LGBTQ, Intersectionality and Brands: A Conversation with Rich Ferraro of GLAAD

Recently, Ketchum colleagues had the privilege of hearing from Rich Ferraro, the chief communications officer of GLAAD—an organization that works through entertainment, news, digital media and with brands to share stories from the LGBTQ+ community that accelerate acceptance. I was inspired by the work he and his colleagues are doing, their strategic approach, the successes they have gained along the way and their commitment to continue to fight for change. It was also a pleasure to hear from Rich about his own personal beliefs and experience.

The full conversation was filled with great takeaways around behaviors that we should all be considering as communications consultants, action-based allies and activists. Here’s some of what I learned.

Use data to prove that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is important to the health of your business.

The spotlight on DE&I has never been brighter than it is right now for many organizations, but how do you make sure that the attention, commitment and accountability don’t wane when other issues dominate the ever-flowing news cycles? The bottom line is that DE&I is good for business, and it prioritizes both people and profit. Rich shared the findings of a report GLAAD produced with P&G (a Ketchum client) showing that 70% of non-LGBTQ respondents favored brands that included LGBTQ people. People don’t only want to see themselves represented, they want to see others, too. Showing diversity in your campaigns will make your brand more appealing to consumers and show you understand that representation matters, so doing the right thing can also translate to sales.

Live what you say, even when you don’t get credit for it.

Being vocal and taking action on DE&I long term can get you positive attention from both  consumers and the media, but that shouldn’t be your only focus—it’s just as important to make sure your internal house is in order and that you drive change behind the scenes. For Rich and his team, one example came from working on the Caitlyn Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer to ensure the conversation about transgender identity would resonate in living rooms around the country. GLAAD didn’t play an obvious role, and many wouldn’t be aware of their contribution, but their involvement and commitment to the community were an integral part in moving the conversation about trans people forward. To ensure real change, we should drive our strategy and goals not only out loud, but also on a personal or internal level. For example, if you’re touting your DE&I excellence without first assessing your own internal DE&I initiatives and the feelings of your most important stakeholders—your internal community—then you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Don’t fall into silos.

People are complex beings with many different parts to their identities and experiences, and no community is a monolith. So, when thinking about DE&I, you shouldn’t think of only “race,” “LBGTQ,” “gender equality,” etc.—you should think about intersectionality, or how people from various backgrounds and lived experiences encounter the world and the ways in which they experience various forms of discrimination. Rich described how he and his team shifted the focus of this year’s Pride Month from being a celebration to a moment to discuss and amplify the much-needed conversation about Black trans people amidst the Black Lives Matter protests around systemic racism in America. I would encourage brands to think about how they can further all areas of DE&I and really dig deeper to address structural and systemic issues around discrimination and inequality while centering those most impacted, not just trending issues at the top of the news agenda. When you’re thinking about the campaigns you’re producing, internal policy changes and external partnerships, think about how they will impact and address the intersection of all of the various issues experienced by people across all communities in society.

Admit what you don’t know and curate your community.

Even those of us focused on DE&I don’t know every detail about every issue and experience for every person or community they touch. It’s okay to admit what you don’t know, and to seek help from those who do. Organizations like GLAAD advise and work with companies to ensure they are handling the subject with authenticity and respect. Rich and his team advise on scripts, casting, ad copy and more. They can do a gut-check on your plans and prevent unnecessary missteps. Engaging with these organizations can also stop you from relying solely on your employees’ emotional labor to represent a certain group or point of view—something that many find exhausting and frustrating. You can also use these relationships to find excellent partners to help these colleagues feel supported, seen and heard by you.

DE&I isn’t just for specific moments in time.

It’s easy for brands to engage with and rally behind key moments such as Pride Month every June, but as Rich pointed out, LBGTQ representation should be considered a year-round commitment that goes beyond a celebration of specific calendar dates. And that goes for other DE&I matters too. Companies should think about how they are showing up in every piece of work they do, whether that’s a holiday campaign, an inclusive company culture-building program or the launch of a new product. Supporting a cause by joining the conversation at a specific moment in time is important, but you need to ask yourself how you can continue the momentum and ladder back up to an overall strategy designed for lasting impact.

We’re grateful to Rich for sharing his time with us, and we’re excited to continue the conversation with you. If you’d like to talk more about DE&I, intersectionality and how brands and individuals can educate themselves, please get in touch.