The business of Pride: Are firms really flying the flag?

Organisers of the 2020 Suffolk Pride hope people will dress up colourfully for the virtual parade. P

Has Pride just become a marketing campaign for businesses? - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

With June comes Pride Month and a high street awash with rainbows on everything from flags to tote bags.  

But actions speak louder than social media posts, say East Anglian brand experts and business leaders, and their well-meaning message is at risk of becoming a marketing ploy. 

Robert Jones, a professor of branding at the University of East Anglia, said: “I think a lot of the time attaching yourself to Pride Month is an example of cause-related marketing, it's essentially a marketing activity. 

“I believe that companies are citizens, and they have duties and one of them is a duty to treat everyone as much as you can with the quality. 

“And I think it’s now very well accepted that creativity and innovation don't come from sameness. You need different people in different backgrounds and different perspectives. 

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“I think they’re two really good reasons why this should be right at the heart of an organisation and all year round. 

“And I do worry sometimes when I see posters in supermarkets just for a month. You know, why has this popped up now? Are they not interested in this the rest of the year?  

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“It feels like virtue signalling. And that’s unfortunate because I think a lot of organisations are actually very serious about it.” 

Professor Jones, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, said that these short-lived messages could sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. 

He said: “I think a lot of consumers and probably some employees as well will treat it with some scepticism, if not cynicism.” 

And at worst, he said, they could feel insulting. 

In 2019 Marks & Spencer’s rebranded its BLT sandwich as an LGBT sandwich — after including guacamole. 

“I thought that was just kind of insulting, really,” he said. “As LGBT myself that silly messing around with language made me feel like a joke was almost being played on me rather I was being included in their worldview.” 

Sadie Lofthouse, director of culture of performance at Adnams, said the Southwold-based brewery and pub chain tried to extend its focus on diversity year-round. 

“We tend to look at diversity, equality and inclusion in the widest sense. So rather than just look at sexuality or just look at race it’s all one and the same thing to us. It's how do you have a culture where everybody's respected and where differences are valued rather than sort of called out.” 

To do this, she says the company has a zero-tolerance policy for people who act against Adnams’ values. 

She cited the case of an employee who was fired after only two days with the company because of their "smutty” and inappropriate behaviour. 

“I think things like that send a really clear message to the whole business,” she said. “You can have a policy, but the policy won't impact on the culture and won't impact on decisions.  

“It's the actions of those frontline managers acting really quickly in those situations.” 

As for only highlighting issues in a set month or week, Miss Lofthouse said: “It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t achieve anything. Actually, it does the opposite. I think it kind of makes out something’s only important for a little while. 

“If you’ve got a member of the team who is recovering from breast cancer and she wants to talk about it and it happens to be breast cancer awareness month — brilliant. 

“But let’s not reproduce a picture, remind people what it is and think that’s our job done. 

“Lets not just pay lip service to it and badge something for a month and then for the other 11 months of the year it’s not referenced or it doesn’t matter.

“I think it's got to come from the top and it's got to be really consistent, because the moment it is not consistent, people can quite rightly question: ‘does it really matter?’” 

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