Pride Agencies Agency Culture

‘Not all rainbows and sunshine’: agency leaders on making the Pride Pledge a reality


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

June 12, 2023 | 10 min read

Last week, agencies and other industry voices signed Outvertising’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ pledge in response to the backlash against campaigns featuring LGBTQ+ inclusion. Here, nine agency leaders tell us how they’ll put the promise into action.

A rainbow pride flag at a parade

Adland recently came together to sign the ‘Stand Your Ground’ pledge – but how will they make it a reality? / Raphael Renter via Unsplash

Kineta Kelsall, senior director, social solutions, Jellyfish: “I strongly advocate for companies that demonstrate their allyship to the LGBTQI+ community. However, it’s crucial to recognize that while stunts, initiatives and LGBT sandwiches may be well-intentioned, they can sometimes feel like surface-level attempts that inadvertently overshadow the profound significance of Pride.

“To truly foster inclusivity, brands’ efforts should be directed at promoting diverse voices and facilitating meaningful conversations that genuinely resonate with the LGBTQI+ community. Rather than engaging in activities that might unintentionally undermine the struggles of the queer community, brands should consistently show up and embrace their responsibility without fear or hesitation. Muting or withdrawing from the conversation only perpetuates the historical silencing that queer people have had to battle against systematically.

“While brands need to stand their ground, it’s equally important for them to move beyond mere symbolic gestures, like slapping a rainbow on their products for validation and social likes. Instead, brands need to prioritize authenticity and education, both internally and externally, as they acknowledge that the journey towards equality and acceptance has not been, and still isn't, solely characterized by rainbows and sunshine.”

Paul Dazeley, head of planning, TMW Unlimited: “Brands should not only be defiant in their position; they should counter the deluge of misinformation by creating authentic representations of the queer community. It’s not about a fun social post with a few white, cis drag queens; it’s about showcasing the incredible breadth of the beautiful diversity that exists within the queer community – a diversity that is often excluded from the media narrative.

“This isn’t a problematic marginalized minority; it’s a joyful, multi-faceted community trying to live rich and rewarding lives. Brand campaigns create space to tell that story, to platform that talent and to give back to a community that is misrepresented, under-appreciated and underpaid.”

Hannah Anderson, managing director, Kyma and managing partner, Kairos Group: “As a member of the LGBT community, it doesn’t mean anything to me if a brand changes its profile picture to a rainbow. What matters to me is seeing strong policies to protect and support LGBT employees, or donating to LGBT charities.

“That’s what Pride month was born for: to support and celebrate the LGBT community. Now, it has become another commercialized opportunity for brands to hop onto. It’s something that all brands feel the need to be part of, but most don’t know how to contribute in a meaningful way.

“My advice to brands would be to work on LGBT representation and education within their companies, rather than a rainbow logo and a tokenized social post.”

Sarah Davis, vice-president, group director, brand experiences, Momentum Worldwide: “My challenge to brands is that the decision to create an LGBTQ+ program was rooted in a deliberate strategy that was deemed right for the brand, so by stepping back from the execution discredits that intentional work and lends credit to the hate.

“There were positive business and company culture reasons that led to the program and the fear of the few should not cause a retreat from those intentions. The greater potential damage is not to your market share, but rather to the momentum and empowerment of hate. Brands must act with intention and dictate the narrative.”

Jamie June Hill, creative inclusivity director, VMLY&R Commerce: “I’m incredibly proud to say that VMLY&R signed the Outveritising pledge and is making sure everyone internally is aware of its promise to stand strong, in its campaigns and for its people.

“The statement offers immediate guidance on how to keep making great LGBTQIA+ work, but if we as an industry want to make things better for the Trans+ community it will come from the actions we take, not the campaigns we make.

“Hire trans+ people, support your trans+ employees with comprehensive care packages, put trans+ people on your board, and most importantly tell trans+ stories. If we do all this, the work created by those folks will create things you’ve never dreamed of: ideas that will tackle this round of intolerance with wit and deft, just as famous ads have taken down ‘culture wars’ of their day.

“Until then, keep showing up and make stuff that works with communities to break down barriers, and maybe buy your trans+ friends some ice cream.”

Anthony Leeds, account director, Propeller Group: “The ‘War on Woke’, which should more appropriately be termed the 'war on empathy and inclusion', is reaching a critical point. Those in power, politicians and the media specifically, are increasingly responsible for fuelling an increase in hate and violence against the LGBTQIA+ community. The growing politicization of our identities is enabling certain segments of society to become emboldened in existing bigotries, and driving some people to adopt new ones.

“More than ever, we need brands to not just stand beside us but also stand in front of us. Slapping a rainbow logo on your brand’s Twitter page or throwing sweets from a float during a parade doesn’t mean you can tick the allyship box. We need brands to stick by their Pride campaigns, dig their heels in when it gets tough, and bear the brunt of the backlash. Achieving normalization isn’t a given; it can move both backward and forwards. We need our industry to keep pushing in the right direction.”

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Gauthier Rochas, co-chair of The Proud Network at M&C Saatchi: “We’re seeing a skyrocketing number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being passed around the world, especially targeting trans peoples’ rights.

“The media industry plays a key role in helping brands develop inspirational campaigns and putting them in front of consumers, so we’re responsible for promoting and advocating for LGBTQ+ causes in society at large.

“Being LGBTQ+ is not a trend, and Pride is not just one month. It is our responsibility to show support to LGBTQ+ colleagues year-round. This means creating a working environment where LGBTQ+ people can thrive and be their true selves, and working on campaigns that show the reality of what being LGBTQ+ means in 2023. Raising awareness and giving visibility to LGBTQ+ people, whether at work or through our work, is vital to building a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world.”

Mark Dandy, head of influencer marketing, Ear to the Ground: “Brands need to actively engage with cultural shifts and address the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. It's not enough for brands to simply follow trends; they must strive to make a genuine difference and go beyond token gestures like only using a rainbow flag during Pride month.

True engagement involves amplifying marginalized voices, supporting community causes, and empowering LGBTQIA+ creators. It requires acceptance, not just activism, and recognizing that these voices deserve a platform in all brand activities. Brands should never apologize or backtrack on their commitment to inclusivity, as seen in some recent high-profile cases.

In sports, gaming, and e-sports, there’s still much work to be done to challenge inequality and heteronormative viewpoints. Brands should prioritize inclusivity all year round, supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and fostering meaningful conversations that drive positive change.”

Eric Soloway, head of production, Clickon: “At Clickon, we’ve taken action through our recent campaign with Citi’s Chosen Name initiative, featuring Michaela Jaé Rodriguez. By allowing transgender and non-binary customers to use their chosen name on credit and debit cards, we’re supporting inclusivity and empowering individuals to be true to themselves. It’s essential for the industry to embrace similar approaches, providing platforms and opportunities for LGBTQ+ voices to be heard.

“We encourage open dialogue, diverse perspectives, and the continuous push for equitable and inclusive representation. By standing together, we can create positive change and defend the freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Pride Agencies Agency Culture

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