Q&A: James Brodsky, Sharp Communications president

James Brodsky started Sharp Communications four years ago, as a one-stop shop for communications efforts - PR, advertising, and corporate identity.

James Brodsky started Sharp Communications four years ago, as a one-stop shop for communications efforts - PR, advertising, and corporate identity.

Prior to founding Sharp, Brodsky worked at ad agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates USA. This year, the firm Communications launched Sharp Edge, an agency that will focus on the affluent gay marketplace. Brodsky talked to about the opportunities for the new agency, why marketers are failing to reach the gay marketplace, and what prospects he feels MTV's gay-themed channel Logo has. Q. Why did you start Sharp Edge? A. We started Sharp Edge by recognizing an opportunity in the marketplace. We felt that the gay and lesbian marketplace was not being marketed to properly. We felt that there is this incredibly affluent, well-educated, and media-savvy group that wasn't being reached effectively in the right way. Q. What do you feel the number one misperception that companies have about the affluent gay market? A. From a marketing standpoint, there is a misunderstanding on how to reach them. Companies divert from their existing brand heritage and try to talk to the marketplace, but they do it in a pandering and stereotypical way. This approach turns off and potentially offends the affluent gay marketplace. Additionally, there is a misperception to what the affluent gay marketplace is reading. If you merely place an ad in a gay-focused magazine or newspaper, it's not a completely effective way to reach the marketplace. Q. Do you feel as if corporate executives get a large percentage of their impressions of the market from TV? Is this a bad thing? A. I don't know where average corporate America gets its information on the gay marketplace; however, I think it is often misguided. The goal of Sharp Edge is to help corporate America better understand how to sell its goods and services to the gay marketplace. Up until now, I've seen a lot of organizations support the gay cause with philanthropic advertising and PR. However, they're not selling their goods and services, they're merely supporting the cause. Sharp Edge is going to help them sell their goods and services. Sharp Edge [recently] aligned with a leading marketing research company that will allow us to provide customized studies, as well as generalized studies we will do in house, in order to better understand the purchasing habits and the perceptions of the affluent gay market. Q. What do you think the prospects are for MTV's new gay-targeted channel Logo? A. I think the prospects are very exciting. It's a great opportunity for corporate America to reach a large gay audience by selling their products and services to a very targeted audience. As I understand it, Logo's scheduling is going to be very diverse and hopefully not stereotypical of what a gay man or woman wants to view. It supposedly will have media-relevant information on a regular basis for brands to reach out. Q. Do you think it will appeal to both gay and straight viewers? A. Yes. Q. Philadelphia recently had an ad campaign touting the city as a great destination for gay travelers. I believe I read somewhere that the gay market is more likely to travel than the straight market. So is this a good strategy for cities? A. The gay marketplace is three-times more likely to travel than the non-gay identifiers. We are actually conducting a study right now on how the affluent gay marketplace is traveling, such as where they're planning their upcoming travels and what hotels they are planning to stay in. It should be a very interesting piece of research that we will help our clients with. There's an advertisement [for the city of Philadelphia] with the American flag being made with a rainbow flag. Honestly, in this marketplace, brands, cities, and corporations need to realize that the gay marketplace is a lot more sophisticated than that. Iconic symbols like that are great for cause-related marketing, but I don't think they help sell a brand. Q. How do you balance between marketing to the gay marketplace without depending too heavily on touting acceptance or focusing on cause-related marketing? A. I don't think it's enough to get people to your city by merely saying, "We accept gays." Gays are going to visit a city because things there are of particular relevance and interest. If you're trying to target gay affluent consumers, you should assume that they already know which cities and states are tolerant and welcoming. Gay consumers wouldn't pick Philadelphia just because it's a gay-friendly city. The [cities] need to focus more on what gay consumers want in order to target them. They need to be more scientific than merely putting a symbol out there. In the Philadelphia example, I don't understand why they focused on rainbow flags, as opposed to the history, cultural, museums, cuisine, and the architecture - other elements that would perhaps be appealing to a gay audience. Q. Are companies too tentative to market to gay consumers without mentioning the fact that that they're targeting gays in the marketing or advertisement? A. The sophisticated gay consumer is incredibly media-savvy. Thirty-five percent of gay Americans have college degrees versus 28% of the population. Sixty percent of all self-identified gay Americans read national news magazines, versus 45% of non-gay Americans. There is an incredibly low amount of the gay population that is reporting to specifically read gay-focus magazines. That could be attributed to a couple of things, such as the "shame factor" where they don't want to have a gay-focused magazine on their nightstand. However, I personally believe the gay population of my generation has interests that go beyond just the gay cause and gay-related issues. They're interested in purchasing homes, furnishing their homes, traveling, purchasing cars, and becoming more integrated into the society as more mainstream. Q. Do you think that gay marketing is more likely to focus on sex appeal? A. It really depends on the product. There are certain products where sex sells, such as fashion, perfume, fragrance, and liquor. They continue to rely on sexuality - quite effectively - to drive the brand. Q. Are you going to try to have both Sharp Communications and Sharp Edge both serve the same clients? A. Yes. We're already seeing that happening. Sharp Edge is already being pursued by one of the country's leading investment banks, leading insurance firms, and a [tourist] destination. It's something where they have made a decision to target this audience and want to figure out how to do so. They've said, "We already support 'the cause,' yet we don't know how to sell our brand or services," and we're going to help them with that.

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