Geo Group calls out Edelman for dropping it as a client

The prison operator disputes Edelman's no-contract claim and says the agency's actions send a "chilling" message to other clients.

Geo's Broward ICE Transitional Center, visited by senior Edelman staff July 8 (Pic: Geo Group).
Geo's Broward ICE Transitional Center, visited by senior Edelman staff July 8 (Pic: Geo Group).

BOCA RATON: The Geo Group, the private prison company client Edelman dropped after employees complained about the account, said the PR behemoth’s decision sends out a negative signal to other clients.

Via email, agency president and CEO Richard Edelman told PRWeek the firm worked on the business for five days and never had a contract.

However, a person familiar with the process said there was an agreement, that it was in effect Monday, July 1 and senior level Edelman executives toured prison facilities, met with employees and people housed in the facilities on July 8. Then on July 12, the person said, Edelman notified Geo it was ending the engagement.

"It’s truly disappointing that a renowned public relations firm, which prides itself on helping companies tell their story, would allow the personal political beliefs of some employees to undermine a business contract," a Geo spokesperson said in a statement.

According to media reports, Edelman pitched the account in May and was slated to start work in June. According to The New York Times, some Edelman employees were "disturbed" by the work and asked not to work on it. As a result, the PR firm dropped the account.

"The Edelman senior level staff assigned to the contract visited our facilities, talked to our employees, heard directly from individuals entrusted to our care, and based on first-hand observations acknowledged that the story being told about our company in the media is based on false narratives and deliberate mischaracterizations," added the Geo spokesperson.

"Edelman’s decision sends a chilling message to their other private sector clients who may in the future come under politically motivated attacks."

When contacted about Geo’s comments, agency president and CEO Richard Edelman said the PR firm had nothing further to add to the statement it released earlier in the day: "Edelman takes on complex and diverse clients. We ultimately decided not to proceed with this work."

Geo is a vendor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has been critiqued during the controversy surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border and the Trump administration’s immigration policies. It is the nation’s largest private prison operator and also manages detention centers and mental health facilities.

Edelman is the second major PR shop to face employee ire over immigration-related work. Earlier this month, Ogilvy staffers were upset with agency leadership over the firm's work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In audio recordings of a town hall meeting leaked to Buzzfeed, CEO John Seifert defended the work and said Ogilvy would continue working with the border patrol organization.

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