How brands can build meaningful partnerships with LGBTQ+ creators
As Pride month arrives, brands will once again be considering how they can be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, without falling into their old ‘rainbow capitalism’ ways that turn off consumers year after year. Lauren Zoltick, performance marketing director at Storyblocks, weighs in on how brands should approach the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community – not only during Pride Month, but year-round.
Pride month is here, which means it is time for rainbow logos to swarm LinkedIn for exactly 30 days. Ten years ago this act of solidarity was breaking news, but today it feels like the minimum viable effort, or worse, purely performative. Brands have realized that the queer community and allies wield real purchasing power and rainbow-washing is everywhere, but consumers are looking for brands to show what they stand for in authentic, meaningful and accountable ways.
With the explosive growth of the creator economy over the past couple of years, more and more brands will be looking to creator integrations to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community this year. However, throwing an unpaid single white cis queer creator into your marketing mix for one month is no better (and in some ways worse) than posting a rainbow square and looking for a pat on the back.
Why the best time to work with creators from underrepresented and marginalized communities is year round/ Image via Storyblocks
If you’re a brand looking to work with creators for Pride or for other heritage month campaigns, here are some thoughts.
The best time to work with creators from underrepresented and marginalized communities is year round. Having an inclusive portfolio of partnerships shows that your brand values diversity and inclusion in who you work with, as well as in who your customers are.
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However, sometimes that is easier said than done. If you have a dedicated budget to work with creators from underrepresented communities during heritage months, that’s great. But please, reach out to them early. They likely get the bulk of their partnership requests during the associated heritage month, so help them do more and make more money by planning early.
Shannon Beveridge (She/Her) said in the SXSW Panel ‘The Creator Economy and Brands: How To Build Trust’: “Ten years ago, people were really excited if a brand just changed their Instagram handle to a rainbow, because we had so little representation that the bar was set very low ... that was enough then. I think the thing is that that is not enough now. That’s why more and more queer and marginalized creators are saying [to] do more, put your money where your mouth is and have queer representation or people of color represented in your brand campaigns year-round.
“Obviously, there are these highlight moments and months that are about these communities and that’s good too, but do it in a more genuine and authentic way.”
If you work with a creator during a heritage month, and the integration goes well, use that as leverage to keep working with them longer-term and build a more diverse partnerships portfolio year-round.
Focus on creators who fit your brand. All creator partnerships are not created equal. With every partnership, including with creators from underrepresented communities, finding a creator who either already uses your product or really makes sense as a consumer is essential to building a partnership and integrations that feel real to audiences, and also to reaching audiences that fit your target. Further, if you weigh a broad and niche audience the same, or a more or less engaged audience the same, you’re not setting yourself up for success.
By not only working with a creator because they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you are also helping to not pigeonhole creators into only getting paid to post content about their queerness (or their race, or the fact that they’re a mom, or differently-abled).
Truly supporting marginalized communities means compensating members fairly and equitably for their work. Doing this also helps develop strong, long-lasting relationships. There have been far too many examples over the past few years of brands reaching out to LGBTQ+ creators wanting to feature their work for Pride month, but with zero budget to pay them.
Max Slack (He/They) says: “If your Pride campaign doesn’t include budget to pay LGBTQ+ creators, it’s not a Pride campaign. You’re just taking advantage of a marginalized community to sell your product.”
It should, unfortunately, come as no surprise that there is currently a 30% pay gap between men and women creators (via Protocol), and a 29% pay gap between white creators and creators of color (via PR Newswire).
While there is work being done to help bridge these gaps through transparency between creators (eg the app Clara), brands can support these creators by being transparent with pay bands and reporting on performance to equip them with the knowledge to ask for the right amount.
We need more positive LGBTQ+ representation (and representation for all marginalized communities) year round. So many marginalized communities are inundated with negative representations of their community. This can be harmful by causing folks outside of said community to develop a negative impression of it, but also by causing those inside the community to develop feelings of shame, low self-esteem or repression of their identity. To state it plainly, queer kids need to see stories about other happy queer kids and happy queer adults.
There is a lot at stake for the LGBTQ+ community right now. Our rights, health and even existence are under attack across the US, and brands supporting the queer community financially through donations and support of organizations such as The Transgender Law Center, The Trevor Project and TWOCC is essential. But it can be easy to fall into a narrative that positions marginalized communities in a helpless position, needing to be rescued.
David Ayllon (He/Him), in his podcast interview on Happy Queer Adults, said: “If you’re doing something for Pride or beyond Pride, and you’re donating to a non-profit that helps queer youth or trans people, trans people of color, that’s all great. Everybody can always use more money, especially these days, but it also doesn’t always have to be like, ‘look at these poor people of color, or these poor queer people.’
“It can also be exalting amazing queer people and people of color without having to have that savior complex attached to that event or promotion. I feel like there isn’t a ton of that, especially outside of Pride month. You can just feature a really awesome queer person in your campaign in March or in November, just because.”
When building a diverse portfolio of creator partners, have a focus on intersectionality. If you’re building a creator campaign and are using a checklist of underrepresented groups (eg one Black creator, one queer creator, one AAPI creator, one deaf creator), you’re ignoring the important lens of intersectionality.
Ryan Sasse said in Forbes: “The notion of intersectionality challenges us to look at how ‘intersecting’ social identities – particularly minority identities – relate to systems and structures of inequity and discrimination.”
When we consider intersectionality, we not only see how these inequalities and discrimination can be compounded for people who span multiple marginalized communities, such as trans people of color, but we also start to reflect the world as it actually is and help move beyond tokenizing people for one aspect of themselves.
Also, shouting this as loud as possible: Black transgender women, such as Marsha P Johnson, are at the core of why Pride exists today.
Trust that your creator partners know their audience and what content will resonate with them most. Growing and maintaining an engaged following takes so much hard work and dedication. Many creators obsess over every detail to determine what their audience responds to best. Creators often spend the most time on brand integrations to ensure their audience doesn’t fall off during them or skip them, impacting their channel performance. So, if you’re hiring a creator to do a brand integration, of course tell them why your brand is great, give them your talking points, your positioning, your why, but trust them to create content that will truly resonate with their audience and that they will feel good about posting. In my experience, this will lead to stronger performance and longer-lasting partnerships.
In the panel Beveridge continued: “Creators know who they are talking to. They’ve spent time talking to the people. They’ve spent time building this community of people. So, when a brand reaches out and they don’t trust you to create the right content for the people you know intimately, that’s where brand partnerships become not effective for either side.”
Partnering with queer creators and creators from all marginalized communities can be an extremely effective way to not only drive marketing goals from brand awareness to conversions to retention, but also to support those communities and reach audiences within those communities in ways that feel truly genuine.
Lauren Zoltick is performance marketing director at Storyblocks.