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Will Corporate Sponsors Show Up for Pride 2020?

National marketing representative discusses how the pandemic is affecting the LGBTQ market.

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The crowd at Houston’s LGBTQ Pride parade in 2019 (photo by Dalton DeHart).

June is Pride Month, and although we are supposed to celebrate Pride all year round, the fact of the matter is that June is the big show when it comes to reaching LGBTQ consumers. Every year, summer kicks off with a rainbow-clad, worldwide celebration of the community. 

In the last decade, businesses have decided to join the Pride party. Corporations fund LGBTQ celebrations to the tune of $10,000 to $1 million, according to Adweek. But with so many June parades canceled and large gatherings prohibited, some people are wondering whether supportive corporate sponsors will “chase the rainbow” in 2020 or retreat back to the closet.

Todd Evans, 57, is the president and CEO of Rivendell Media. His company was founded in 1979 and purchases advertising in 95% of all LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS publications in the U.S. and Canada (including OutSmart magazine). He is a leading expert in LGBTQ media, and helps corporate clients develop a marketing strategy that can elevate their brands within LGBTQ-centric markets. 

Todd Evans

“I think it will be a shame if some of the iconic companies that have supported the community in the past are absent this year, for no reason other than that they think ‘Pride is canceled,’” says Evans. “The smart clients realize that Pride is never canceled. Pride is all year, every year.” 

Evans explained that the LGBTQ community’s fear that corporate sponsors will abandon them in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is unfounded. If companies are pulling back, it isn’t because they don’t support the community. Rather, it’s a reflection of market conditions and the haphazard way this crisis is being dealt with. 

In the U.S., responses to COVID-19 vary significantly from state to state and from market to market. States like Georgia and Texas are steadily reopening, while other states like New Jersey and New York continue to have many stay-at-home restrictions in place. This creates a challenging atmosphere for advertisers. It isn’t about abandoning the LGBTQ market, but rather about finding it.

“One thing we’ve noticed with this crisis event is that in places like San Francisco or New York, where the lockdown orders have extended to places like the [bars and restaurants] that distribute LGBTQ publications, [the pandemic] has really brought things to a halt because advertisers can’t reach their intended audiences. This makes them uneasy,” Evans explains.

“But in most places—especially those with less restrictive orders—[LGBTQ publishers can still easily distribute] their issues. There is a need and demand for information. Consumers are craving it. If I were a company that wanted to be in that market, I would think it would be more important than ever to show up in the LGBTQ media and show people that they are still there,” says Evans. “It’s never good in marketing [to let] a consumer feel abandoned. There’s still the potential for that, but that is yet to be determined.” 

Community Support

Even without the support of corporations, many LGBTQ-centric businesses rely heavily on the Pride Month bump caused by more people in the bars, restaurants, and shops. By June, customers are anxious to kick off the summer as well as celebrate the community. It is yet to be determined what the bottom line will look like next month. 

“Overall, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of concern among our members,” says Tammi Wallace, 51, the co-founder and board chair of the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. She notes that businesses like the newly opened bar Buddy’s in Montrose were relying on the June Pride events to boost business. Now, bar owners are still unsure if they will be able to fully reopen, much less to turn a profit. 

Ironically, the Chamber itself is staring down an economic impact from the COVID-19 crisis. “In the past, June was the month where we had a reception with our corporate partners. This year we had planned on transitioning that into a luncheon, and it really felt like we were going to be able to raise some money for the Chamber. Pride is always a great opportunity to showcase LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly businesses. But you know, best-laid plans. . .” says Wallace.

A Changing Market

For now, the concern that companies will abandon LGBTQ customers in June doesn’t seem to be holding true. It isn’t necessarily that they aren’t marketing in June 2020. It’s that they aren’t marketing in quite the same way as a year ago—if they are smart.

“There was this idea last year among LGBTQ media outlets that the 50th anniversary of Stonewall would be this banner year for us. In reality, it wasn’t,” Rivendell Media’s Evans explains. “There was more money spent during Pride 2019 than perhaps any previous year, but most of that was funneled to mainstream events. For LGBTQ media outlets it was a bit of a bust, but it brought new [advertisers interested in] pursuing an LGBTQ audience.” 

Evans advises his clients to regularly reach out to the LGBTQ market during times other than Pride. 

“In the ’90s, Pride was easily 50 percent of our business, and now it’s maybe 15 percent, maybe less. The sales are more spread out across the year. Clients are educating themselves. They have learned the lesson that a one-shot wonder will not really help their business. Sure, it might feel good, but it doesn’t impact the bottom line,” says Evans.

The advice he gives LGBTQ media outlets and advertisers is to stay in touch. There is more to the LGBTQ market than just the June Pride issue of a magazine. “A parade is only part of what this civil-rights movement is about,” he says. 

On an economic note, media ad buys in LGBTQ publications, as in many other publications being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, are now a much better deal. Businesses that had previously hesitated to advertise during Pride due to cost can get a veritable bargain when it comes to ad space. 

Evans is happy to help them take advantage of these bargains. “I understand companies don’t have the same budget they had only a few months ago, but now you can show up very inexpensively if you want to,” he says. “When a company shows up during the hard times [to support the LGBTQ community] when it is needed the most, that is how you can tell if that company is sincere or not.”

For more information about Rivendell Media, visit rivendellmedia.com. Learn more about advertising with OutSmart at outsmartmagazine.com/about/advertising-information.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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