Agency Bolsters Growth With Gay/Lesbian Portal

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Strategic marketing services firm Witeck Combs Communications, Washington, recently began advising the Gay.com Network, San Francisco, the gay and lesbian online Web site formed in February when competitors Gay.com, Gay.net and OnQ merged. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.


According to an annual advertising report from the Mulryan-Nash Agency, New York, advertising in gay and lesbian publications has increased consistently over the last few years - even outpacing gains made by some general interest daily newspapers.


And during this year's gay pride celebrations - held this month in cities across the nation - more corporate advertising and marketing dollars are expected to be spent targeting gay and lesbian consumers through event sponsorship.


Gay.com hopes to increase its visibility by promoting many of those events while expanding its advertising base as well as its ability to reach gay consumers for the long-term. However, Combs said the focus that companies should ultimately be thinking about is the end message they are leaving with gay consumers throughout the year. Like any market niche, consumers have to be spoken to in a way that communicates that the company not only has something to offer but values them as a customer.


"Most companies understand who their general customers are, but they may be restricted in the way they do business through contracts or budgeting, or they may be more dominant in certain regions of the country over others. What we do is help our clients fine-tune their understanding of gay and lesbian consumers as well as the communications and strategies they use to reach them."


Witeck Combs' Gay.com client currently has strategic partnerships with 25 different companies, each vying to establish a long-term relationship with gay consumers through various media. Many of the companies are targeting gay consumers through Gay.com's primary competitive thorn, Planetout, which is reported to have financial ties to America Online.


But Andy Cramer, Out.com's Network's founder/CEO said the real competition won't necessarily come from other gay and lesbian online groups but other general interest portals.


"We cut across all vertical markets because gays and lesbians are old and young - they're parents, they're Hispanic, African-American and Asian. Certainly, Yahoo or America Online in general are our biggest competitors because they have the biggest groups of gays and lesbians online."


Gay.com counts among its strategic alliances most of the major gay and lesbian newspapers, including Advocate magazine. Among its current advertisers are eBay, IBM, J. Crew, Digital Chef, Barnes & Noble and the Motley Fool.


Witeck Combs has helped other big name clients like American Airlines and Coors Brewing Co. to develop a stronger gay and lesbian consumer base. But, like its clients, it also has to contend with other marketing communications shops that are eager to carve out larger gay and lesbian consumer territories for themselves as well.
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