For brands, Pride must be a long-term strategy

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - media & technology
With a mission to democratise LGBT+ media, Tag Warner, CEO of Gay Times, discusses how brands can navigate Pride month and beyond

You became the CEO of Gay Times in 2019 at the age of 24. How, in your view, is the LGBT+ media landscape changing?

I’m pushing for more power into the hands of the consumer. When I started at Gay Times, I talked about the media as an ivory tower. When I consumed LGBT+ media growing up, it felt like someone was telling me how I should be as a person. When I came into Gay Times, I had an editor that essentially had power over the whole organisation and it was very hierarchical underneath. It quickly became clear to me that I needed to change this structure. I had this fresh perspective from being on the consumer side, which was important.

Why is it important to break down these entrenched media hierarchies?

When magazines talk about raising voices and being a platform, I learned that there's always a caveat: we're a platform for voices – as long as you use the platform when I tell you and do what I say. But the younger generation are like: ‘I don’t need your permission, I’ll just do it myself.’ The difference between the people making the decisions and their audience is growing in terms of distance, age and class. And that disparity is the main reason that so much traditional media doesn't land or is even offensive. Essentially, I gave the decision-making back to the audience. That’s why platforms like TikTok have taken off, because they spotlight people who wouldn't be seen as traditionally attractive or media-friendly. That’s what I'm trying to do at Gay Times.

How are you using co-creation and TikTok to push the democratisation of media?

When deciding our TikTok strategy, I noticed the industry was either pushing highly produced videos created by art directors or reposting other people's content. TikTok loves raw honesty, so any produced content isn't going to fly. And although reposting allows you to get good user-generated content, you don't have the ability to be part of the conversation. So I thought: wouldn't it be cool to fuse together reality tv style production and editorial, rooting it in real, everyday LGBT+ characters? So, we put out this casting call, and we had about 7,000 applications.

Published by:

10 June 2021

Author: Holly Friend

Image: GT133 for Gay Times


Left: Gay Times and Apple Music. Right: Gay Times summer 2021 issue

And how did this lead to the launch of Gen Z creator collective GT133?

The eight members of GT133, who are all hugely diverse, come together and create content for Gay Times on TikTok. That’s the primary vehicle, but the exciting thing is that we have a whole media estate that we can also bring them into, such as in-person events. It’s about faces, not formats. People can relate to faces. Our headquarters is at 133 Whitechapel High Street, so the reason we called the group GT133 is that it's a play on a TikTok house. And we're also supporting their aspirations. One of the GT133 members really wants to get into podcasts, for example. We're a media company, we have access, we have funding – we can get them into podcasts and support their career growth.

During Pride month, many brands find ways to include LGBT+ communities in their marketing campaigns. But what can they do to engage these communities internally?

Brands originally started [Pride discussions] in their marketing department; it's only now that they’re looking internally, but it should have been the other way around. The conversation must come from the organisational perspective. One of the first questions I always ask my clients is: what can we as an organisation give to the community? It immediately reframes the power balance; it shows we're in a position to actively do something. We're not here to talk about what we can take from the community for our own gain. The Pride flag, for example, or any iteration of LGBT+ related flags, belong to the community – they don't belong to you. Many of your employees are likely to be in the community. You can engage with them and ask them those questions.

In our Post-purpose brand landscape, do you think all brands have a right to take part in Pride?

I don't ever want to say people should or shouldn't play. I would like there to be an environment where every brand feels secure to enter the space. But many of them first look at Pride as a calendar moment. You shouldn’t be treating people's identity and personal struggle as a calendar moment. We’ve come out of the festivalisation of Pride, and now brands have got serious about it. But then I think the consumer will become exhausted by that too. In 10 years, brand purpose will be dead. I think we’ve commodified purpose, and in the future the consumer will say to the brand: ‘I don't need you to talk to me about XYZ. Do it, then shut up.’ I noticed that with how younger consumers responded to Pride month campaigns on TikTok in the past week.

‘Platforms like TikTok have taken off because they spotlight people who wouldn’t be seen as traditionally media-friendly’
Tag Warner, CEO, Gay Times

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