*Do Ask, Do Tell About Gay and Lesbian Lists

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While the gay and lesbian list market has experienced much growth and change in recent years, there are still obstacles and concerns faced by direct marketers targeting the gay and lesbian community that are distinct to this market.


"In 1979, it was hard to find 200,000 gay and lesbian names to mail to," said John Knoebel, president of Triangle Marketing Services Inc., New York. "But with the broader acceptance of the gay and lesbian community, more gay entrepreneurship, magazines, catalogs and a lot of fundraising that went on in the gay and lesbian community in the '70s, '80s and '90s, the number of lists has really increased tremendously."


A longtime direct marketer to the gay and lesbian community, Knoebel served as the circulation director at a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, The Advocate, for many years before founding Triangle Marketing, a list firm specializing in the gay and lesbian market, five years ago.


In addition to the increased number of gay and lesbian files, modeling is another way for direct marketers to reach gay and lesbian consumers, according to Sean Strub, strategic consultant at Metamorphics Media LLC, New York.


Strub established Metamorphics Media, then called Strubco, in 1980, and led the company to become the oldest and largest full-service mailing list brokerage and management company specializing in gay and lesbian names as well as lists of those with an interest in HIV-related issues. He recently sold the company to Mal Dunn Associates Inc., Croton Falls, NY, but will serve as a consultant and client of the firm, which will continue to operate as Metamorphics Media.


He added that although modeling is not fail-safe, through the use of very targeted geographical information along with lifestyle selects such as travel as well as reading and cultural interests, it can be very effective.


Certain modeling criteria that were used in the past, such as the absence of children, are no longer as relevant as they once were when gays and lesbians were less likely to have children, Strub said.


Despite the increase in gay and lesbian names on the market, gay and lesbian marketers have been and will continue to be receptive and sensitive to the privacy concerns of the gay and lesbian community and will recommend the same consideration to any marketer looking to tap this market.


"Most of the responsible people in the gay market are more aggressive about qualification and opt-out procedures," Strub said. "Our market tends to be more receptive to new privacy initiatives that give more consumer control than the industry overall."


More than a year ago Metamorphics Media started a Web site called MailPreference.com to create a suppression file for the gay and lesbian community, according to Strub.


The site allows consumers to opt in or opt out of receiving certain types of direct mail, telephone and e-mail solicitations by subject category. Users can, for example, opt out of political offers and opt in to HIV-related offers, or vice versa.


While the service has not been widely used, Strub believes it is a good model that could be duplicated in the industry at large. The direct marketing industry on the whole could benefit from having a more sophisticated suppression option than the DMA Preference file, he added. The all-or-nothing consequence of the DMA file discourages people from signing up.


While Knoebel said that the privacy issue has lessened due to wider self-acceptance and "out" status in the gay and lesbian community, he added that it still must be taken into account.


Knoebel said that all copies of The Advocate are mailed in privacy wrap at the request of many of its subscribers. The publication gets complaints from subscribers who are "out" and would rather not receive their copies wrapped. Those requests are currently not honored for fear of a mix-up that might compromise the privacy of the individuals who request the wrap, Knoebel said.


Also, communications should not make assumptions regarding a person's sexual activity.


"Even a lot of people who are totally 'out' and have no problem with who knows that they're gay will feel a line has been crossed when they receive something that assumes too much about them," Strub said.


Sensitivity to the issues faced by the gay and lesbian community is a must on the part of marketers, according to Strub.


"Most major mailers don't deal with the same issues regarding housing, personal safety and employment as gay mailers might," he said.


According to Strub, as recently as three years ago, gay and lesbian mailers would not use the terms "gay" or "lesbian" on the outer envelopes of mail pieces. In the last year or so, he said that has changed somewhat, particularly in urban areas.


But just as with any list rental, the owners of gay and lesbian mailing lists must approve the creative of offers prior to renting a company their lists, whether it be a gay and lesbian mailer, or any other type of mailer, Knoebel said.


Meanwhile, despite additional mailers using gay and lesbian lists, in many cases the list rentals are not reciprocal, according to Strub.


"There are lots of list owners who categorically will not rent to anything that has anything to do with the gay and lesbian community for fear of offending their customers," Strub said.


Of this practice, Knoebel said it's a business decision on the part of the list owner.


Even so, gay and lesbian list owners are benefiting from extra list rental income while having much more choice within their own market niche than ever before.


Some of the major mailers using gay and lesbian files from Triangle Marketing include The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, BMG, Showtime Network, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Pottery Barn, American Express and the Democratic National Committee.


Also, outbound e-mail newsletter sponsorships are a particularly appealing new avenue for marketers looking to reach the gay and lesbian market.


Triangle Marketing has introduced several of these files, including four PlanetOut.com newsletters with circulations ranging from 50,000 to 450,000, as well as The Advocate's weekly e-mail newsletter, which has more than 29,000 subscribers.


In addition, Metamorphics Media handles the PlanetOut.com postal file of more than 75,000 members of this online community that includes gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals.


Triangle Marketing also manages the Liberation Publications Enhanced Master File of more than 388,000 names. This includes the 69,000 subscribers to The Advocate and the 84,000 subscribers to Out magazine. Enhancements on the file allow mailers to select such demographics as age, income and mail-order respondents.


Also, a separate Liberation Publications file of 90,000 lesbian subscribers was created because fewer lesbian names are available on the market.


Two lesbian subscription files are available through Metamorphics Media. Girlfriends magazine and Curve magazine each have 22,000 subscribers, expires and prospects.


Metamorphics Media also manages the POZ magazine file of 24,000 subscribers to the national monthly publication that covers HIV-related issues.


While some are relatively small, there are several other gay and lesbian publication, catalog, donor and newsletter files on the market that mailers can research for their clients.
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