Here Are The Biggest Business Take-Aways From This Year's WorldPride NYC - 8 minutes read

Here Are The Biggest Business Take-Aways From This Year's WorldPride NYC

While many are still recovering from what was just one of the biggest Pridecelebrations to ever hit New York City, there are a few major elements that every business should be analyzing this week before escaping for the fourth of July weekend because there's now a marked paradigm shift in this major cultural phenomenon. Make no mistake that while massive parties sizzled, outfits glittered and Asian fans snapped with attitude, the intersection of inclusion and big business has taken an intriguing turn creating a fresh tightrope-of-sorts that offers untold new heights or perilous tumbles.

First, to be clear, there is WorldPride, licensed by InterPride, which is the driving force between an event celebrating the LGBT+ community at a different select city worldwide each year since 2000.  Said to be approaching a level of that of IOC (International Olympic Committee) in its complexities and politics around city bids, this organization held separate, additional massive events with pricey tickets (with all proceeds noted to go to LGBT+ charities) such as the WE Party that featured notables Bette Midler and Cindy Lauper at the Jacob Javits Center during Pride weekend.

Then NYC Pride organized by Heritage of Pride, the ground zero all things Pride-specific to New York City each year, produced its own events such as the coveted Pride Island that took over Pier 97 on Manhattan's west side.  The reason for the massive number of activities and people from all over the world was that this year's Pride marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

This anniversary takes place at an interesting time in the consumer brand world where every company seems to be now be scrambling to align with culture via the company's own definition of activism and/or citizenship. Wrap this all up in the bow of diversity and inclusion narrative happening simultaneously in our culture, and you've got a perfect storm of social good meets marketing that until now didn't really have the opportunity to exist.

Such new partnership was in particular view on Pride Island the scene of which was an impressive, ephemeral festival ground-of-sorts that included a number of performances including the buzzworthy Teyana Taylor. But it was Grace Jones, flawless and spell-binding at 71, on Saturday night and Madonna, magically creating an intimate rapport with a shoulder-to-shoulder audience on Sunday night that will have people talking for days.

But a number of brands had nearly just as large a presence on stage. Big screens flashing in between artist sets pulsed with sponsor logos who included, get ready, shout outs to:  Unilever, Trojans, Nordstroms, AXA, Citi, TimeOut, Hyatt, Hornett, TD Bank, Delta Airlines, PVH, IBM, Gilette, Macy's Mac, Barefoot, Coca-Cola, Netflix, Mastercard (official payment sponsor at Pride Island), Skyy Vodka, Bud Light, WarnerMedia, the city of New Orleans and The New York Post.  Gilette and Macy's also had small booths on Pride Island while T-Mobile had a full on experience center complete with branded Asian fans and LED bracelet swag.

Back on dry land, by the way, I also caught the TD Bank and Bud Light floats in the Pride parade as well as the Marvel/ESPN/Disney, Accenture and Park Hyatt floats as well (and probably many others though, given the nine-hour length of the parade, it would be challenging for nearly anyone to see each and every element!)

For those new to the Pride scene, such firm corporate presence is a marked difference from old days when Pride was more of an underground and edgy celebration relegated to the Village, exclusively. Now even babies in strollers can be spotted holding "Born This Way" flags sporting their rainbow bibs.

Many are questioning the commercial deluge. Indeed, counter-event listswere posted and some anti-corporate protests were reported as well. The fact was also not lost on the Stonewall rally crowd on Friday that T-Mobile sponsored the emotional event.  Rio Sofia, a trans woman who spoke on behalf of Planned Parenthood and is a client made mentioned of her surprise at the mobile company sponsoring the event. She wisely noted that rallies, at their core, are about disrupting business as usual.   "A rally is anti-capitalism at its heart, ... but I'm here to talk about healthcare," she laughed.

But let's face it, A/V at the rally and fireworks, for example, after Madonna hits her last notes on Pride Island aren't free. These are extremely well-produced, problem-free, secure events and as such need budgets. The challenge is how to manage all interests and real costs as the dream of inclusion becomes reality. Perhaps we have entered a neo-capitalism?

"The gay dollar has always been powerful because it can often be a dual income with no children. When corporations figured this out, Pride began to change,"  explains Tracy Young, a prominent DJ who has remixed albums for such artists as Madonna and many others.  Combine this with being able to check the social activism box, and it's downright too seductive for many brands, as well as event producers, to decline.

But here's where a new level may be able to be reached.

While floats, T-shirts and bubble-making machines are important to help create the right ambiance, one of the most important roles that corporations can play in Pride events going forward is to now drill down figure out how to be a true facilitator of union within the community.  Though not often discussed, there are still self-selected silos within the LGBT+ community delineated often times by race and class, just as apparent at main events this past weekend as it was in the '80s.

Gender issues are also still very present no matter what one's sexual preference is.  Young and her girlfriend, two of the few women present at Pride Island told me, when I asked why we didn't see more women at such a historic time, "Two men have more disposable income than two women. Cost for Pride Island was an issue with some women, yes. Sure."

In addition, TimAnthony Serrano, founder of Thrillintropic, a non-profit that provides experience-giving for philanthropic organizations looking to target Millennials added, "It's true that there is often separation of our community even within itself.  We can be stronger if we're all more united even within the overall demographic. Right now, that's not yet the case." Said Young, "As a DJ, I have always wanted to coexist, but it never happens."

Throughout the weekend, people of the LGBT+ community were encouraged to “tell your stories.” Perhaps some of these future narratives will be about further integration within the community. There is an opportunity for smart brands to provide platforms in some way for such discussion and take an organic and important position to facilitate conversations during the year during intimate dinners, talk series and more that then lead into the revelry.

This is where tech companies can come into play nicely. Though seemingly fairly absent from the long sponsor list, other than IBM, tech companies have a unique opportunity not only to sponsor in the future but also help expand the Pride events experience with AR, 3D installations, VR stations to drive empathy and much more.  If such companies as Google can make it past growing storm of controversyaround San Francisco's upcoming Pride, there's a chance to help make some real moves that better support everyone's needs and concerns. It's an exciting new beginning of varied interests. Here's to the next 50 years being even more fruitful.


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