ANALYSIS: Client Profile - GLAAD: fighting misperceptions. GLAAD'sattacks on Eminem and Dr. Laura have earned it a tough reputation. Butthe group's leaders say their main goal is for homosexuals to gaingreater acceptance in society...

Cathy Renna has been a PR officer at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance

Against Defamation (GLAAD) since it was founded in 1995. As director of

news media, Renna was part of the protest against Eminem's performance

at this year's Grammy awards and she was on the front lawn of the

Laramie County Courthouse in Wyoming the morning Matthew Shepard died

from wounds inflicted by violent anti-gay youths.

However, Renna worries that GLAAD's time in the spotlight has created a

misperception: While it is an advocate for the lesbian and gay

community, its goal is media education in order to create greater

acceptance of gays and lesbians in society. 'We are not simply a PR firm

for the gay community,' says Renna.

'I think a lot of people don't know we do things other than these

high-profile campaigns. A lot of what I do is educational work with

reporters and editors.'

Becoming a well-oiled PR machine

Heading the entire PR operation is communications director, Steve

Spurgeon, affectionately nicknamed the 'orchestra leader.' Spurgeon

joined two years ago and put into practice what he learned at Ketchum,

Fleishman-Hillard, Golin/Harris International and as communications

director for Nissan North America. He helped transform GLAAD into a

mini-agency with one client: itself.

'When I got here, there were three employees who were in a perpetual

state of exhaustion because they did everything,' says Spurgeon. 'What

I've had to do is create the talent pool within GLAAD to mirror the

kinds of services we would have purchased. Now we have someone to

specialize in research, news and in entertainment images.' The 10-strong

PR staff has a full-time media trainer and several media coordinators on

staff to deal with national, regional, and other press categories.

Spurgeon says the first real test of his PR division was when Paramount

gave radio therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger her own TV show. 'Dr. Laura

was really the first time GLAAD had mounted a multi-month and multi-year

campaign,' says Spurgeon. 'It was a proactive campaign in which we

identified the issue early on, understood the potential ramifications

and where that could go in the public consciousness.'

Renna says the campaign's goals were to create a national discussion

about defamatory comments. Though the show is still on the air, she

feels the campaign was a success. 'P&G was the first major national

company to drop its advertising and that showed our community was

serious about this and we were not to be shooed away.'

Outreach for the campaign began in the gay and lesbian press, where

'potential foot soldiers' were educated on the issues. On its Web site,

GLAAD created talking points, fact sheets and press releases for

download by activists.

GLAAD also made a cassette tape containing some of the offensive

statements Dr. Laura had made.

Renna answers critics charging that GLAAD's protests were an effort to

curtail Schlessinger's freedom of speech by saying the issue is

corporate responsibility, not individual rights. 'The first amendment

does not guarantee anyone the right to a nationally syndicated talk

show,' says Renna. 'Dr. Laura can stand on a street corner or buy her

own TV station and say anything she wants. But when Paramount makes a

decision to put on that programming, we have a right to exercise our

voice as consumers to say we do not want that.'

Mixed feelings from 'within'

But inside the gay community, GLAAD has received negative press for

backing down from the campaign. Michelangelo Signorile, editor at large

for, wrote on September 12, 2000, 'Why isn't GLAAD more mad

about Dr. Laura's TV program?' He complained that GLAAD was behind the

curve on the protests and that the Web site, set up by

Wired Strategies' John Aravosis, was the real motivator of the

anti-Laura outcry.

'GLAAD abdicated leadership many months ago when it failed to demand

that Paramount Television drop plans to produce the show,' wrote

Signorile, adding that GLAAD tried to make an ill-advised deal with the

studio instead.

But while gay activists may imply that the organization was pandering to

the studio, Renna defends it by saying that while the name was not

mentioned in every story, much of the coverage of the debate was

GLAAD-influenced. 'We're much more proactive than we have ever been,'

says Renna. 'Our mission is making sure there is good coverage, not to

necessarily get our name out there.'

The organization was not in the background, however, during recent

controversy over lyrics on an album by rapper Eminem. Spurgeon admits

that campaign may have made some errors. The message got muddled when

gay celebrity Elton John chose to perform with Eminem at the Grammy

awards. 'The story took a turn and put us in a defensive position and

made the story 'Why are you attacking Eminem?' when we were really

attacking the consequences of his lyrics,' says Spurgeon. 'It became,

'If Elton John thinks he's okay, he must be okay,' which wasn't where we

wanted the conversation to go.'

GLAAD will continue its efforts against what it sees as the hate-speech

of Eminem and Dr. Laura, but Renna says the new challenge at GLAAD is

representing homosexual diversity. She says bisexuality is often covered

poorly in the media and she is also dissatisfied with the lack of

coverage of gay and lesbian people of religious faith, of color and in

other countries.

Mary McNamara, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, was recently

working on a story about the transgender community and found GLAAD

helpful as a background resource. She had never contacted the agency

before, and she credits their knowledge with helping transform the

article from a small piece to a two-part series which debuted on the

newspaper's front page.

'I had no understanding of the transgender movement, and GLAAD was able

to provide a nice framework for me,' says McNamara, adding that the

story she's working on now, a piece about 'slash fiction' (fiction

written by fans that implies straight, pop-culture characters are gay)

is the result of a conversation she had with someone at GLAAD.

Says Renna: 'We're working to get the media past the stereotype that all

gay people are rich white men with Jeeps that go on vacation four times

a year.' He adds, 'Racism, sexism and gender identity, that's my

frontier right now.'


Executive director: Joan Garry

Director of communications: Stephen Spurgeon

News media director: Cathy Renna

Regional media director: Kevin McClelland

Entertainment media director: Scott Seomin

Entertainment media manager: Nick Adams.

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