Spare us the PR spin, here’s what North Carolina should really do to fix itself

NC HB2 billboard
A billboard mocking North Carolina's regressive policies. Photo: Equality House

North Carolina repealed House Bill 2 (HB2) recently, but it was far from a win for the LGBTQ community.

The repeal was little more than in-name-only, leaving transgender bathroom rights still in the hands of the hostile North Carolina General Assembly, and preventing local governments from passing or amending their own nondiscrimination ordinances concerning private employment and public accommodation, until December 2020.

Gov. Roy Cooper admitted it wasn’t a perfect solution, but signed it anyway, after running on passing a clean repeal of HB2.

The state’s reputation took a huge hit when it passed the legislation, resulting in boycotts that led to the loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.

The so-called repeal did manage to satisfy the NBA and the NCAA, both of which pulled games from the state over the law but will now allow major games to take place there.

Their re-embracing of North Carolina has been lukewarm however, with the NCAA saying they had “reluctantly” agreed to end their boycott, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calling it “not an easy decision” to end theirs as well.

“The most recent change in the law does not mean the fundamental issues are resolved. But after considering all points of view, we determined that Charlotte will be eligible to host,” Silver added. Charlotte lost the 2017 NBA All-Star Game over HB2. It was instead played in New Orleans.

Raleigh paper The News & Observer reached out to public relations and marketing experts to see how North Carolina can undo some of the damage from shooting itself squarely in the foot and then trying to fix it with a BAND-AID (our description, not theirs).

The insights are predictable public relations spin, perfect for a state whose compromise leaves LGBTQ people in the lurch in favor of doing just enough to ensure the return of big events and the gobs of money to be made from them.

“Brands that have built strong equity over the years, and North Carolina is one of them, can recover easier and faster than those with little or no brand equity,” said Rick French, chairman and CEO of Raleigh public relations and advertising firm French/West/Vaughan.

Phew! Thank God for “strong equity.” Who cares that it has been eroded? “We used to be okay! Huh? Right? Come back?”

“If you have a strong brand, it will get you through tough times,” David Baldwin, CEO of Raleigh advertising agency Baldwin&, agreed.

But there are complications. Namely, us, the LGBTQ community.

“They’re continuing to voice their concerns statewide and nationwide,” French said. “That doesn’t help our brand.”

Yeah, sorry not sorry about that. It’s sort of what happens when you withhold people’s rights.

The suggestions for moving forward from the “communications experts” are broken down into four categories:


Doug Holroyd, founder of The Norgay Group, a Chapel Hill marketing strategy and branding agency, suggests Cooper publicly apologize, and then taking actions “‘that demonstrate that we are a tolerant state and an inclusive state,’ such as creating a scholarship for LGBT people.”

Also known as throwing money at the problem.

Harness the power of the people.

Basically, this is a social media campaign where people from the state who aren’t as hated as much as the politicians, here called “best advocates and ambassadors,” would sing its praises.

One possibility, French suggested, would be a “North Carolina branded channel,” somewhere online “where the state could control the messaging, post its videos and content and economic development news…and make it engaging and interactive.”

No potential ambassadors were named who might be willing to sacrifice their own reputations to wave the banner of progress over this fake repeal.

 Leverage the halo effect.

“Hey, we’ve done some good things,” could be the unofficial slogan of this next idea.

“State marketers should identify and highlight “existing initiatives that already cast a positive halo on the state, particularly those initiatives that are by their nature inclusive,” said Jeremy Holden, chief strategy officer of Raleigh branding and advertising agency Clean Design. “What you do is actually more important than what you say.”

Although in this case, “what you say” would be a massive changing of topic.

“Examples he cited include the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual festival held in Raleigh and the effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the Triangle,” the paper reports Holden saying.

Promote that the state was able to struggle through HB2 and come out the other side.

Roger Friedensen, a partner at Forge Communications, a Raleigh research and communications strategy firm, believes the state can characterize the “repeal” as a compromise worthy of some appreciation.

“The fact is that a Democratic governor and a deeply divided legislature governed by Republican super majorities were able to hammer out an agreement that put HB2 in our rearview mirror,” he said.

“We were able to solve a problem that is emblematic of many of the deep divisions across the country in politics and society. We were able to move forward.”

“We” clearly doesn’t include the LGBTQ community.

And now here’s what North Carolina can really do to repair the damage to their reputation:

Pass a clean repeal of HB2. 

It’s simple, it’s direct, it speaks to the client.

Pass a clean repeal of HB2. 

The end.

No extra gloss needed, no spin, no doublespeak. No compromises. The only true way to show attrition is by granting civil rights to the LGBTQ community, with no strings attached.

Your move, North Carolina.

We’re all watching.

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