CAMPAIGN: GLAAD's efforts up press' reception of same-sex unions

PR Team: Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (New York) Campaign: Announcing Equality Time Frame: 2002 - ongoing Budget: Under $5,000

PR Team: Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (New York) Campaign: Announcing Equality Time Frame: 2002 - ongoing Budget: Under $5,000

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has never been afraid of a challenge. And last year, the group decided that it was time for the mainstream media to begin carrying nuptial announcements for same-sex couples. "The genesis of this really came from some discussions we've had internally over the last year and a half," explains GLAAD's director of communications John Sonego. "We recognized the need for our stories to be told on wedding pages. Lots and lots of gay and lesbian couples have commitment ceremonies, but they weren't able to get their announcements in local papers." Strategy GLAAD decided to initially focus on The New York Times, since editorial decisions there often influence editors throughout the country. "Our strategy was that if The New York Times can be persuaded, then a lot of other papers would by nature follow suit," says Sonego. "The Times' decision was critical in getting newspapers to think about their own policies." GLAAD then planned a second phase of the campaign that would launch if the Times' effort proved successful. "We essentially looked at ways in which we could reach newspapers in every media market, and basically make sure there was a place in every US state where a couple could get coverage," says Sonego. Tactics GLAAD arranged a meeting with three top editors from the Times, and staged a PowerPoint presentation explaining why gay and lesbian ceremonies deserved equal space. Using a written policy paper from the Times on the matter, Sonego's team covered both legal issues of discrimination, as well as softer arguments about the paper's demographic and responsibilities to accurately reflect and cover the community it serves. GLAAD made a powerful case, and the Times agreed to start running same-sex union announcements. With that victory under its belt, the activist organization launched phase two: reaching out to papers across the country. "The day that The New York Times made that announcement, we kicked off our Announcing Equity campaign," says Sonego. "We were ready, and actually knocking on people's doors immediately after." GLAAD already has a nationwide media structure, with communicators placed in target markets across the US. Those teams began making phone calls to editors. In some cases, Sonego says, GLAAD was able to make persuasive-enough phone arguments that papers agreed to the change. For the holdouts, GLAAD adapted the PowerPoint presentation to the specific paper, and made its case in one-on-one meetings. They added in efforts from volunteer community members to show each paper that this was not just a national organization trying to dictate coverage, but an issue important to local readers as well. Results "It was amazing how quickly things happened," says Sonego. The original goal was to double the number of papers that carried the announcements in a year. When the campaign started, only 69 of the country's 1,500 outlets did so. That goal was more than surpassed, with almost every major market now having at least one paper friendly to same-sex unions. "Basically, all the major newspapers in the country, with the exception of The Dallas Morning News, now print these announcements," says Sonego. Future GLAAD plans on continuing the campaign for the foreseeable future. Currently, efforts are focused on winning coverage in the Dallas area, and pursuing the large independent newspaper chains, such as Freedom Communications (which now carries the announcements). Such chains provide a method of changing many papers' policies through a single decision from the parent company. Beyond the print mentions themselves, GLAAD also hopes that the announcements will spark more discussion and acceptance of same-sex unions. "One of the things we know is that the issue itself can be a catalyst for a larger discussion," points out Sonego. "When you hear stories about two people making the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together, it makes us very human, and all people can relate to that. This is a real opportunity to create a very significant cultural change."

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