped other consumer and government brands with image restoration campaigns is beneficial. ... Clearly the last two weeks have beat up and tarnished the state's reputation as a welcoming place.
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