My younger son and I went to a Chicago White Sox game Independence Day weekend as we have the last three years. They have great holiday fireworks, fantastic food, oh, and the White Sox even won a good game as a bonus this year, 1-0 over the Orioles.
One of the highlights of the night though was hanging out with the group of people in front of us who were having a beer-induced party. They were hilarious young people.
During the fireworks show, one of them kept hollering "America! We're better than everyone!" My son and I laughed and laughed at how ridiculous that sounded. And then we repeated it the next night at our family party. We didn't get the laughs our new friends got the night before. Go figure.
Back in Indianapolis, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation cancelled the public relations contract with national PR heavyweight, Porter Novelli. The reason for the cancelled contract apparently was the news of our existing standing within the business magazine community as a top ranked place to do business.
The original contract was a $750,000 commitment to the firm to rehabilitate Indiana's image following the RFRA debacle. Oh, and our tourism industry was the main victim of said debacle. I think this contract seemed like an unnecessary and wildly overpriced engagement from the beginning. And canceling it halfway through the term sort of sounds like an "Indiana! We're better than everyone" kind of battle cry.
I was anxiously looking forward to seeing what this contract produced. I still am. My colleagues and competitors in the field marvel at the rate they charged, and now it seems the firm doesn't even have to deliver anything in return. Sounds a little more like: "Porter Novelli! We're better than everyone!" to me.
Now, there could be some value to what we spent $365,000 on for three months of work and we just haven't seen it yet. I think it is vital to disclose something, anything, that might make Hoosiers feel better about this deal, even though the targeted non-Hoosier bunch is apparently no longer in need of our rebranding effort. That disclosure or justification should have been part of the original plan and is now more important than ever.
The truth is, Indiana's advantageous ranking in the business magazines exists largely for two reasons. The first one is our low tax rates. The second is our permissive regulatory environment. These big-ticket items in the world of business magazines didn't develop overnight and were not harmed by RFRA. These items also don't fill the convention center with visitors who will only be in our city for a few days. This last bunch was with whom I thought we needed to heal up. Celebrating the business ranking while being silent on the tourism damage is not the way to declare victory on this post-RFRA project.
There are two things I wanted to see from this PR deal. I wanted to see people outside Indiana feel better about visiting here or for us to have a strategy in place to move the needle in that direction. I could swear I read that somewhere as the stated reason for the deal. But of equal importance, was my hope that this was the beginning of a new and improved approach of having state government communicate better through its policies and its branding simultaneously. I am hopeful government got this advice prior to the canceling of the contract.
Finally, the whole "Indiana: A State that Works" slogan just doesn't ring the same as it did before this regretful episode. If our state was going to waste money on something like this, they could have wasted it on some Indiana firms that were full of great ideas and are quite capable of doing great things when hired. I don't know how our local firms do at producing nothing, but that seems like a skill that is easily learned.
So let's face it. We aren't better than everyone. But those of us that love living here know that we are awfully good. Telling that story just doesn't seem difficult to me. And spending a small fortune on a contract to have someone else do that was a terrible idea from the start. If "branding" ourselves is what we have decided we need, then let's do it. Really do it. Declaring victory as a great place to do business isn't the key to locking down the GenCon Convention for the foreseeable future. For some reason, that group liked us before all of this madness.
Finally, we don't have to be better than everyone. We just need to be who we have always been and explain who we are the way my boy and I did at that White Sox game. Our new friends from the Windy City asked us where we were from and we told them. In fact, they knew a lot about us before the game was over, but they probably only remembered this: We were from Indianapolis and we were pretty cool.
Lets try that strategy next time. It usually works.
Michael Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis and writes his thoughts about politics, government and anything else that strikes him at IndyContrariana.com.