Indiana's economic development and tourism agencies announced Monday they have hired global PR firm Porter Novelli to help rebuild the state's image in the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle.
The state will spend the coming days building a public relations strategy with the firm and stakeholders across the state and plans to spend $2 million with Porter Novelli, plus however much more is needed in actual advertising buys.
"The recent controversy has advanced the thinking of just a lot of people, that you can't take for granted that people know what Indiana is," said Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
The state took a major public relations hit at the start of the month with the swirl of negative attention surrounding Gov. Mike Pence's signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There is little doubt that Indiana's national image took a hit, but nobody has been able to quantify exactly how much damage was done . . .
The decision speaks directly to concerns raised by Indianapolis business leaders that the state was set to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the law had been allowed to stand unchanged.
"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," said Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing for Visit Indy, the city's tourism branch. "Clearly the last two weeks have beat up and tarnished the state's reputation as a welcoming place."The IEDC's Chris Cotterill is a Daniels crony who formerly served as Ballard's chief of staff. Visit Indy, which ultimately answers to Mayor Greg Ballard, has played a key role in ginning up the media firestorm against Pence. Ballard, who may have his own statewide ambitions after a reported post-mayoral retirement job at Cathedral High School fell through, has been working hand-in-hand with cronies of Mitch Daniels to discredit Pence. Advance Indiana believes the publicly-financed tourism arm of the City of Indianapolis worked closely with convention planners to orchestrate the attack on Pence, giving the impression groups were pulling their conventions from the city when no real serious plans existed to do that. It was just all part of an act. No other tourism organization in the nation spends more wining and dining officials in charge of convention planning for organizations than Visit Indy. Top executives, who earn large six-figure salaries far exceeding what any other public employees earn in Indianapolis, essentially buy off these decision-makers through lavish entertainment, which would land elected officials like members of Congress or state lawmakers in hot water if they accepted such large gifts while being lobbied by interest groups.