Marketers Join the (Gay Pride) Parade

But It Takes More Than One Day of Support

By Published on .

Steve Roth Steve Roth
June is Gay Pride month, the kickoff to scores of LGBT Pride parades and festivals across the country. Gay Pride month commemorates the Stonewall Riots that began on June 28, 1969, a pivotal moment in the fight for gay rights. "Pride," as it's known in the gay community, has evolved many times and in many ways since then, and so has the role of corporate America in it. Participating in Pride can be a great marketing tool for many companies, but only if done smartly and as part of a larger, well-integrated marketing communications program.

In their earliest incarnations nearly 40 years ago, Gay Pride marches were political statements made by a relatively few brave souls who risked the scorn and ridicule of many. As the gay-rights movement gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s and vibrant gay neighborhoods blossomed in big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, Gay Pride parades and festivals gave members of the LGBT community an occasion to celebrate their identity and diversity and relish in the growing visibility and strength of their community.

Then somewhere in the 1990s, as gay people became less marginalized and more a part of mainstream society and culture, businesses in larger numbers began to recognize the value of this growing market. Since relatively few media channels existed through which these pioneering companies could reach out to this fledgling market, many saw Gay Pride parades and festivals as a golden marketing opportunity. Corporate sponsorships spouted up alongside corporate parade floats and endless rows of corporate festival booths overflowing with pamphlets and those ubiquitous wheel-of-fortune prize wheels.

Today, at Gay Pride parades big and small, you may be surprised to see hunky go-go boys gyrating atop the floats of some of the more seemingly conservative members of our corporate community. And in the festival grounds you'll find booths filled with volunteers and employees shilling everything from cat food to mortuary services.

But the funny thing is that Gay Pride isn't a trade show, and people usually aren't there for the hard sell. Gay Pride festivals today are the state fairs and parish picnics of the LGBT community. They're more a chance for people from across the community and from all walks of life to get together and drink beer, listen to music, and eat chicken-on-a-stick. Yes, there's still a political element -- to varying degrees -- and there's plenty of commerce that takes place, but by and large people are just there to have a good time.

My point in all this is that while Gay Pride is a great marketing vehicle for many companies, it's not the perfect medium for everyone. And even more important -- for everyone with a presence at a Gay Pride celebration large or small -- it should be part of a broader, integrated marketing communications campaign that approaches the LGBT market multi-dimensionally and through a variety of strategies. Having a booth and giving away keychains for two days out of 365 is not going to get you widespread visibility or brand recognition in the LGBT market.

I don't mean to sound critical of anyone whose total LGBT outreach effort consists of a single booth at their local Pride festival. I think that something is better than nothing, and I'm thrilled that you're interested in engaging the gay community. But I also think that everyone deserves a good return on investment, and I want companies to experience success in the gay market so that they continue to reach out to this demographic.

There are plenty of companies who do this well already. These are the companies who regularly advertise in local and national gay magazines with market-specific ads, images and copy; leverage public relations and develop strong relationships with LGBT media; participate in LGBT-focused trade shows and events; take advantage of target direct mail and marketing; and support causes and organizations important to the LGBT community. And, of course, they also participate in significant and creative ways in Gay Prides across the country and around the world. A few of these companies that come to mind include Diageo, WaMu and Atlantis Events.

But you don't have to be a major alcoholic beverage corporation or a gay travel company to fully engage the LGBT market in a meaningful way that will generate results for your business. Successful, integrated approaches are scalable and can be localized to focus on specific submarkets or segments. And targeted outreach in the right channels and through strategically planned activities is still by and large much more cost effective in LGBT media than in the mainstream media channels.

While June is the traditional kickoff for Gay Pride season, nowadays Pride parades and festivals continue as late in the year as October and November. So as you contemplate how to best leverage Pride in your target markets, also think about how to integrate your efforts into a broader, strategic LGBT outreach program.
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