[Marxism] Edelman, Public Relations Giant, Drops Client Over Border Detention Centers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 31 18:30:36 MDT 2019

NY Times, July 31, 2019
Edelman, Public Relations Giant, Drops Client Over Border Detention Centers
By Tiffany Hsu

In May, executives from the giant public relations firm Edelman went to 
Florida to pitch a potential client: a private prisons company with 
contracts from the Trump administration to run immigrant detention centers.

The GEO Group, a multibillion-dollar business based in Boca Raton, was 
being battered by negative media attention in the uproar over reports 
that the United States was separating migrant children from their 
parents at the Mexican border. Lawmakers were demanding access to 
detention facilities.

The Edelman team, which included a former Trump administration 
spokeswoman, proposed to reshape the GEO Group’s public image by 
“proactively correcting the record” with a new narrative “that tells the 
relevant stories directly to stakeholders,” according to a presentation 
document reviewed by The New York Times.

After landing the job, Edelman was slated to start work in July. But 
employees at the firm objected to the contract, and Edelman dropped the 
GEO Group account.

According to several employees, Edelman reconsidered because of concerns 
that news of its relationship with the prison company would be leaked, 
leaving one of the world’s leading public relations firms with a 
potential public relations crisis.

Other image management and consulting firms working for government 
agencies involved in the detention centers have recently faced criticism 
from consumers and their own employees. Ogilvy, the marketing and public 
relations firm, tried to confront internal consternation this month over 
its work for Customs and Border Protection, AdWeek reported. Last year, 
employees at Deloitte and McKinsey pushed for the companies to end their 
contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Several financial institutions have also backed away from the private 
prison industry, with SunTrust, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP 
Paribas and Wells Fargo having cut ties with companies associated with 
immigration detention centers like the GEO Group and CoreCivic.

Employees and executives from tech giants including Microsoft and Amazon 
have also protested their companies’ ties to Immigration and Customs 
Enforcement and other entities involved in the separation of migrant 
children from their parents.

In a statement to The Times, Edelman confirmed that it had dropped the 
GEO Group account. “Edelman takes on complex and diverse clients,” the 
statement said. “We ultimately decided not to proceed with this work.”

Edelman has touted its strong values and refuses to work with clients in 
the tobacco, coal or firearms businesses.

Lisa Ross, the president of Edelman’s office in Washington, helped set 
up the presentation in Florida, according to a person who participated 
in meetings where the pitch was discussed. The person added that one of 
the Edelman employees who had delivered the pitch was Lindsay Walters, 
who joined the company in April after serving as a deputy press 
secretary in the White House. Ms. Ross and Ms. Walters did not respond 
to a request for comment.

Early in a slide show presentation to the GEO Group, Edelman said that 
“activists are using controversies around immigration to drive a wedge 
between you and your stakeholders,” adding that “your current culture 
and structure are not prepared for this fight,” according to documents 
shared with The Times.

In June, after word reached Edelman employees that the company would be 
doing work for the GEO Group, a debate sprang up on Fishbowl, a 
networking app used for industry communications. Screen shots of the 
Fishbowl messages from Edelman employees were shared with The Times.

“I am beyond disturbed,” one employee wrote.

Another wrote, “This is an inherently political, moral & values based 

Several employees wrote that Edelman executives seemed to want to keep 
the GEO Group contract quiet, a move that they said was hypocritical and 
“a red flag.”

Other employees disagreed with the objectors, chastising them for 
“pearl-clutching about private prisons” and suggesting that they leave 
“personal politics out of important client work.”

Some employees asked to not be assigned to the GEO Group project, 
according to two people familiar with the requests. Others voiced their 
misgivings to supervisors.

In a recent all-hands meeting in Edelman’s Washington office, executives 
informed employees that the company was resigning the GEO Group project.

The executives “took the opportunity to basically shame us for ruining 
the work for the company because they couldn’t trust us not to leak it 
to the press,” one person wrote on Fishbowl. Other Edelman employees 
made the same point in the Fishbowl thread.

In a statement, Edelman said, “This is an inaccurate reflection of what 
happened at the meeting.”

The adjusted stock price for the GEO Group, a generous donor to 
President Trump, has gone down 28 percent in the past year.

The company, which for several years operated a migrant housing facility 
in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been criticized by government officials. A 
surprise inspection of a GEO Group processing center in California last 
year by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of 
Homeland Security found bedsheets braided into nooses, inadequate 
medical care and detainees who were improperly segregated and shackled.

The GEO Group is also battling a lawsuit, filed in 2017 by Washington 
State’s attorney general, that accuses the company of paying thousands 
of immigrant detainee workers $1 a day since 2015 to prepare food, wash 
clothes and clean facilities. The state’s minimum wage is now $12 an hour.

In a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, the GEO Group’s chief 
executive, George C. Zoley, said the negative associations that had 
attached themselves to the GEO Group had resulted from a “deliberate 
mischaracterization of our longstanding role as a quality service 
provider to ICE.” He added that the GEO Group was “taking steps to more 
aggressively tell our story to members of Congress, state legislators 
and the general media.”

Mr. Zoley did not respond to a request for an interview.

On Tuesday, the GEO Group reported more than $82 million in net income 
for the year so far, a 14 percent jump from the same period in 2018. But 
in its annual report filed this year, the company said that “public 
resistance” could damage its business.

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