The National LGBT Media Association: An exclusive conversation with Todd Evans

Recently Kantar Media marketing director Mike Morrow spoke with Todd Evans, President and CEO of Rivendell Media, to learn more about the unique ways that the National LGBT Media Association is creating new opportunities for advertisers to easily and profitably reach LGBT consumers in markets across the nation.

Todd EvansIn his time with Rivendell Media, Todd has worked on almost every major LGBT media campaign as well as every DTC campaign in the HIV/AIDS market since the FDA allowed them. That experience, along with his knowledge of the media, provide unique insight into what works to reach and speak to LGBT audiences. Evans graduated from Villanova University with a bachelor in Political Science and currently resides in Mountainside, New Jersey.

Mike Morrow: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today, Todd. For the media planners and buyers who might not already be familiar with The National LGBT Media Association, can you give us a brief introduction?

Todd Evans: Overall, the origins of the Association go way back to the National Gay Newspaper Guild, which was a group of LGBT newspapers that funded the original Simmons market studies of their readerships, creating the foundation for the gay and lesbian media marketplace in the early 1980’s.

That Guild was formed at the time primarily to pool everyone’s resources so we could get the statistics to help validate the value of this market. Madison Avenue was telling us, “yes, we’re interested, but we need proof.” I always say the advertising industry is all about having that evidence and covering your behind, making sure you’ve made the right decisions for the right reasons.

At that time, LGBT media was scattered across the country – these were individual publications with their own specs, their own marketing, and so forth, so there was a great opportunity to bring them together for the benefit of national advertisers. Almost all gay media at that time was local, small circulation, and was only really valuable at scale as a package deal, in a way that made things easy and simple for national advertisers.

Come forward 30 some years to today, and of course not all of these publications are “just” newspapers anymore. A lot has changed both in our market, and in media as a whole.  We now call ourselves the National LGBT Media association to be more inclusive and include their digital extensions, yet at the heart of the association are still those major papers – the tried and true publications – almost all of them have been in business for more than 40 years.

The National LGBT Media Association was formed for national advertisers, to help them take advantage of like practices among all these titles, and simply to make it easy and profitable for marketing and advertising companies to recommend and reach appropriate LGBT media for their clients.

The media represented by the Association is really the best of the best – the LGBT media market can be very fickle. What’s hot one day might not be the next. These are the best, and their years of experience speak for themselves – speaking to advertisers with one voice that “we’re here, we want you to advertise with us and reach our audience, and we can make it easy to do so.”

MM: I’m struck by the comment you made about these media having been around 40-plus years. That’s incredible longevity in media. How do you account for that? What is it about this market or this environment that’s different than other niche media markets?

TE: Where LGBT media started with activism, that activism has become professionalism. I think we realized quite early that if we were going to get anywhere, in media or in this country, we were going to have to be united as a group, and it happened in so many ways.

LGBT media is mostly local. Where the Hispanic market has People en Español and the African American market has some great national titles like Essence or Ebony, we don’t have million-plus circulations at an individual title.

We never had that as a result of how LGBT rights evolved in this country. It was more like 50 different countries or cultures, where one state might be progressive, and another wasn’t. Also, while the rest of America was trying to integrate populations, the gay market until recently was still putting itself into sections. I like to say birds of a feather like to flock together, right?

So with these concentrated populations we had natural and easy geographical distribution for our publications that other niche markets might not have had. That alone can be a big savings for advertisers. Especially with LGBT media that really become the face of a community – for example when you’re in Washington, DC, and you see the Washington Blade in the box, you know you’re in a gay area, and the same goes for many other cities.

Bringing things forward to today, this will be the third year in a row with a print circulation increase. That’s unheard of in print of any type! We think a lot has to do with the current political climate. There’s more news coverage on equality and LGBT rights, and people are looking for “real news” by and for LGBT people. We often say that national LGBT media speaks for us, but local LGBT media speaks to me. What do I need to do? Where am I going Friday night? Which car should I buy? These are questions local LGBT media answer: who’s asking for my money?

And the titles themselves, they go back so far, they really understand that national advertisers are part of the conversation, part of their editorial. They know that exposure is a way to show their readers “look who’s here, pay attention to these brands.” It happened to me when I bought my last car – right across the street is BMW dealer, and down the street is a Mercedes dealer. Well, I got a Mercedes, because Mercedes does campaigns in LGBT media and BMW never has!

It boils down to who’s asking for your business? All other things being equal, who’s trying to help your community?

MM: I want to ask you to comment more on this idea that LGBT media are often inherently local, are closely connected with their neighborhoods and communities and the power that those connections bring to the media in your association.

National LGBT Media AssociationTE: It’s absolutely true. If you’re out on the street in major American cities, you’d be able to see these publications facing forward. If you go to San Francisco in the Castro area you cannot miss the Bay Area Reporter in the boxes.

In neighborhoods you see a real resurgence of that sense of community right now. There is a sense that we’re being attacked, and in the communities you have the resulting sense of “Okay, I’m home. Here’s something I can trust.” We asked a question in a recent survey about what news do you trust, and local LGBT was right at the top of the list.

When you’re trying to reach any particular market, it’s important to get out there and get in with the best. And no matter how you measure it, this group of publications is the best. The best in stature, the best in news, the best in longevity, and quality. Gay or straight, mainstream or not, in the media landscape nobody wants second best.

And of course you need somewhere to start. The National LGBT Media Association and its publications make a great place to start. This is a group of titles that knows what they’re doing, knows what partnerships mean, and knows how to help. We make it so easy to get your foot in the door with the best, all from a one-stop shop.

MM: You’ve mentioned the growth in print, and how it’s still a dominant force in LGBT media. I assume LGBT media hasn’t been immune to the transformations and disruptions of digital. How has digital changed your category and how the Association approaches its mission?

TE: Absolutely. There’s no such thing as stand-alone anything today in media. It would be very rare to do a print campaign without a digital component, and really it should be rare to have a digital campaign without some sort of print, especially in LGBT media. Although these titles have been around a long time, they’ve all changed over the years, have great go-along websites with great traffic. Beyond that, we are working toward uniting those digital presences and making them more standard for buyers.

I’ll note that the reason we still say that print is king in LGBT media, it’s not that we don’t do digital-only campaigns. When you look at the actual media out there, there about 200 LGBT publications in the United States, all with their digital extensions, and then for national advertisers there’s only a few real standalone digital properties or networks that aren’t attached to a print component.

So when you look at the digital content, they all come from the print product. We find when we do a digital-only campaign, it’s not nearly as effective as when combined with print because the call to action is still often from print to digital.

Keep in mind as well that in the beginning the digital part of our market was slower to evolve than in other parts of media because we used to get a lot of questions about LGBT content and brand safety, where advertisers questioned how many clicks away they were from adult content. This isn’t an issue today.

MM: And I gather there are other things happening with the Association, even beyond digital and print offerings. For example, I know I’ve seen the Ad POP awards getting some attention.

TE: Yes, the Ad POP Awards are great. It stands for Pride in Online and Print and rewards the best representations of LGBT people in online and print advertising in regional LGBT media.

It’s not just about rewarding great gay-specific creative, but you also have to include local LGBT media in the plan. We’re rewarding both the good creative and implementing it well. We even call out some brands with great creative, but they don’t get an award because we don’t think enough LGBT people will have seen it!

The last three years have been amazing for growth, but what’s interesting is that you don’t necessarily see a lot of new advertisers coming in. Because of the national conversation around equal rights, you see the advertisers who have been involved for a while, they are now doubling or even tripling down. There are still a lot of companies that, for whatever reason, have not stepped in, or as I like to say, stepped up!

A lot of our business still comes from champions within the company. There are a lot of opportunities for agencies to better serve their clients by looking at various aspects of American audiences for individual campaigns. There are still categories that LGBT media is missing that would be perfect fits based on the demographics.

Here’s a great example: In mainstream media it is difficult to reach a desirable male audience. The numbers just aren’t there outside of sports. LGBT media is mostly “G” – about 85% male. The whole shaving category is virtually absent. It’s our job to show up and demonstrate how effective these media brands are for reaching men.

MM: It certainly seems like there are a lot of continued opportunities for growth. Is there anything else on the horizon for the Association or its members that our readers should know about?

TE: Another component we are actively working on is a group email list, combining multiple lists from across the Association into a very cost effective way to reach the audience in a very timely manner. Many advertisers are looking for ways to deal with reduced budgets, even as they have an increased need for speed to market with their message. Having quality opt-in lists from the National LGBT Media Association will help tremendously, so that advertisers can use all of the facets they would with a general interest campaign when they are using LGBT media.

MM: That sounds great. Thank you, Todd, for your time today. It’s been great learning more about the National LGBT Media Association and how it serves the LGBT market and the media business in general.  Are there any other takeaways you’d like to share?

TE: One general note is that there’s a LGBT publication for everyone, for every age in every region. In major markets there’s usually multiple titles. LGBT media compared to other niche media is unique because it encompasses all the facets of someone’s life. For a given ethnicity, you’re either part of that ethnic community or you’re not. In LGBT, there’s all those facets, so you really have to do your homework and research – whether it’s through us or someone else – so that you reach your exact target – men, women, black, Hispanic, millennials, or baby boomers.

Too often I see plans that are made up only of publications that they’ve searched for in these major cities – here are the top ten publications for this market, and I look at the list and they’re just all over the place for what their target is. You have to dig deeper! In LGBT media, education is key. You have to know the medium you’re getting into – if you can be specific about who you want to reach, there is LGBT media out there that can help you talk to them at the appropriate time.

As an example, imagine you have a spirits company as a client. Some of these publications have really great brand extensions like bar guides that would be the perfect point of purchase placement, and yet without that education that client might be advertising in the wrong title, which would be less effective, or vice versa.

Like anything else in media it’s about doing the homework. There are sophisticated titles out there that can achieve your objectives if you seek them out – the information is out there, it’s in SRDS, or of course you can get it from us at the Association. Lastly, just because you have a great LGBT product does not mean LGBT people will instantly know about it or buy it or tune in. You have to let them know! It is what advertising is all about.


Editor’s Notes: For more information about partnering with The National LGBT Media Association or its member publications, click here or call 212-242-6863.

At the time this post was written, The National LGBT Media Association was a paid advertiser in the multimedia planning platform.