Connecting with an influential market

With GLBT issues getting more mainstream coverage, outreach is now increasingly vital.

With GLBT issues getting more mainstream coverage, outreach is now increasingly vital.

For the past 16 years, Atlantis Events has catered to the GLBT market, customizing its vacation experiences specifically for gay and lesbian travelers. And while outreach efforts on behalf of the West Hollywood, CA-based travel company's cruises and resort getaways have always included editorial opportunities in various gay-media outlets, they are now complemented by those in the mainstream media.

While there are numerous media outlets dedicated to covering and serving the estimated $690 billion GLBT market in the US, mainstream media has also expanded its coverage of these issues.

The past few months, especially, have seen "an upswing around coverage in transgender issues" in mainstream media, says Cathy Renna, principal, Renna Communications.

GLBT-related family issues are also gaining traction. Through its work with equality organizations such as Family Pride, "we're helping people understand how diverse families are in this country," Renna adds.

Overall, coverage has begun to transcend a niche GLBT focus "to something we all should be interested in," notes Renna. And while challenges remain, this growth in interest offers coverage opportunities extending far beyond the so-called "gay ghetto."

Because the GLBT market is geographically dispersed, Steve Roth, Atlantis' director of guest experience and head of PR, says one of the most effective ways to reach audiences has been the Internet.

"Gay and lesbian readers live online; that's where they get news," adds Patrick Kowalczyk, president of New York-based MKPR.

Though "mainstream press is more open [now] to covering gay stories," he says, "it can still be very challenging because there is a limit to how much coverage [it] will do."

To help take GLBT clients to the next level, he says, look for ways they can "really stay on top of what's happening in media and the news... and piggyback on that."

In pitching gay- and lesbian-focused stories to mainstream media, PR pros must "do their homework" and help make it as easy for reporters to truly understand why certain issues are important in the context of their beats, says Wesley Combs, president of DC-based Witeck-Combs Communications. That means providing plenty of background and creativity - and backing pitches with credible statistics, relying on "facts as much as possible, and not hunches or anecdotes."

Like all consumers, gay and lesbian audiences have become more sophisticated and more skeptical, says Benjamin Finzel, SVP and global co-chair for FH Out Front, Fleishman-Hillard's GLBT practice. Gay consumers want to feel as if companies truly want their business, he explains, and want to see themselves reflected in marketing efforts.

That might mean using words like "partner" and "sexual orientation," as opposed to "husband" and "preference." Being relevant also includes giving back to the community by establishing corporate marketing efforts to affiliate a brand with nonprofits or issues that matter to GLBT consumers.

Finzel notes that most consumers expect companies to market to different audiences. To clients beginning to approach the GLBT market, he says, "reaching out to us won't impact you in any kind of negative way."

"Don't be scared," adds Howard Bragman, principal at LA-based Fifteen Minutes. While it is vital for a company interested in tapping GLBT consumers to be authentic in its outreach, it must avoid stereotypes and make sure "its own house is in order" in terms of positive workplace policies toward gay and lesbian staffers, he says. With more than 15.3 million GLBT adults in the US alone, the demographic represents a significant community, with unparalleled brand loyalty, high disposal income, and consumers that are trend-setting and Web savvy.

"When the big three automakers are all in the market, that says how commonplace it is to take part," Bragman says. "It's not ground- breaking or earth-shattering anymore."

Technique tips

DO

Look beyond the gay ghetto. There's no reason to relegate clients to GLBT media alone

Be relevant. Use language and images that say you value GLBT consumers' business and understand their differences

Walk the walk. If you say you're a gay-friendly company, be authentic from the inside out

DON'T

Overlook online comms. GLBT consumers are among the most avid Web users

Pigeonhole. GLBT people have the same broad base of interests as other consumers

Stereotype. There are different types of gay people, representing every race, ethnic group, and religious background

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