Fleishman-Hillard Comes Out

In what could only be called fabulous, Fleishman-Hillard has opened up FH Out Front.

Now, what's FH Out Front? According to the O'Dwyer's article today:

Fleishman-Hillard has launched FH Out Front to grab a piece of what it views as the "untapped" gay/lesbian communications market.

Ben Finzel, who co-chairs the group from Washington D.C., told O'Dwyer's that the Omnicom unit has experience in creating gay/lesbian PR campaigns.

Kodak's multicultural push has a gay/lesbian component, while F-H's work for Ontario's Ministry of Tourism had a gay friendly element. The Ontario campaign resulted in a nice story in the Washington Post, said Finzel, who leads the practice with Phillip Sontag in San Diego.

Finzel said FH Out Front will launch a pro bono campaign early next year for the New York and D.C. chapters of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

FH estimates the buying power of the gay/lesbian, bisexual and transgender market is $450 billion, and believes the size of that market could represent 10 percent of the U.S. population.

Finzel, citing a survey just released by FH, expects little backlash from F-H's outreach to the gay/lesbian community. A poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corp., found that 81 percent of respondent's don't care if a product they regularly use is also pitched to gays/lesbians. Ten percent of the respondents would be less likely to purchase the product.

Sixty-five percent of respondents say it doesn't matter if a new product is also promoted to gays/lesbians, while 24 percent would be less likely to buy the new item.

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents know somebody who is gay or lesbian, while 22 percent know only "straight" people.

The new practice also includes a dozen FH staffers in New York, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and San Francisco.
I'm not sure what is sadder statement of the state of PR: that FH felt that it needed to start a BGLT practice (bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender - actually, not sure if transgender is covered by FH Out There) or that PR has become so gentrified that that it's unable to incorporate different ethnicities and sexualities into a "mainstream" PR program?

It's funny (or sad) - I had this conversation with Robert French at Auburn, how public relations should not be just about your own group, that it's being able to pitch to any demographic. He titled his piece "Cultures ... ours isn't the only one ..." but apparently this idea hasn't made it out to the agencies yet. This is also the same conversation I had with Ben Silverman at PR Fuel - Don't Ignore the Melting Pot.

When pitching a client or product, how hard is it for the PR team to be able to generate story ideas for different segments: the gay community, the African-American community, the Hispanic community, etc?

Just a thought for the industry - when pitching, how about going beyond the same old mainstream media? It's not a reach.

But, if this is the new trend, what's next in PR? Agencies starting out segmented practices targetting the BGLT communities, the African-American community, the Jewish community, the Catholic community, ad naseum? If so, I have some great naming ideas for different agencies: POP! PR Q&H (for Queer and Here) or POP! PR La Raza (for Hispanic PR) or POP! PR Mitzvah (for the Jewish Community) or POP! PR ... well, you get the idea.

We already see Hispanic divisions being set-up, which miss the bigger picture - there is no Hispanic community that can be whitewashed for marketing. What sells to the Puerto Rican community does not work for the Mexican community or the Columbian, Ecuadorian, Cuban, communities. If you get right down to it, there are different dialects and idiosyncrancies between the Spanish of each country.

The other part of the story that needs to be addressed is that, well, people lie in polls. While the people in the polls said that they will not boycott or avoid products, the fact is that Disney gets boycott threats for its same-sex benefits policy, as well as the Gay Pride days at the park, and Disney is not the only corporation to get boycott threats.

Does an agency need to create separate divisions to reach out to diverse communities? I certainly hope not, as that should be part of an overall PR strategy.

It's like agencies jumping on the blog bandwagon and now opening up online communications divisions that only pitch online media. Does this mean that your agency ignored the online news sources and message boards? If so, what a great disservice to the clients.

POP! PR has experience with diverse communities - was involved with MeCHA, MAC, friend of BGALA, Hillel at Arizona - and is able to put together pitches for different communities - does this mean I should split up the company into separate divisions, or just be able to offer a cohesive program.

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2 comments

  1. Hey Jeremy,

    Took me awhile to respond. I read your post and the O'Dwyer's article.

    I agree. PR agencies should be able to craft messages/conversations that appeal to specific audiences. And, they should be able to do it within any one campaign - within any one group of their agency. Are new units/practices aimed at solely one audience necessary? I don't think so.

    Too often, so much advertising (and so many PR messages) do seem too vanilla to me. But, is this 'specialized unit' the proper answer/tactic to correct that? No.

    This gets said so often, some feel it is quaint/trite/idealistic and too simplistic. But, communication - first and foremost - begins with 'knowing your audience' and using that research/knowledge to craft the most informative/persuasive message/tactic.

    I relate this to my experience with disability groups, for example. Dialects exist in deaf/hearing impaired communities around the world. People are often surprised to learn that.

    Yes, there are dialects in sign language. People in Talladega, Alabama will have 'words' (nuances) in their communication that do not 'translate' well in Atlanta or Boston.

    And, there are divisions within the deaf communities re: hearing aids (use them, or reject them) and whether your child should be taught sign language, at all. For their culture, these are serious, dramatic and emotional issues.

    Some messages not only 'don't work' in some niches of the deaf world, they elicit very emotional reactions. Reactions that can lead people to act in ways you probably don't want them to react. (Can you say boycott?)

    Does someone need a new 'unit/practice' to learn that? No. What is needed is knowledge. Experience. Involvement/immersion in the culture. That's how I learned the examples above.

    Still thinking about this. Some aspects seem good. Some seem sad, as you put it, because they could point to 'in-effective' communication skills within some companies. I don't know. I'll think a bit more.

    I am glad that FH has made this rather public splash. Is it more of a statement rather than a required/needed move? Not sure. Have they put themselves (or their clients) at risk for a boycott, etc.? Maybe so.

    If anything, it will likely spawn a great deal of discussion and debate. Now, if we can only get folks like the PRSA to stop squabbling and focus on these issues - the PR world will develop 'real' focus on the issues of most importance. But, that's another story for another post. ;)

    Oops! I wrote too much again.

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  2. Hey great blog! Keep it up.

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