- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A global public relations firm started a crisis-monitoring service for Indiana’s economic development agency after last year’s national uproar over the state’s religious objections law, newly released documents show.

The Porter Novelli firm provided the state with a daily report that tracked print, broadcast and social media, The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday (http://indy.st/1WUN3TD ). The reports provided a summary and analysis of news stories and highlighted top social media “influencers.”

The heavily redacted documents show Gov. Mike Pence’s administration was concerned about the impact of the law, which opponents argued would allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Social media conversation continues to remain decidedly negative as users continue to bash Indiana and Gov. Pence over the controversy and $2 million PR campaign,” a late April report said.

Twenty minutes after receiving that assessment, Indiana Economic Development Corp. general counsel Chris Cotterill sent an email to the firm referring to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

“All of this is very focused on RFRA,” he wrote. “Is the radar broad enough to capture other sentiments about Indiana?”

The IEDC released 1,100 pages of documents this week following public records requests regarding Pence’s decision to hire New York-based Porter Novelli last spring, then fire the firm in July. The documents don’t explain Pence’s decision to terminate the contract, the Star reported.

When the IEDC announced April 13 it was hiring Porter Novelli, there was not a single mention of RFRA in a news release. But that’s not what a draft news release had said just 24 hours earlier.

The draft distributed internally referred to RFRA and to restoring the state’s reputation several times. It included a quote from Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith that said “we must acknowledge the recent political controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has damaged our reputation.”

Before the release was sent out, IEDC officials and Porter Novelli executives eliminated any references to RFRA or efforts to “restore” Indiana’s image. The portion of Smith’s quote referring to the controversy was cut, along with a sentence about assessing “the impact of the RFRA controversy.”

Agency spokeswoman Abby Gras told the Star Tuesday that “various word choices were considered in the development of this particular release. All of our press releases at the IEDC go through several rounds of edits; this is pretty standard.”

The documents released by the agency include hundreds of partially or completely redacted pages. It also withheld 285 pages regarding Porter Novelli’s work for which the firm charged $365,000.

The documents have references to focus groups, surveys, benchmark studies and research findings, but the IEDC withheld any describing the results of those efforts.

Cotterill wrote in a letter accompanying the documents that the agency was protecting confidential details.

“If, for example, the IEDC had to reveal all its marketing plans, then other states that are competing with Indiana for jobs would have Indiana’s playbook - more than that, they would have the underlying opinions and analyses that lead to the development of our ‘plays,’” he wrote.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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