Marriott to launch LGBT effort following DOMA ruling

BETHESDA, MD: Marriott is launching an LGBT-themed campaign starring its employees following the Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday to strike down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

BETHESDA, MD: Marriott is launching an LGBT-themed campaign starring its employees following the Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday to strike down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

With DOMA voided, married same-sex couples will have equal rights to the same benefits as other married couples.

Marriott began LGBT outreach more than two years ago. It is being advised by Bob Witeck, president and founder of Witeck Communications, an agency that has focused on reaching LGBT consumers since 1993.

The effort is an extension of the brand's first LGBT marketing campaign, Be You, With Us, which launched last June, said Joanna Todd, VP of segment strategy at Marriott.

She said the campaign “showcases and focuses on our own associates and their own celebrations, commitment ceremonies, and weddings to acknowledge what this ruling means not just for the masses but for own Marriott family.”

The campaign is set to launch late in the day on Wednesday or Thursday morning.

In addition to voiding DOMA, which was adopted with bipartisan support by Congress in 1996, the court dismissed California's Proposition 8 on Wednesday, essentially making gay marriage legal in the state.

Marriott International CEO and President Arne Sorenson will also release a statement about the rulings late Wednesday.

The campaign, which will focus on social media and PR engagement, will leverage social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share wedding and celebration photos and stories posted by Marriott employees.

Phase two of the initiative will encourage LGBT consumers to share their own personal wedding or commitment ceremonies with the brand, since many couples have held celebrations or honeymoons at Marriott locations over the years, said Todd. She added that Marriott's internal creative team has worked on the initiative.

“We worked on the campaign knowing [the ruling was] coming, but this message was important for us to get out and talk to our consumers about and bring our associates into the mix regardless of the outcome, although we certainly hoped for the happy one,” said Todd.

Brands react to gay marriage rulings 
Many consumer-facing brands responded quickly on social media after the rulings were announced. Starbucks tweeted “Equality & Inclusion: values core to who we are. #loveislove” on its @starbucks, @starbucksprtnrs, and @starbucksnews handles.

Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications and international public affairs at Starbucks, said the company has offered domestic partner benefits to its employees for more than 20 years.

Witeck said social media is a key way, if not the most important medium, for brands to communicate their views on this issue because it offers dialogue.

He added that social sites have a “sense of authenticity and engagement you can't get anywhere else.” Some companies may start by allowing their employees to express their views [on social media], but consumers will see where the brand stands on an issue.

For brands that have supported LGBT rights for a long time, the ruling is a “celebratory moment,” but Witeck said companies that are behind the curve can still show support of gay marriage without seeming opportunistic. Because families and couples are diverse today, it's not a matter of being “conservative or progressive, it's a matter of reality” that companies have to acknowledge gay households.

Other companies that have shown support for the DOMA ruling by posting statements on social media include Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Citi, and Goldman Sachs. MasterCard and ABC also got involved on Twitter by purchasing promoted tweets with the #gaymarraige hashtag.

Alan Sexton, EVP of communications at Global Strategy Group, said it's a day for brands that have shown support of the LGBT community in the past to celebrate, but companies that try to join the conversation now have to be careful not to seem like they are “simply jumping on the bandwagon.”

Consumers can tell if brands “don't walk the walk,” explained Sexton, so it's important for brands to conduct research and not make impulsive decisions.

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