By Michael Nam
The backlash against Indiana’s attempt to protect gay bashing under the auspices of “religious freedom” was so fierce that the state decided to hire giant public relations firm Porter Novelli to the tune of $2 million. While the PR firm without major programs of note devoted to LGBT issues meets with Gov. Mike Pence’s office to discuss damage control, the state legislature hasn’t been prevented from continuing its cynical ploy of passive gay bashing.
Fixing Indiana’s anti-LGBT policies should be more than a public relations measure. Just as Porter Novelli’s hire became public, the Republicans in Indiana’s legislature were balking at specific provisions to protect LGBT civil rights. ThinkProgress reports that the Republican majorities killedmultiple attempts to strengthen LGBT protectionsin Indiana.
So how do such actions fit with Porter Novelli’s multicultural marketing services and its own image “In the last 10 years, America has exploded with diversity. Nearly half of the population under the age of 18 identifies as African-American, Asian-American, U.S. Hispanic or LGBT. More than ever before, brand success hinges on the ability to embrace the principles and language of inclusion to drive consumer connectionwhile maintaining the authenticity and integrity that establishes genuine connection,” says the description on its website.
In terms of multicultural LGBT issues, the firm’s website is light on campaigns or content. The only portfolio listing doing a search for “LGBT” yields a marketing effort in the summer of 2014 to sell computer products to Black, Hispanic and LGBT consumers. The only multicultural marketing piece of note for LGBT issues was a supportive statement for Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL, posted back in February of 2014. Before that, back in 2013, is a piece about Porter Novelli’s Washington office attending a presentation from the Human Rights Campaign, though Porter Novelli itself does not appear on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.
Under its ‘Diversity’ section, the firm lists just two programs: a speaker series on issues of diversity and a PR mentorship program for underserved students. LGBT-specific outreach or resource groups don’t appear to be a subject of significance under that heading.
Additionally, while a number of Porter Novelli’s partners in the firm are women and/or Hispanic, its senior partnership is entirely composed of four white men and one white woman, CEO Karen van Bergen. Leadership on issues of diversity comes from the top, for all intersections of diversity in terms of race, gender or sexuality, a commitment that is both the right thing to do and vital to maintaining a company’s value.
From a standpoint of public perception, Indiana’s reality-dodging governor presented $2 million of taxpayer money to a PR firm with seemingly little expertise on LGBT issues. Instead of the state relinquishing a form of bigotry that the people of Indiana are increasingly against, Gov. Pence wants to pay for the controversy to go away, and Porter Novelli obligingly has taken up the contract.