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Pride Digital Transformation Festival Marketing

Why PinkNews is buoyant about bringing Pride online - even if it's without sponsors


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

April 7, 2020 | 7 min read

Some of 2020's biggest events have been shutdown by lockdown, but amid cancellations and postponements PinkNews has a plan to bring Pride online this year for the first time. The global event will mark a first for the publisher as it looks to make the foray into digital festivals, but first it must entice brands to get on board.

With heavy hearts, LGBT+ Pride event organisers across the globe are finally admitting defeat to Covid-19 and postponing celebrations for the first time in history.

While the disappointment is hard to sugar-coat, for PinkNews, the show must go on(line), with the digital publisher announcing a free programme of digital content under the banner of ‘Pride for All.’

While the team is busy ensuring the programme does Pride proud, there is a noticeably empty space where sponsors would usually sit; given brands tend to queue around the corner just to be seen supporting Pride events. PinkNews brand partners and previous Pride sponsors include Amazon, Lloyds, Barclays, Deliveroo, Uber, Citi, Aegon, and LinkedIn.

“We see this as a great opportunity to bring content directly to our users and allow them to participate with it interactively, in a way that isn't possible with real-world events,” explained PinkNew’s founder and chief exec Benjamin Cohen, on how the online publisher intends to make a success of digital pride, despite shrinking sponsor budgets.

“I would love sponsors to come on board,” he admits. “We are having some really interesting conversations, but it’s challenging because it is a tall order to ask brands at the moment.”

'Pride for All'

With many LGBT+ people feeling isolated, and uncertain of the future, between 4 June to 7 June, across PinkNews is hoping to add some comfort, with a free programme of digital content under the banner of ‘Pride for All.’

Each year the majority of LGBT+ people around the world are unable to participate in Pride, often because of the anti-LGBT+ laws in their country. And so, PinkNews sees 'Pride for All' as a way for Pride to reach each and every member of the community.

Running across its website and social media channels, the digital event intends to bring the LGBT+ community and its allies together through a range of interactive and original content including Q&As with celebrities, influencers and activists, panel discussions, music sessions, drag tutorials, lenses and filters. There will even be a virtual pride march.

Pride for All will also raise funds for PinkNews’ charity partner, the Kaleidoscope Trust. Over the course of the online festival, there will also be opportunities to pledge and donate money to the charity so they can continue to campaign for the human rights of LGBT+ people in countries where they face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love.

Not a back-up option

While an online festival may be perceived as a back-up option to replace 2020 celebrations, Cohen reveals that ‘Pride for All’ has actually been in the works prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We wanted to do it next year, so we've been talking about this for a while,” he shares. Each year, PinkNews' Pride celebrations take the form of receptions in each of the UK’s capitals, where the title invites important parliamentary figures to discuss LGBT+ rights.

“The events are really important, but they are quite inaccessible. You can only go if you're invited and there isn't much space,” Cohen admits of its limitations. “Because of this restriction, we were starting to think about how we could make it a bit more digital. But we just didn't think that we would be able to get it off the ground in time for this year.”

Cue the coronavirus outbreak, which gave the publisher a shove to bring things forward a year. While Pride in London only announced the event was postponed just over a week ago, and Brighton just a few days ago, Cohen explains that a gut feeling back in mid-Jan propelled him to start preparing for the event that Pride would not take place as planned.

“When the coronavirus started, we began to plan protocol because my gut feeling from the middle of January was Pride would be cancelled,” he explains.

Billed as the inaugural event, ‘Pride for All’ will now be an annual event, taking place each Pride.

Digital pride floats?

Since the beginning of the year, the Covid-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc on marketers’ budgets. Airbnb, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and John Lewis are just some companies to have frozen or redirected spend in the wake of the pandemic. At the start of last week, Warc forecast a recession in the first half of the year for the global ad market – which, if materialised, will have a knock-on impact on budgets for the next 12 months at least.

While this crunch will undoubtedly impact the Olympics and the Euros, Pride is no different.

Home of big brand floats carrying rainbow-cladded LGBT+ supporters, Pride parades would look rather different if brands pulled their support. However, whether those floats will materialise online, with no Pride to go to this year, is yet to be seen.

“We think that it’s a great opportunity for brands to be involved but I'm under no illusions that it may be a difficult one to pull off,” Cohen says.

“We obviously want to do this at large-scale, but that does require sponsorship. And quite frankly, the timeline is quite short,” he continues. “We would have to find brands that want to get involved with it quite quickly, when actually, right now is a challenging time.”

While gaining the support of sponsors is a difficult task at hand, Cohen is aware that even if PinkNews “doesn’t make any money from this, it will be a good playbook for future events, so we can connect with people better.”

“We connect with young people easily because they can look at things from the privacy of their smartphone,” Cohen explains of the benefits of Pride taking place online. “If you're able to participate in Pride from the privacy of your smartphone, it will enable a whole heap of people who probably don't have the confidence to be going to an actual pride event, who may face discrimination or challenges if they do.”

“Even if they're not living in countries where it's where it is illegal, they may well live with family members or friends who they are afraid to come out to. So the real benefit of doing things online is it enables a whole heap of people who previously were disconnected to be connected with the movement.”

A new PinkNews post-outbreak

While this will be a first-of-its-kind event for PinkNews, Cohen admits that in the future, majority of PinkNews events will be online.

“The lesson from this is you can achieve a lot, digitally,” he says. “Going forward, we plan to do majority of our events digitally.”

Cohen does admit that PinkNews will still do some events in the real world as there is a “real benefit to the networking and there are some sponsors who will only spend money on real-world kind of activations.”

“We have to adapt to the new world that we're living in,” he contends. “There's a strong opportunity if media and brands are able to pivot and be quite nimble. Because of our size, we are able to be quite agile, which sets us up for success in the future.

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