June 11, 2013
As June is LGBT Pride Month, Erica Ciszek, M.S., interviewed Bob Witeck, a leading communications expert in designing strategies for companies aiming to reach lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) households and consumers.
He is the president and founder of Washington, D.C.-based Witeck Communications, Inc,, and has more than three decades of professional communications expertise in the public and private sector. Witeck is the co-author of “Business Inside Out: Tapping Millions of Brand-Loyal Gay Consumers,” recognized as the first book advising marketers and business leaders on building successful bridges with LGBT stakeholders.
How is the LGBT market similar to or different from a “mainstream” market?
We are part of the entire marketplace, and in that way, LGBT people may mirror many of the same attitudes, needs, preferences and tastes as anyone else. Most LGBT people do not live in an exclusive or predominantly LGBT community or neighborhood, and tend to be influenced by many factors and influences. Being gay (or lesbian or bisexual and/or transgender) is one characteristic for many of us in our complex lives.
Taken as a whole, self-identified LGBT adults share some traits and characteristics that can set them apart. For years, LGBT people were outsiders and outliers, without respect, visibility and notice from any marketers — and in fact, they might have been thought of as “radioactive” in terms of brand affinity.
Some traits that we’ve researched, and that seem to distinguish LGBT consumers consistently are higher standards of brand loyalty to gay-friendly/welcoming brands, as well as a trend toward early adoption of technology, styles and innovations. LGBT people increasingly want to be recognized and understood, not singled out.
We also need to understand different needs of lesbian and bisexual women, people of color, gay parents, queer youths and other segments. They will also become increasingly visible and part of the mix as demographic trends change. In this sense, there are many market perspectives.
How should PR practitioners engage with LGBT audiences?
This is not rocket science. Engaging LGBT people respectfully means accepting, acknowledging and connecting with them. The diverse and changing LGBT population in the United States has many diversions, interests and associations — LGBT-centered churches, sport and athletic associations, choruses, community newspapers and entertainment sites, political groups, and professional societies and organizations.
It is vital for PR practitioners and communicators to no longer segregate LGBT people and interests in all their efforts. LGBT people, their partners and their families are part of every audience too. When messaging, consider how this diversity across audiences can best be expressed so that it does not hide, disrespect or needlessly exclude anyone, including LGBT individuals and their families.
What are some challenges PR practitioners face when reaching out to LGBT audiences?
The first might be fear of offending other audiences by including and respecting LGBT people. This fear might be felt more in smaller markets, cities and towns where LGBT visibility may not be so evident — but a smart communicator no longer needs to resort to whispering or ignoring gay people in any campaign. The rewards outweigh the risks and social attitudes are changing rapidly along with laws and customs.
The second may be that addressing LGBT audiences requires a secret or specialized language, expressions or words. There are dos and don’ts, and some simple rules about addressing LGBT people and the labels that define or confine (and sometimes offend) them, but it is not tough to master or acknowledge.
The third may be more personal at times. I’ve witnessed communicators or marketers who are a bit wary of addressing LGBT issues, campaigns or audiences because of an unspoken anxiety that someone else might assume they are gay or lesbian.
What advice would you give PR practitioners who are trying to connect with LGBT audiences?
I suggest doing a little homework about LGBT media, community groups and audiences, and asking questions to understand their interests and channels.
Any PR practitioner should be a lifelong student of media, trends and audiences, and always curious about what makes people respond and think and do — no matter who they are. It’s a giant-sized palette of demographic differences and traits, and the most successful PR professionals will be individuals who enjoy the rich, changing mosaic across all people. It’s a joyful problem to solve and navigate and LGBT people are part of it.
What are some current obstacles and issues in LGBT communities and what is the next big challenge?
We have many big and small challenges remaining. Even if we enacted every significant civil rights law to achieve equality in American civil society, we still have work to do to banish hate, ignorance and bigotry for LGBT people and others.
In the marketplace, I would like to see more brands and companies become inclusive in their depictions of Americans and families, and to include same-sex couples and kids wherever appropriate. The power of media — in news, entertainment and in advertising — cannot be understated.
Let’s not forget it is a big world too. While we can celebrate a great deal of progress at home, most of us live beyond borders and consider the globe our future. We have to use all our tools to change societies so that gay people cannot be demonized, criminalized and made invisible by any culture. We come from all families, and need to work to ensure that families everywhere accept us.