PR Advice from an Expert

A good friend of mine used to run one of Indiana’s premiere public relations firms. So naturally, when the news broke that state agencies had hired a national PR powerhouse (for $2,000,000!) to begin repairing the damage done to the state’s economy and reputation by those responsible for the RFRA debacle, I asked him for his thoughts.

His response:

As an Indiana PR professional, I will fix Indiana’s problem for free in three simple steps:
1. Pass a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — along with sex, race, religion, etc.
2. Have an articulate Indiana spokesperson appear on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
3. When George asks “A final question, a final yes-or-no question: Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?” answer: “No, George, it should not be legal and it is not legal in the state of Indiana.”

PR problem solved. No expense required.
You’re welcome.

In other words, our mothers were right: Actions speak louder than words. (People will judge you by your behavior.) Think before you speak. (You won’t get into these situations if you think about what you are about to say or do before you say or do it.) Treat others as you would like to be treated. (You won’t regret acting like a nice person instead of a jerk.)

After all, as Matt Tully noted in a column making much the same observations as my friend, there’s a limit to what spin alone can accomplish.


  1. Senator Tim Lanane offered the same solution. Indiana would make huge headlines if the civil rights law were changed to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Sadly, I don’t think that will happen with this one-party rule.

  2. Sheila’s and Sen. Lanane’s suggestions make perfect sense IF the goal were truly to restore our State’s reputation. But spending this $2M is more about restoring Pence’s political standing, which is precisely why spending this money on PR to repair self-inflicted damage where there are so many unmet human needs is just the latest in a long string of outrages.

  3. Bill, I agree with your post.

    It would be nice if this expense could be charged to Pence’s office or the three bible thumping groups that pushed it through.

  4. There has to be a republican in the senate or house that recognizes the problem that they have created for themselves. Doesn’t there?

  5. Not being PR person, I’m wondering just what the State thinks a PR company can do. Launch an ad campaign that says, “Indiana, we’re not THAT homophobic”? Or, “Hoosiers want members of the GLTBQ community to feel welcome, but not enough to prohibit discrimination”?

    I could be (and probably am) completely wrong, but it seems to me that the pro-business part of the Republican party needs to regain dominance in the party and bring about some sanity. The party leadership in this state need to realize that pursuing the extreme conservatism desired by the social conservatives is not helpful to the party. This party may have a supermajority in both legislative chambers now, but that could change in the next election cycle.

    Wait—no it won’t. The Indiana Democrats are too much like their national counterparts and act like scared bunnies. They talk about bipartisanship rather than pointing out the fact that the other party is disingenuous. The Rs will point out that they “fixed” the mistake quickly, therefore “we’re the leaders.”

    Rats. We’re hosed.

  6. If Indiana has a problem, then so does the United States. The last time I checked, Title VII does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class.

  7. Right, Gary, and it was not amended to include sexual orientation even when the Democrats had both houses. For those who wanted to advance LGBT rights, the fight against RFRA, a law completely unrelated to the existence of anti discrimination laws, was a pointless fight. Groups like Freedom Indiana deserve the blame for the scorched Earth campaign that used disinformation, demagoguery, and extortion threats from corporate allies. If they truly wanted to advance the cause of sexual orientation anti discrimination they would have focused on passing a law that did that instead of attacking RFRA which is completely unrelated to that goal.

  8. Read Tully this morning.

    The Pence Administration is in denial yet and the PR campaign will fail. America and the World will not forget Indiana and even when it
    passes the civil rights law .

    PS could someone have Lilly and Jim Morris and Cummins and the Chamber call Pence again.thanks

  9. 3. When George asks “A final question, a final yes-or-no question: Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?” answer: “No, George, it should not be legal and it is not legal in the state of Indiana.”

    You respond, I’m not sure I understand your question, George.

    Indiana’s law allows business owners not to be forced by the government to engage in commercial activity that conflicts with their religion.

    George, are you saying that Indiana should use the government to force business owners to engage in economic activity that creates a conflict with their religion?

    Cut off George’s answer.

    George, are you saying that Indiana business should not be protected by the First Amendment?

    George, Indiana is a pro-business state with many people of faith. We have a proud tradition of ensuring constitutional rights are protected in Indiana.

    Come to the 500. You can be my guest.

    Close interview.

  10. Some of the 11 “communities” claiming to have laws “protecting LGBTs” only protect lesbians and gays. Some of the 11 “communities” also have a law allowing businesses to REFUSE to be investigated if a discrimination suit is filed against them. Now, must we worry that this state will add laws allowing criminals to refuse to be investigated when charges are filed against them. Oh, I forgot, that law already applies to many in the legal and judicial systems on the national level as well as states.

  11. Yes, Paul, Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress took a pass on passing ENDA because they thought it would hurt them politically, but that’s just fine for liberal hypocrites because, you know, they mean well, just like the way Obama supposedly only pretended to oppose gay marriage in order to get elected president. And let’s not give Bill Clinton a difficult time for being the only president in the history of the United States to sign legislation into law twice which discriminated against gays, while sexually harassing female members of his staff.

  12. Yeah Gopper, but Governor Putz was the deer in the headlights on national TV. Too bad you didn’t get to prepare him for the interview. He would have done so much better. And, now you can put the blame on George where it belongs. Stupid George, asking pointed questions and expecting an answer!

  13. A quick word from “the sponsor”–aka the owner of this blog.

    Yesterday, I came close to intervening as the comment thread veered dangerously close to name-calling, and I don’t want this one to depart from the civil conversations and debates that have made regular readers into a thought-provoking and illuminating community. Anyone is free to post commentary here, and to disagree with what I or others have said, but I WILL monitor to ensure that the conversation remains substantive and civil. I understand that we all feel strongly about certain issues, and that’s fine–but insults and ad hominem attacks are off-limits.

    Just a reminder.

  14. The PR campaign will probably be about Sports. You will not find any reference to pot holed, broken streets, vistas of Factory Farms, polluted rivers you should not eat the fish out of, or substandard Public Transportation. You will see Happy Healthy Soviet Citizens – Correction Hoosiers eating a pot roast and apple pie right after they return from Church.

  15. This 2 million dollars is not about repairing the image of Indiana. It is about trying to repair the badly damaged image of Mike Pence. I think
    THAT is too late.

  16. The PR group has quite a challenge. I wonder how you put lipstick on a pig when it’s biting people.

  17. 2 million tax payer dollar to repair the image of Indiana? OMG. I see that Hillary Clinton didn’t bother to make a stop on the toll road while she drove west this week. I wonder why? It would have been a perfect opportunity to stop in Mishawaka and speak to a few locals there.

  18. PR of course stands for culture creation which is also known as brand marketing and, in the past, brain washing. It is conducted through mass media messaging and, as you would expect, some people are more susceptible to that kind of manipulation than others.

    It’s traded in a free market of those who know how to do it and those with the need and resources to afford it.

    What’s surprising and disappointing to me is that apparently oligarchy has progressed at least in Indiana to the point where the oligarchs can get the people to pay for brainwashing themselves.

    Of course that advanced state of undemocracy makes the great enlightenment both more difficult and less likely.

    That leaves rational residents with two options. Work much harder to restore democracy or move.

  19. I find it so strange that there is not even a whimper of an uproar about using taxpayer monies to fund this PR campaign. And how was company selected – no Indiana applicants?? The PR will be a sham and will be seen as one.

  20. Vicki, please turn your ears to the north east side of Indianapolis and you may be able to hear me ‘roaring’ about using taxpayer dollars for this no local bid PR campaign. What if it fails as it very likely will? Do we spring for a second one or a third? Matt Tully, Dr. Kennedy’s PR friend, and Bill Groth are right. This PR campaign is nothing more than trying to put an ill fitting band aid over a gaping and festering wound. Those that think this effort will fix It are the ones that inflicted it. Time for a second opinion at the very least.

  21. Interestingly, they “found” $2M to fund this PR campaign at the same time the Senate cut to $0 the $2M appropriation from the House budget for 2-1-1, which is desperately needed.

  22. Gopper. Your words: “Indiana’s law allows business owners not to be forced by the government to engage in commercial activity that conflicts with their religion.”

    Do you believe that this should apply to all engaged in providing goods and services to the public and be based only on the providers claim of what their religion makes them uncomfortable doing?

  23. I have commented on this $2 million; either on Facebook or this blog, I rant about so many things it is hard to keep track. I did just send a letter to the editor of the Star…they have not published my last few letters. Irvin; thanks for standing up for Glenda Ritz, that is another issue I have jumped on to no avail, how much time and money has been wasted trying to keep one elected official from doing HER job? This state has so many negative issues – too many of them regarding abusing our tax dollars that can be better spent. I joked and laughed about the new “dirt tax” information in my property tax bill but…will I still be laughing when I get the bill for that? That needs another letter to the editor:) It is too late for PR to help this city, this state or Pence; hopefully he has buried his political career with the RFRA fiasco which put the entire state in the spotlight. The national and local hullabaloo died too quickly to suit me; will this PR effort only revive the negative publicity we saw recently? It took years for Goldsmith to become out of favor in the political limelight; it took abusing his wife while living in Washington, D.C. when he was Deputy Mayor of NYC and lied about where he lived. Sitting at home alone watching the news, I cheered and applauded when Dave Barras made the comment, “Maybe this will end his political career.” Of course; Daniels, Pence and Ballard are all using Goldsmith’s leftover cronies and their tactics to run Indianapolis and Indiana but maybe, maybe we can be rid of Pence.

    The valid complaint has been made about not using someone local for this PR effort; sound familiar, Sheila? A totally different situation and a common sense, understandable decision that raised a ruckus…why not now? Why not now, when we are out of favor locally and nationally?

  24. I have to agree with Bill Groth – this has nothing to do with restoring Indiana’s reputation, and everything to do with saving this administration – at the taxpayer’s expense, I might add. Is that even legal?

  25. Sheila, you’re a lawyer, under the Indiana constitution how to we do a recall election?

  26. Gopper; your words seem to imply that everyone who provides a good or service in the marketplace should be able to opt out of any transaction that they may deem contrary to their personal religious beliefs.

    Is that your belief and what you meant your words to imply?

  27. I’m trying to understand your point, not make a point.

    What if any limits do you believe should be put on people who want to opt out of providing specific customers the products or services that they offer commercially based on their personal religious beliefs?

    Your words imply none. Is that what you believe?

  28. I guess I don’t understand what you want, Pete.

    The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion from intrusion by the government. I support that. I think that Amendment is wise and has given this country over two centuries of religious tolerance.

  29. Gopper; I believe that as long as sex is between consenting adults it’s nobody else’s business. Not the government, not any church, not any business, not other people.

    I also believe that turning away business is bad business.

    Apparently most of the rest of the country believes as I do and that’s why Indiana has to try to change America’s culture by hiring professionals to lipstick the pig.

    I’m just a big freedom guy I guess. My rights can’t be at someone else’s expense.

  30. Stats Indiana shows a pattern monthly of 500-600 business starts: 3,000 business dissolutions. Religious adherents can do about anything they want to AS business counseling, etc. If they get pity money for refusal as pizza distributors to serve those condemned prenatally anyway, then they can dissolve that corporation and go on to another. So a person can be upwardly (heaven) mobile and dodge those five year profit or master’s marks in a charitable, educational, political public service enterprise. Medical doctors have fewer and fewer profit practices and join more non-profit groups, for example. Nice contracts, and partisans need wall-to-wall PR personnel, not just one little star agent.

  31. One anecdote: one of my wife’s colleagues works in China alongside a number of Chinese citizens. The colleague was surprised one day to see that Indiana’s RFRA law was a topic of discussion among the Chinese, and that they were of the opinion that the effort to push the law was a ridiculous thing. They also thought Indiana looked foolish in trying to defend against the outcry. Now, this was in a higher education setting, but it’s telling.

  32. Bill Wilson; thank you for your post but I find it frightening and embarrassing that Indiana’s dirty laundry is being aired as far away as China. This morning I posted 2 messages in the “What’s on your mind” area of my Facebook page. One is regarding this RFRA issue stating PR cannot change the RFRA laws in this state, including the newly enacted version by Pence, which ARE the problem. As Stephen King posted on Facebook about this Indiana mess; “You can frost a dog turd, but it is still a dog turd.” Pence must believe people in this state are not aware that the LAW is the problem, not Indiana’s reputation which has been dirtied by his personal discrimination – which he claims are his religious beliefs. We are also aware it is his own reputation he is trying to clean up.

    My second post was regarding the front page headline in the Indianapolis Star this morning; “ANGIE’S LIST TO POLITICS”. Whether Bill Oesterle decides to run as a political (REPUBLICAN) candidate or support someone else – his primary goal is get that $40 million of Indianapolis tax dollars to expand Angie’s List in this city. Not all of this city’s residents are fooled by his action; many of us are keeping track of GOP trickery on many levels.

  33. “Gopper; I believe that as long as sex is between consenting adults it’s nobody else’s business. Not the government, not any church, not any business, not other people.”

    Where did sex come from? This statement doesn’t seem connected to anything else in the prior discussion.

    “I also believe that turning away business is bad business.”

    That’s back to the subject, but it’s not anyone’s business what business some merchant turns away. Don’t like him? Don’t shop there.

    “Apparently most of the rest of the country believes as I do and that’s why Indiana has to try to change America’s culture by hiring professionals to lipstick the pig.”

    No, they don’t. Almost everyone believes that a merchant should be allowed to engage in only the work the merchant wants.

    “I’m just a big freedom guy I guess. My rights can’t be at someone else’s expense.”

    It doesn’t cost you a thing if ACE Hardware doesn’t carry your favorite line of pipe cleaner. Keep shopping until you find what you want.

    Trampling on religion isn’t freedom, Pete.

  34. Gopper: you apparently believe that customers exist at the pleasure of business. Your every “solution” is impose on customers all of the responsibility for adapting to what any business wants to do. That’s not freedom for we the people but power to business.

  35. . . . and if you DO try to put lipstick on the pig, you’re likely to end up with bandaged fingers, if you keep all ten, and with lipstick smeared all over your smock.

  36. I’m a firefighter and called to a a fire at a Catholic church. Catholics aided Nazis after WWII so I don’t like their religion. Can I refuse to fight the fire?

  37. Earl: there are a bunch of examples like that and that’s why those selling the legislation had to keep folks focused on the gay wedding cake example.

    Here’s another situation. I’m Catholic and work in a drug store. Can I as an employee refuse to deal in birth control as a legitimate exercise of religious freedom?

  38. Pete; this just happened – and was upheld – at a Walmart pharmacy. I didn’t bother reading to see where it happened; doesn’t matter, it is a government enacted law allowing religion to be used to deny service in a major public business. It for some reason reminded me of working in a pharmacy in 1953 running the lunch counter; a “colored man” came in one very hot afternoon, asked politely asked for a glass of water. I gladly gave it to him even though we had never had a “colored” customer before. After he left I headed to the sink of dishwater to put the glass in with other dishes. The owner/pharmacist stomped over and told me to put the glass in the trash and never do that again. He didn’t need to tell me why; I knew why, the law allowed businessses to refuse service to anyone and usually had signs posted. There was no sign where I worked but, being me, I would have given him a glass of water anyway. We are pedaling backwards on a different issue these days…not that racial discrimination is gone, just not quite as overt today.

  39. Another example that I read was Orthodox Jewish men asking to rearrange airplane seating as the they are not supposed to sit next to a woman not their wife.

    I’d normally be glad to accommodate a friendly request but might dig in some of it turns out to be a religious demand.

  40. Pete, perhaps I misread your last comment here, but it seems like you’re saying you wouldn’t switch seats to accommodate a devout Orthodox Jew’s efforts to solve a problem that’s religiously based. (Could be on a plane, a bus, wherever.)

    The problem with this example is that it’s not quite the same thing as the baker, the firefighter, or the pharmacy employee. I’m going to have difficulty explaining this, but here goes. It would be one thing if the airline refused to allow any seat switching among passengers, even if they volunteer, and the policy puts the Orthodox Jewish man in a bad situation. But I would hope that everyone would be respectful enough of other faiths to agree to switch seats so the man isn’t forced into a situation that runs afoul of his faith. I would do whatever I could to be helpful.

    Again, Pete, I’m not saying you wouldn’t. It just looks like the words you chose indicate that.

    When it comes to our fellow humans, it might be wise to recall a story I once heard: A man opened a door for a younger lady as they approached the same office building. The woman said, “Don’t open the door for me because I’m a woman.” The man smiled and said, “I did not open the door for you because you’re a woman. I opened it because I am a gentleman.”

    Once again, Pete, I hope I misunderstood your comment. Happy Friday everyone!

  41. Bill you are absolutely right. Thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful explanation.

    I really don’t know how I would behave in the situation that I described. I suspect that it would depend on how the request came across to me. I tend to view requests favorably but demands reluctantly.

    My dog taught me to look forward to requests but dig in to the tug of a leash.

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