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Crisis Communications: Gov. of Indiana ABC News Interview

Disclaimer: I do not agree with the signing of this bill.

It is likely by now that everyone has heard of the religious freedom bill that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana (R) signed into law last week. This decision has received huge amounts of backlash from both in the state and outside of it and absolutely is a crisis in itself. However, what I want to look at is the ABC News television interview that Gov. Pence gave on the issue on March 29 that certainly did not help the situation.

While it was obvious that Gov. Pence had extensive media training for this interview, he made the same mistake so often made by politicians: avoiding the question. As Brad Phillips of PR Daily points out in his analysis of the interview, Gov. Pence avoided different iterations of the same exact yes-or-no question six times.

All six questions had a reference to whether or not it was now legal for businesses in Indiana to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. What makes this such a crisis – or sensitive situation adding onto the crisis – is that even though Gov. Pence stayed on message, for many people viewing the interview, avoiding the question provided a clear answer: yes, it is legal to discriminate with this bill.

Since the television interview Gov. Pence has held a press conference to clear everything up. In the press conference he stated that he was working with the state legislature to make sure that nobody could be denied service in Indiana businesses due to their sexual orientation (finally answering the question). However, as Phillips states: “If you have to call a press conference to clean up a bad media interview during the biggest political crisis of your career, you have a self-imposed media disaster on your hands.”

As Gov. Pence’s communications director, there are a few things I would have done differently. To start, Gov. Pence would have had a clear and planned answer to the yes-or-no question that was asked six times. Even though Gov. Pence did a great job staying on message and for the most part staying calm, there is no way that his communications team did not know he would get that question, and he needed to be better prepared.

In lieu of being prepared for that question, the press conference was necessary for clarity and I feel was the correct response. From here on out, working with state legislatures to clarify the issue needs to be one of Gov. Pence’s key messages in all communications about the bill. Otherwise, he will continue to have this media crisis inside of the crisis around the bill itself, which, in his communications team’s perspective, doesn’t need anymore negative press.

To see the interview and read Brad Phillips full analysis, go to