Indiana hires Porter Novelli to burnish state's image after 'religious freedom' law

In the wake of Indiana's controversial "religious freedom" law, Porter Novelli will support PR initiatives promoting the state as a good place to visit, live, and work.

INDIANAPOLIS: The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has hired Porter Novelli for PR support amidst fallout from the state's controversial "religious freedom" bill.  

Porter will be responsible for helping Indiana improve its global reputation as a welcoming place to live, visit, and do business, the IEDC said in a statement.

Late last month, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Reformation Act, which would have allowed individuals or corporations to cite religious beliefs as a defense in lawsuits. The law prompted a wave of backlash from critics who said it paved the way for business owners to be legally allowed to refuse services to members of the LGBT community. Companies including Salesforce, Yelp, and Apple condemned the bill.

Gov. Pence has since signed a revised version of the law to clarify that it prohibits discrimination.

With Porter’s appointment, the IEDC will collaborate with the Office of Tourism Development and all state agencies in an effort to improve Indiana’s image.

"Now more than ever, we want to remind the world that Hoosiers welcome everyone and that Indiana is a great place for individuals, entrepreneurs, and businesses to reach their full potential," Victor Smith, Indiana Secretary of Commerce, said in a statement.

IEDC EVP and general counsel Chris Cotterill told PRWeek that hiring Porter Novelli was not a direct result of the religious freedom act.

"The IEDC and our partners in state tourism had been talking about making a more aggressive and strategic investment in Indiana’s brand across the nation," he said. "There’s no discounting the recent controversy here. We think that’s really changed the question into [a] statement."

The partnership "reflects a signal we’re moving in a different direction," Cotterill said, adding that the initiative will aim to highlight diverse opportunities in the state.

Indiana has a preliminary agreement with Porter Novelli and is working on finalizing a longer-term agreement, Cotterill said.

Porter referred comment on the initiative to the IEDC.  

A similar "religious freedom" bill was on the table in Arkansas, but Governor Asa Hutchinson enacted a fix to it before it went into effect. Walmart called for the initial bill in Arkansas to be vetoed, saying it "threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present through the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

This story was updated on April 13 at 4:55pm ET with comments from the IEDC.

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