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How can brands get Pride right in 2023?

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By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

June 14, 2022 | 10 min read

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When we do it right, Pride month can be an expression of year-round commitments and a celebration of what makes LGBTQ+ people such an important part of our society and workforce. Doing it wrong can put individuals and brands at risk of censure and publicity storms. It might be too late for 2022, but who can we look to for next year’s Pride strategies? We asked eight leaders from agencies in The Drum Network.

A rainbow flag on paint

Pride is an opportunity to celebrate the rich variety of our true colors – but how do brands do it right? / Steve Johnson via Unsplash

Melanie McShane, executive director, strategy, Siegel+Gale

We’ve officially reached peak rainbow. So how to gay better, brands? Show us who we are. Don’t just serve up palatable versions of our community: drag but not too risqué; lesbian but not butch; trans but ‘you’d never know.’

Thank you, Disney, but fewer than 300 companies have signed the Business Statement on Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation in the US. At least 320 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are pending. Do the math and sign up.

Be queerer all year round. An analysis of Cannes-recognized work found only 1.8% of characters with a discernible sexual orientation in ads are LGBTQ+. If you only cast queer people for Pride month or use queer creatives for Pride campaigns, think about how homophobic that is.

Matt Harper, chief executive officer, The Marketing Practice

There’s an inherent culture clash between the world of B2B and what Pride means to me. Pride is all about disrupting norms and celebrating uniqueness and difference. In contrast, corporate culture often rewards conformity.

First, educate. Gender and sexual identity can be a minefield for anyone unsure how to communicate around these topics. Investing in education can break down the barriers that stop them being discussed as a part of your culture.

Second, normalize. Actions are more important than words (but words are still useful). We discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) almost every day, because it’s so important for the business we’re striving to be. This normalizes the conversation: DEI, or Pride, stops being a moment in time and becomes part of the strategy.

Third, be a better marketer. As marketers, we must understand and be able to communicate with people from all walks of life. A DEI initiative will stick if you relate it to your core purpose and vision.

Cat Turner, co-founder and chief creative officer, Cult NYC

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Yet here we are again with brand after brand displaying rainbow logos (BTW, that flag has had an update, honey), capsule Pride collections and vague commitments that fall away once the month is over.

Commercializing a protest is exploitation, pure and simple.

Very few examples exist that are authentic and truly representative of queer celebration. The culture and history of Pride isn’t a marketing opportunity but a focused time to remember, celebrate and push forward with calls for continuous and positive change. The fight isn’t over. Until we are all free, none of us are free.

Before jumping on that rainbow float, ask yourself: how does this brand serve the community? Does this brand represent and elevate the community? What more can this brand do to serve and protect the community? This year, fashion designer Marc Jacobs is elevating queer voices with his Perfect Pride campaign, providing community visibility and a platform to celebrate and come together – whether on TikTok or at Pride parades. Rich with authenticity and giving back to the community, this is a benchmark for brands showing commitment to queer folk throughout the year.

Kirsty McLean, head of creative, Vertical Leap

As a bisexual woman, I feel suspicious of businesses that suddenly become vocal allies during Pride, but can’t back up their support for the rest of the year. Token gestures, such as donating 10% of profits to an LGBTQ+ charity, no longer cut it. The community wants to see genuine, heartfelt commitment to true equality and diversity every day, as well as the amplification of queer voices and experiences.

To avoid ‘bandwagoning,’ allow the conversation to be led by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Take stock of your DEI policies and ensure that your workplace makes space for different voices; that discrimination is never tolerated; and that LGBTQ+ people feel safe and supported by your leaders.

Consider how you can give back to the LGBTQ+ community if you’ll be profiting from Pride; there are many excellent charities that can reinvest those profits into initiatives that support the community at all levels.

Be a true ally, not just supporting us when it benefits you, but also when it means a difficult conversation. We don’t get to switch our sexuality on and off when it suits us. The best allies are there for us rain or shine.

Cynthia De La Torre Castro, senior designer, PMG

Many brands are being exposed this Pride for stating they support the LGBTQ+ community while donating to anti-LGBTQ+ legislators. One brand that is authentic in its advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community is Ben & Jerry’s. It celebrates and fights alongside the queer community even outside of Pride month, uses its platform to share articles about anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and partners with LGBTQ+ organizations to fight that legislation.

Another company authentically advocating for the community is Automic Gold, a queer-owned business that creates jewelry that goes beyond gender norms. It is loud and proud all year round, working on creating a genderless jewelry industry. It uses diverse models and vocally supports other queer-owned businesses.

Matthias Gray, strategy director, Freedman International

The key to approaching Pride right is credibility and authenticity. How invested is your brand in this community all year round?

Understand how your brand can represent Pride authentically to you and your brand’s tone of voice, values and personality, as well as being respectful and representative of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ensure you adopt a diversity and inclusion culture inside-out, year-round, always-on to ensure your campaigns across all markets are inclusive and representative. Ensuring you do not stereotype in your casting is critical; always undertake a cultural consultation on every campaign.

And make sure you understand individual markets. Take time to understand the general perception and representation of this community to ensure your communications resonate effectively.

Sam Boughton, strategist, Waste Creative

As a bisexual man, Pride for me is about celebrating our true colors, championing LGBTQ+ people and organizations, and making the world more inclusive.

When brands participate in Pride, I judge their participation on authenticity and demonstrated goodwill toward the community. It needs to be more than just cheap publicity: there must be an impact.

Some great examples include YouTube partnering with Willow Pill (winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race S14) to donate $1 to The Trevor Project for every YouTube Short with the hashtag #YouTubePrideChallenge, and Converse pledging over $1.6m to LGBTQ+ organizations since 2015. When Pride ends, YouTube and Converse will have stepped up.

This year Hulu is streaming the LA and NYC Pride parades with its ‘Pride Never Stops’ campaign. This helps bring exposure and allows people who can’t attend in person to participate.

I welcome brands celebrating Pride, but only if they’re willing to contribute to its mission of inclusivity, diversity and acceptance in a truly impactful way.

Matthew Waksman, brand strategy partner, Ogilvy UK

As an industry, we’re having a very helpful and positive conversation about the right way for brands to approach Pride in external communications. These are great lessons, but there is a crucial part of brand activity that shouldn’t be ignored: the employer brand. One in five employees in the UK does not feel comfortable enough to be out in the workplace. That’s 20% of the community not able to bring their full selves to work, and as a result flourish in their careers while authentically being themselves.

I urge brands to extend their communications internally, ensuring their talent (and potential talent) feel that they are working somewhere they can be themselves.

This approach will help brands amplify their campaigns from the inside out. It will build authenticity, and it might make a future star feel that they are working somewhere they can do the best work of their careers.

With talent becoming priority number one, this is a part of a brand’s Pride activity we cannot afford to miss.

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The Marketing Practice

The Marketing Practice is a leading, global B2B agency that delivers growth right across the funnel.

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CULT

Cult's ideas and insight take some of the world’s biggest beauty, fashion, luxury and wellness brands beyond their comfort zone to drive tangible business value. Founded in London in 2012 by Bridey Lipscombe and Cat Turner, we launched a New York studio in 2018, a global production house in 2019, and now have over 40 staff and an annual turnover of $8m.

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Vertical Leap

Vertical Leap is the most effective search marketing agency in the UK. We use data science and intelligent automation to analyse millions of data points, allowing us to achieve more scale than is humanly possible and make evidence-driven decisions that get results.

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PMG

PMG is a global independent digital company that seeks to inspire people and brands that anything is possible. Driven by shared success, PMG uses strategy, creative, media, and insights, as well as its proprietary marketing intelligence platform Alli, to deliver Digital Made for Humans™. Our team is made up of over 500 employees globally, and our work for brands like Apple, Athleta, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Kohler, McDonald’s, Nike, Old Navy, Sephora and Shake Shack runs across 85+ countries and has received top industry recognition from Cannes Lions to Adweek Media Plan of the Year.Ranked by Deloitte, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Adweek as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, PMG has grown because of its commitment to continuous improvement, business integrity, cultivating dynamic relationships, and putting people first. Named 7X Ad Age's Best Places to Work, 3X Best Places for Working Parents, and among Fast Company's Best Workplaces for Innovators, PMG has also been named Adweek's Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year and MediaPost's Independent Agency of the Year.

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Freedman International

With over 30 years’ experience working with brands to build their presence internationally, we have crafted a best-in-class approach to harnessing cultural insights and utilising them to drive effective campaigns across multiple markets.

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Waste Creative

Waste is an independent creative agency founded in 2006. We connect entertainment brands with their fans, to drive creativity, culture and commercial success. A virtuous circle we call ‘Brands powering fans, powering brands’.

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Ogilvy UK

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