WASHINGTON—Stressing the importance of protecting the nation’s global image, consultants from the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton have advised the United States to begin distancing itself from the state of Alabama as soon as possible, sources confirmed Wednesday.

The marketing team, which reportedly cited results from focus groups and surveys that revealed a widespread perception of the state as misguided, intolerant, and poorly educated, has strongly encouraged U.S. officials to downplay its connections with Alabama and to avoid being seen in any of its cities.

“At this time, we believe it’s in America’s best interests to discontinue its relationship with Alabama,” said Hill & Knowlton senior partner Dylan Feldstone, adding that the United States and Alabama were “heading in two different directions right now.” “Please note that we are not saying there is anything wrong with Alabama. It’s just that as the United States works to maintain and strengthen its worldwide reputation, we believe it is everyone’s best interests if it parts ways with the state.”

“We’re certain the state of Alabama will understand this,” Feldstone continued. “They know how these things work.”

According to high-level sources, the consultants singled out Alabama as a major obstacle to the U.S. efforts to establish an appealing brand, noting that it ranks in the top five among states in obesity, divorce, and poverty rates.

“When people think about the United States, the last image you want in their head is Alabama,” said Feldstone, renowned for helping turn around the reputations of clients such as Nike, Robert Downey Jr., and Myanmar. “There are other states with a lot going for them. Look at Colorado or California. And Utah is beautiful—the world wants to see that. But there’s nothing about Alabama shouting ‘cutting-edge country I want to invest in.’”

Though they clarified that their recommendation was solely a business decision and was not meant to belittle Alabama, the consultants reportedly emphasized that the nation must take steps to suppress every facet of the 22nd state’s ignominious reputation.

“There’s just a lot of baggage with Alabama,” said Feldstone, noting the state’s history of controversy was “not something anyone wants to be associated with.” “Everyone knows about the racial issues. The violence, the intolerance, the whole Birmingham fiasco in 1963. That’s not the image you want to project while you seek new investors.”

At press time, sources indicated that government officials were also considering the PR firm’s recommendation that they slowly phase out Mississippi over the next five years.