Same sex marriage opens up PR opportunities

This year's LGBT Media Summit comes at an interesting juncture in the gay rights movement, with new opportunities for PR firms in the kind of media coverage they can generate for their clients.

The LGBT Media Summit, now in its eighth year, kicked off August 24 in Philadelphia. This year's four-day summit comes at an interesting juncture in the gay rights movement, with new opportunities for PR firms in the kind of media coverage they can generate for their clients.

One of the reasons for that is the legalization of gay marriage. In June, New York became the sixth (and largest) state where gay and lesbian couples are now able to wed.

Mainstream and gay media have reported extensively on same-sex unions. Now coverage has started to expand beyond the news and political pages, even in states without gay marriage legislation.

Mark Segal, publisher and founder of Philadelphia Gay News, says when New York passed marriage equality “we started to get calls from caterers, banquet halls, wedding planners, and hotels in New York who thought LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Philadelphians would come to New York to be married.”

“And, in our next issue, we featured two LGBT couples who had, indeed, gone to New York to be married,” says Segal. “Those marketers who contacted us were ahead of the wave.”

Philadelphia Gay News now has a wedding-themed issue planned for its October 16 issue.

On the PR side, New York-based Fogel Neale Partners has worked with Nourie Johnson Communications to promote its financial planning services for same-sex couples. Outreach included a July 29 press release, in which Fogel Neale announced the hiring of a new partner, certified financial planner Michael Markiewicz, who is gay.

Markiewicz has since appeared on NY1, and interviewed with The New York Times and Village Voice. “We've had a lot of interest from media in terms of understanding the new tax benefits available to same-sex couples at the state level,” says Jacqui Wilder, VP for Nourie Johnson.

As companies look to capitalize on the possible uptick in business as the result of gay marriage, Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, advises them not to pitch too narrow a story.

“A particular hotel, florist or caterer doesn't now want to say, ‘Hey, we can do gay weddings, gay flowers and gay catering'," he says. “They want to be able to say, ‘We can do it well for everyone.'”

Some wedding planners, for instance, have started to designate themselves as “gay certified,” which Witeck feels is contrived and unnecessary. “As long as they are gay inclusive, they don't need to be gay exclusive,” says Witeck.

As the legalization of gay marriage gains momentum, and other states debate the issue, it will continue to be well-reported across the US.

With that increased reporting, particularly in mainstream media and through the blogosphere, Cathy Renna, managing partner of Renna Communications, says the industry needs to do a better job of helping media reflect a diversity of voices within the gay community.

“When you look at the voices you always see in The New York Times, The Advocate – any of the media, really – they are mostly white men,” says Renna. “There is also a tendency for media to rely on celebrities. Larry King did a show on LGBT teen suicide, and his guests were Lance Bass, Tim Gunn, Kathy Griffin and Wanda Sykes.”

“I understand they want people to tune in, but this is a very serious issue,” she adds. “We are a very diverse community – represented by every gender, color, ethnicity and income bracket – and we need to do a better job of reflecting that in the media.”

It is a topic she will help address at the LGBT Media Summit, during an August 27 panel session, “Who Speaks for the LGBT Community?” The panel includes Ben Finley, a producer for Anderson Cooper 360, and Herndon Graddick, senior director of media programs at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

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