LGBTQ PR Pioneers Share Keys to Ensure Pride-Focused Campaigns are Not Performative

In a sign of performative allyship, it’s enough for some companies to slap a rainbow flag on limited-edition products as they celebrate Pride this month.

Yet consumers are wise. In a 2019 YouGov poll of more than 3,700 US adults, half the respondents said that if they see a company marketing Pride-themed content or products, they’re more likely to view it as a sales tactic than a reflection of corporate values.

On a more positive note, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of respondents said they would likely do business with an LGBTQ-friendly business. These include millennials (32 percent), liberals (52 percent), high-income earners (34 percent), individuals identifying as gay and lesbian (71 percent) and bisexual individuals (53 percent), or those who often are part of the target audience for these campaigns.

The question is what companies should include and exclude from their Pride Month campaigns. That’s part of what we asked Alex Slater, founding partner, The Clyde Group, and Christina Ferraz, founder, Thirty6Five. Both were finalists for the LGBTQIA2+ Pioneer Award in PRNEWS’ inaugural Diversity Awards.

We asked them how they’re advising companies around Pride month and what role PR should have in advancing careers of those in the LGBTQ community. Responses were edited for clarity and space.

PRNEWS: What advice do you give companies looking to launch Pride-focused campaigns? How do you ensure the efforts are not performative?

Alex Slater: Everyone and their grandmother likes to celebrate Pride by sticking rainbows on everything. Avoid pinkwashing/pink capitalism and ensure the campaign:

  • Uses platforms to amplify diverse voices within the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Talks about real reform and advocates for things that will improve queer people’s lives.
  • Researches partner charities and community organizations. Ensure that donations and support aligns with corporate values of your company and LGBTQIA+ people who work there.
  • Involves, if possible, LGBTQIA+ people. This allows for more diverse, creative and authentic thinking, which will likely improve the success of your campaign.

Christina Ferraz: A PR consultant from the LGBTQ+ community would know better than anyone what looks good for a Pride campaign and which LGBTQ+ media outlets and influencers to contact for maximum brand awareness.

In addition, companies can consider contributing to the LGBTQ+ community in a larger way than producing campaigns only for Pride month. There are other important holidays in the LGBTQ+ community, like Trans Day of Visibility and Trans Day of Remembrance.

Last, companies could donate a certain amount of profits to LGBTQ+ organizations, become corporate donors of LGBTQ+ organizations and sponsor LGBTQ+ events.

Financial support for LGBTQ+ organizations has a trickle-down effect in the community. Corporate dollars go to create LGBTQ+-focused programs, scholarships and spaces produced by non-profit organizations and small businesses.

PRNEWS: What is the biggest thing that Pride-focused campaigns get wrong?

Slater: So many Pride campaigns are focused on garnering attention and sales from cis white gay men. While they are very much part of the queer community, our strength is rooted in our diversity. Any campaign that does not include trans, non-binary, womxn and people of color cannot expect to be successful.

Ferraz: Pride-focused campaigns should never co-opt Black vernacular terms. People can be effusive in their support of the LGBTQ+ community; they will pull language they heard from a popular reality show for the rhetoric in their Pride-focused campaigns.

Language is codified and specific to cultural groups; it can be offensive to hear someone from outside the community use language the Black LGBTQ+ community created to relate to one another as copy for a campaign.

It’s not a sign of inclusivity and allyship when you reduce an entire culture down to a catchphrase and a hashtag.

PRNEWS: Have you seen advancements that have helped improve career trajectories of the queer community?

Slater: The business community has made leaps and bounds to help improve the careers and lives of queer people. A large part of these efforts is in response to the dramatic shift in public perception of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Because of this, businesses have had to respond to public demands for better employment opportunities, working conditions, and more recently, public statements in solidarity with celebrating diversity.

With the universal legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, queer people saw a direct improvement in rates of employment. This pushed the business community to adhere to and advocate for workplace policies that protect queer people from discrimination. Companies that embraced all types of legal reform continue to reap the benefits of having a more diverse workforce.

The widespread adoption of stakeholder capitalism has created more room for transparency and accountability among the business community. Over the past few years, companies have been making strides to respond not just to consumers, but also to internal stakeholders, like employees.

Ferraz: Acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the industry and larger business community creates opportunities for brands and businesses. Internally, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people allowed for ERGs focused on diversity, inclusion and belonging where employees could live their authentic, whole lives, contributing to a better organizational culture.

Externally, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people allowed for more CSR focus on strategic partnerships and marketing campaigns for events and products.

Collectively, these advancements helped create more positions in the workplace for LGBTQ+ people who could speak to the community in brand tone, but at the same time reach the LGBTQ+ market with a message that was relevant, fresh and timely.

There are now positions in C-Suites that specifically focus on diversity, culture and people. I don’t think that would have happened without the role queer people play in advocating for more inclusive spaces.

PRNEWS: What can the PR industry do to tackle challenges those in the community face?

Slater: Follow words of solidarity with actions of allyship. That not only means outwardly supporting the queer community, but also ensuring your workforce is intentionally diverse.

It also means providing those you represent with all available resources and strategic guidance to create meaningful, impactful PR campaigns that uplift queer voices.

Ferraz: The PR industry could be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community by acting as arbiters of unity and agents of change because of the role PR practitioners play as communicators.

Oftentimes, we are the gatekeepers who determine the visual rhetoric and tone used in campaigns for brands. Allies in the industry could help with the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces by focusing on breaking down stereotypes, making space for people with different gender presentations, and advocating for the wellness, success and safety of Black trans lives.

The Case for Visibility

Inclusion is more than a buzzword, it’s a business imperative, but so too is visibility. When some companies think about inclusive messaging they sometimes miss a number of groups. These are the so-called invisible minorities, or those defined by not being obviously part of a minority due to the color of their skin. Asian Americans, neurodiverse or disabled individuals or those in the LGBTQ+ community are some examples.

Research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that fewer than 2 percent of characters in ads presented at the Cannes Lions festival in 2019 were part of the LGBTQ community.

In response, GLAAD and P&G recently launched The Visibility Project, which strives to bolster “LGBTQ inclusion in advertising and marketing.”

Alongside that effort, the organizations released findings from a study of 200 advertising and marketing executives that focused on LGBTQ inclusion in advertising. The study highlights that nearly half (46 percent) of the executives who responded fear “public backlash for including LBGTQ people” in campaigns.