George Cowin
George Cowin 26 May 2022

A Post-Pandemic Look at Pride - How Should Brands Celebrate it Authentically? (Psst, Ask an LGBTQ+ Person)

We take diversity very seriously here at Cowshed Social. Here, Lottie Maddison - our talent and creator manager, who identifies as autistic and LGBTQ+ - has drafted her thoughts on how brands, and the creatives advising them, should celebrate Pride authentically in a post-pandemic world, and, she says it’s imperative to ask an LGBTQ+ person.

As a lesbian working in the creative industry, Lottie Maddison, talent and creator manager at Cowshed Social, takes a post pandemic look at how brands should celebrate Pride authentically.

A regular guest speaker and panellist at conferences and events on how workplaces and brands should evolve to include the LGBTQ+ community, she’ll also delve into her thoughts on why the creative sector has grown more inclusive in terms of diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. But, she says it’s still got a long way to go in terms of inclusivity for the wider community.

It’s fair to say that we’ve come pretty far since the earlier days of  LGBTQ+ acceptance at work.

By that, I mean the days where agencies felt like they could tick the diversity box by hiring a camp gay guy, who would often quickly become everyone’s GBF (gay best friend). While bringing that fella on board was  certainly a step in the right direction, sadly it didn’t do much for opening up conversations around those that identify with the rest of the LGBTQ+ community .

Lockdown allowed us to see our colleagues in a different light and helped us gradually open up about who we really were. Hello, video calls showing our living situation, partner and all. That was the catalyst for where we are in 2022 - a more authentic version of ourselves, which is why brands need to reflect that this Pride month, or risk alienating an entire demographic for good.

So, while we need to address brands’ approach to Pride, it’s imperative to also take a closer look at the creatives who are working alongside them, as well so we can understand the bigger picture and sphere of influence.

For creative agencies, the key is to question the integrity of the brands they’re working with. By doing so, they’re able to deduce the true reason for a Pride campaign. This will equip them with a deeper knowledge to devise the best strategy. It goes without saying that the more diverse the agency’s team is, the more authentically it is able to do so. 

No one knows the LGBTQ+  community better than the community itself, so having trusted colleagues on hand to run ideas past is the best way to stress test an idea. But, that doesn’t mean you can leave all the hard work to them - having allies is key too.

In fact, I’d argue in many ways, that it’s heterosexual  people who should lead on embracing Pride. And I don’t just mean the wonderful parades - but rather the history, the here and now, and the future of the importance and value of an inclusive society.

While Pride month falls in June, it’s vital that we all understand the struggles, the intricacies, the developments, the issues, the need for legislative change, year round if we are to become a fully inclusive community.

So, when creatives are addressing a Pride campaign for a brand, there are some key things to consider:

  1. Does the company support the LGBTQ+ community year round? There are many ways they can do this, and some excellent ones are to make an ongoing donation to an LGBTQ+ focused charity. Putting your money where your mouth is helps make a tangible difference. While M&S’s 2019 ‘Pride LGBT’ sandwich caused some scrutiny, it saved itself a considerable amount of heartache by donating a substantial sum to *AKT. If a brand is considering a one-off activation, I’d advise strongly steering them away from this, particularly if there is no financial support of the community. The world is always-on, so their approach must be too. (*AKT is a charity dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ young people who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment.)
  2. Be a true ally by educating your teams and beyond. ‘Lunch and learns’ are a great way of doing this as they offer bite-sized (excuse the pun) access to the topic.
  3. As per the above, removing the onus from the LGBTQ+ community themselves can be hugely helpful, particularly for shy or introverted people. This is where HR departments, training and company values can play a really useful role. HR structures must support the change in attitudes by taking a lead from the top approach to educate all employees. Empowering people to use the correct language is imperative to avoid microaggressions bandied about in the workplace, such as ‘do you have a partner?’ This is much more inclusive than ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ to your female colleagues.
  4. If you don’t have any queer colleagues, consider bringing in a friend from the community to soundboard Pride campaign suggestions. Speaking to the target audience is rule number one for any campaign but when it comes to minority groups it’s even more important. Inviting someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ into your agency to chat through the real reasons behind Pride will go a long way to truly understanding the need for awareness too. Buy a pal a meal in return for their input - you won’t regret it.

You only need to look at National Express’ Bussy Bear mascot campaign to see what can happen if you don’t consult someone in the know. If you don’t remember it, you need to Google it right away. A great example of how not to make the LGBTQ+ community feel heard.

About Cowshed Social

  • Launched in July, 2019, by co-founders George Cowin and Ryan O’Shea, the full service social media agency now employs 40 people.
  • Based in London, Cowshed Social is currently relocating office premises to accommodate the growing team.
  • It lists Sony, KFC, Samsung and EA Sports among its clients.
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