Edelman the latest company to face employee blowback over border-related work

Some staffers were reportedly "disturbed" the firm was approached about the account.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

Edelman has walked away from a potentially lucrative, but also extremely controversial, contract with the Geo Group, which runs for-profit prisons and has contracts to operate immigration detention centers, according to media reports. Agency CEO Richard Edelman said via email that his firm worked on the business for five days and never had a contract.

The firm’s decision to not take up the assignment comes as Ogilvy continues to receive backlash for its work on behalf of Customs and Border Protection. 

Why Edelman called it quits
Some Edelman employees were "disturbed" that the agency was hired to work on behalf of Geo, and some even requested not to be assigned to the business, according to The New York Times

The firm also feared that "potential blowback [could] endanger relationships with other clients if the work became public, according to AdWeek

Work was set to begin in July, but Edelman reportedly ended the work after 10 days of deliberation. 

What is Geo?
The company is the largest operator of private prisons in the U.S. It also runs detention centers and mental health facilities. Geo is also a contractor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has been under the microscope amid the U.S.-Mexico border crisis and questions about child separation and unsanitary and unsafe conditions at its facilities.

What Edelman is saying
An Edelman spokesperson sent PRWeek this statement: "Edelman takes on complex and diverse clients. We ultimately decided not to proceed with this work."

The agency has taken high-profile stands on social issues. It has refused to work with tobacco companies and ended ties with coal companies and climate-change deniers. Its client roster used to include the American Petroleum Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The players involved
Lisa Ross, president of the Washington, DC, office at Edelman, was the person who "helped set up the presentation" to Geo, according to the Times. Lindsay Walters, the former deputy press secretary in the Trump White House who joined Edelman this year, gave the pitch. 

The bigger picture
Other agencies have gotten in hot water with their own employees over work related to the U.S.-Mexico border crisis. 

Ogilvy staffers confronted agency leaders over its work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection this month. BuzzFeed obtained audio of a town hall meeting with CEO John Seifert, who defended the agency’s work and said it would not sever its relationship with CBP, for which it works on recruitment efforts. 

Deloitte and McKinsey employees also advocated for their companies to end work for ICE last year, as have staffers at Amazon and Microsoft

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