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State to spend $750K in developing ad campaign to undo harm

May 14, 2015

Indiana is going to pay a New York public relations firm up to $750,000 to come up with a plan to try to rebuild the state's damaged image after widespread criticism over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A contract posted Thursday to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. shows the quasi-governmental agency, which is exempt from some oversight faced by other state agencies, will pay that much to Porter Novelli for the first phase of the "reputation enhancement initiative." The contract states the cost of the second phase of the public relations campaign will be determined after the scope of the work and other terms are decided.

The state has previously said it would spend $2 million on a public relations strategy to try to overcome the damage done after the General Assembly passed a law that critics contended was anti-gay. The public backlash, including many companies canceling travel to Indiana, led lawmakers to amend the law to address the discrimination concerns.

The contract states the IEDC is collaborating with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development to strengthen Indiana's "global brand reputation as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business."

As IBJ reported May 9, the ad agency is expected to look at the ad slogan "Honest to Goodness Indiana" that was panned as too folksy when it was unveiled last year. The state tourism office designed the campaign with Indianapolis marketing company Williams-Randall.

The first phase of the contract with Porter Novelli runs from April 1 to Sept. 30 and calls for the ad firm to assess the perceptions and expectations of the state and to develop a campaign and strategic approach, including the development and design of a marketing campaign.

An email from the tourism office's communications director, Jake Oakman, to local tourism officials last month made clear the reason for the need for the ad campaign.

"The Indiana Office of Tourism Development is partnering with the IEDC on this initiative to restore Indiana's image after the recent political controversy surrounding RFRA," Oakman wrote.

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