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Authentic Pride: before marketing to the marginalized, make your culture inclusive

Receptional on pride and inclusion / Steve Johnson via Unsplash

Dean Rowland, board director and culture lead at Drum Network member Receptional, and Polly Shute, a former Pride in London board member who now runs Out and About LGBTQ, have spent a lot of time thinking about Pride. For our Deep Dive on Marketing and the Marginalized, they look into how brands can create campaigns that move beyond tokenism.

Over the last 18 months DE&I has moved up the agenda. Many are keen to make it a focus in their external marketing campaigns and communications.

But, as we have seen with the rise of Black Lives Matter, it’s important for brands to act thoughtfully and responsibly. Getting it wrong can lead not just to a bad campaign, but lasting brand damage.

2022 marks 50 years since the first Pride in the UK (and two years of cancellations for large-scale Pride events). This is likely to lead to a rush of brands looking to develop activations next June (‘Pride Month’). But action must start before June.

The complexity of Pride

Pride is an emotional and loaded word. There’s a complex relationship between campaign and celebration that brands need to understand and respect.

Some get it right. Starbucks has been a sponsor and supporter of Prides across the world for a number of years. Behind the rainbow lattes is both an external and internal commitment to support employees and campaign for LGBTQ+ and wider equality rights.

It gave same-sex couples full rights to health benefits in 1988, pays for surgeries for its transgender employees, and contributes to supporting same-sex parents on adoption and fertility services.

On the campaign side, Starbucks joined 200 companies to file a brief to The Supreme Court to protect LGBTQ+ rights, has joined the Human Rights Business Coalition in support of the Equality Act, and supported LGBTQ+ charities across its operating countries.

Be truly inclusive

But far too often, brands only look at the LGBTQ+ market at a top-line level, ignoring the complexity and intersectionality of this community.

Pride is all about inclusion for all elements of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those that are underrepresented and face the most challenges, including women, minority ethnic and trans communities.

Unfortunately, it’s still co-opted as a marketing tool. The Canary Island’s recent “Winter Pride” is a particularly bad example – an event promoted using stereotypical images of young, fit, white, gay men, obviously focused on a commercial outcome and without any apparent support for charity or community.

Consult internally and externally

It’s key to talk to your employees about what they want. Even if you don't have a LGBTQ+ network, you can put an ask out for members of the community and supportive allies, to help with the development and delivery of ideas.

If you’re considering a large-scale campaign, always consult the community. There are lots of LGBTQ+ charities, media and community groups that can give you guidance and feedback. Out and About LGBTQIA specifically support LGBTQ+ women, and are happy to work with agencies and have, in the past, pulled together small research groups for brands like Greene King.

Have your own house in order

Pride groups have turned down support from brands that did not have their own year-long internal support plans for their own LGBTQ+ community. Often the fiercest critics are your employees who will react negatively (and often publicly) to brands that show a lack of overall understanding and support.

When the NSPCC decided to abruptly cut their association with Munro Bergdorf, 148 staff wrote a letter of complaint, forcing the charity to publicly apologise for the way they had handled the situation.

Primark’s partnership with Stonewall alienated the LGBTQ+ community, when it was discovered that their Pride t-shirts were made in Turkey, which has a poor record on LGBTQ+ rights.

Having DE&I policies in place also enables you to align your external messages with your internal culture – they ensure that what you tell the outside world rings true with your colleagues.

Start small, but start somewhere

Often, leaders want to go big on sponsorship or social media during events like Pride. But adding a rainbow flag to your logo won’t cut it if the LGBTQ+ community within your organization doesn’t feel supported.

A good way to start the journey is just to take part in Prides, and make sure you don’t just pick London; extend out to other areas where your employees live and work.

Marketing agencies have been late adopters of DE&I policies compared with other sectors. And smaller agencies often find it difficult to create the DE&I lead roles that larger agencies have. But if we want to truly represent our employees, our clients and make an impact in wider society it’s key to invest in this.

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