In August 2002, when eight people gathered around a table in Philadelphia's Weston Hotel and decided it would be smart to work together, they had no idea how smart it was. Those eight people are now 88, representing 55 gay and straight organizations known as the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, and their idea has blossomed into an all-out effort to bring gay tourists to the city."We always thought there was a really strong commitment, but not a lot of packaging or form around why this is a gay-friendly city," says Cara Schneider, media relations manager for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC). While there had been sporadic gay marketing throughout the years, a full-on campaign had never been attempted. Members of the caucus thought it was time to try.
The caucus agreed that in order to tap the multibillion-dollar gay market, they would need to qualify what it meant to be "gay-friendly." Usually, this would be done through research and statistics, but the problem was that no one had reliable gay and lesbian information. Before the GPTMC could start, they had to convince the city that a campaign was a good idea, and for this they needed cold, hard facts.
"The gay and lesbian market is challenging because traditional research methods, such as tourism-related research studies and Nielsen ratings, can't provide one gay person," says Jeff Guaracino, regional communications and gay market director.
The GPTMC finally found a firm in San Francisco that had pioneered gay and lesbian research. They were able to determine trends and statistics that were instrumental in positioning the campaign as a solid tourism business decision, therefore establishing benchmarks for it.
One of the more daunting aspects was the lack of b-roll tape and images depicting gay couples within the city. The GPTMC created a gay image photo library, then found their campaign "celebrities" in Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross. The photo of two men holding hands in front of the Liberty Bell was plastered across papers everywhere, as was a depiction of Betsy Ross sewing a rainbow flag.
The GPTMC also became active with the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NGLJA), even speaking at their Philadelphia convention. By targeting the NGLJA's hundreds of members, they virtually ensured good exposure for stories they fed the media.
By grooming the Gay Tourism Caucus to be involved with both gay and straight issues, the GPTMC was able to drum up support it might otherwise have been denied.
With the community rallying around it, the effort generated media coverage that reached 99.7 million people, from travel titles to Saturday Night Live.
Serendipity also played a hand when it came to the timing of issues surrounding gay marriage. Suddenly the nation was primed to pay attention to all things gay, and Philly was delivering. The subscriber base to the gay tourism website doubled, as did the number of brochures downloaded. Even more important, hotels began seeing increased business. In just a few months, Philadelphia became widely known as one of the US' top gay-friendly destinations.
Guaracino and colleagues could not be more thrilled with the way things have turned out and look forward to continued success. They currently are working on an active campaign to introduce gay-friendly Philadelphia to Canada and have been invited to speak on several panels about what they've learned and what they see for the future.
The GPTMC will also soon debut the first-ever TV commercial announcing a destination as gay-friendly, and the group hopes to see gay travel as an ongoing trend.
"When you look at the world, it's a very small universe that is doing gay and lesbian tourism campaigns," says Guaracino.
PR team: The City of Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC)
Campaign: "Philadelphia: Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay"
Time frame: November 2003 - ongoing