Chief Communications Officer, GLAAD

GLAAD’s, Rich Ferraro, on Celebrity Social Media Channels as Today’s Most Trusted Media Outlet

About This Episode

Another must listen to episode from our Celebrity and Influencers season. For nonprofits looking to elevate their impact through communications and messaging, The Social Change Diaries provides a peek behind the curtain. In this episode, GLAAD’s Chief Communications Officer, Rich Ferraro, shares “aha moments” and first hand experiences, including how GLAAD has evolved with the changing media landscape- partnering with today’s influencers driving change, in a way that allows the org to indirectly mold the news cycle itself.
 

About Rich Ferraro

Rich Ferraro returned to GLAAD after serving as a Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Viacom. During his time at Viacom he worked on MTV’s 2016 election campaign which drew attention to issues including immigration, LGBTQ equality, and racial justice. He launched Logo’s LGBTQ public affairs department and led press strategy for MTV and Logo documentaries, campaigns and shows. In 2015, he received a Daytime Emmy Award as part of the team behind MTV and Logo documentary “Laverne Cox Presents:  The T Word.” Prior to Viacom, Ferraro spent over six years enhancing and growing GLAAD’s communications and programs departments. He launched GLAAD’s Spirit Day campaign and oversaw media strategy and advocacy for winning work on issues including marriage equality, transgender inclusion in the Miss Universe pageant, the expansion of gender options on Facebook, and the campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay scouts. Rich oversees GLAAD’s Communications department as well as GLAAD’s Press, Talent Relations, Digital, Social, and Creative departments. His is an Executive Producer of the GLAAD Media Awards stage show and leads the selection process for the GLAAD Media Award nominees, honorees, and award recipients.
 

In his words

“We have about 40 staff nationwide at GLAAD who are full time, and that includes everything from IT departments to fundraising staff to operations, so we’re a bit of a smaller organization than people expect in terms of staff. We have a budget of around $12 million per year, an annual operating budget. We’re not one of the larger nonprofits in the space. Our brand really is that of a much larger organization, so that was a little peek behind the curtain, but how we got that brand so visible and how we became what I see as a very trusted resource for pop culture players like celebrities for news journalists, the biggest tip is to be very visible, be very vocal and be fast.”

“GLAAD pumps out so much information and so many reactions to breaking news that over the years I’ve seen our relationships with news outlets and then with other key players like celebrities, like global brands, I’ve seen all of those relationships grow because we have so much information going out from the organization every day. The biggest tip I have is to be very active, be very visible, and be fast and make sure that you’re one of the first out of your gate if there’s a breaking news story that makes sense for you to comment on or to weigh in on, or if you can help move the needle on any issues.”

“We’re living in a politically and culturally divisive time. That’s news to no one, but what I’ve seen sitting in this chair at GLAAD is that there’s a lot of energy from global brands, from celebrities, from media who want to do the right thing and who want to step up.  Our role at GLAAD is to give some of them tools and ideas and a roadmap for how to do that. There are a lot of ways that we help brands, celebrities, media become more active and become more educated on the issues and try and create tailored approaches so that they can have impact.”

“These days, thenews rooms around the country at the national and at the local level are like drinking from a fire hose. There’s so much news for them to report and at the same time we have fewer journalists at their desk, so a number that I often cite for our board and for other GLAAD presentations that over the last 10 years the number of journalists has dropped by 40% around the country, so the number of people who report being journalists. With fewer journalists and more news it’s really difficult to break through if you are a social justice organization and if you have an important issue to break through out there.”

“At the same time, the rise of social media is pervasive and we now approach celebrities and their social media channels as media outlets that we can leverage when there’s important news to share or when an issue is flying under the radar. Oftentimes, those media outlets- celebrities’ Instagram, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, or videos that they produce on their own- are more trusted by the general public than the actual news media. There’s so much controversy around fake news today and can liberal media outlets be trusted? Are they reporting in a fair and accurate way? You can really go around that discussion if you have an important social issue by enlisting a trusted celebrity.”

“Those teachable moments are what we focus on at GLAAD instead of the standard watchdog work that GLAAD did for many years in the ’90s, in the early 2000s. I think we’ve moved on from that call-out culture, and instead we’re looking for teachable moments that can foster understanding and build bridges and celebrities are a really great way to do that if they link arms with you and are going to be able to share info about their journey. We’re living in a world too in a political climate where we have real enemies and an enemy is very different than an imperfect ally.”

Transcript: Rich Ferraro and Vanessa Wakeman Discussing Celebrity Social Media Channels as Today's Most Trusted Media Outlet

Vanessa Wakeman:

Welcome to the Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman. On this season of the podcast, we’ve been talking about celebrity and influencers and we were actually planning on making this episode the final episode of the season but we’ve gotten such a great response, we’ve decided to extend the season. This episode will be the final episode for now. We’re going to take a brief hiatus and then we’ll return in a couple of weeks with a few more episodes before officially closing out the season.

Vanessa Wakeman:

I’m looking at today’s episode as a bit of a cliffhanger for you, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I have the pleasure of chatting with Rich Ferraro, who is the Chief Communications Officer at GLAAD. I know he’s going to have some great ideas, and examples, and insights for all of our listeners. Rich returned to GLAAD after serving as the Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Viacom. During his time at Viacom, he worked on MTV’s 2016 election campaign which drew attention to issues including immigration, LGBTQ equality, and racial justice. He launched Logo’s LGBTQ public affairs department and led press strategy for MTV and Logo documentaries, campaigns and shows. In 2015, he received a Daytime Emmy award as part of the team behind MTV and Logo documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Prior to Viacom, Rich spent over six years enhancing and growing GLAAD’s communications and programs department. He launched GLAAD’s Spirit Day campaign and oversaw media strategy and advocacy for winning work on issues, including marriage equality, transgender inclusion in the Miss Universe pageant, the expansion of gender options on Facebook, and the campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay scouts. Rich currently oversees GLAAD’s Communications Department as well as GLAAD’s Press, Talent Relations, Digital, Social, and Creative Department. He is also the Executive Producer of the GLAAD Media Awards stage show and leads the selection process for the GLAAD Media Award nominees, honorees, and award recipients, and so as promised, I am here with Rich Ferraro from GLAAD. Welcome, Rich.

Rich Ferraro:

Hi, Vanessa.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Hey, so Rich, I just shared your bio with everyone, but as the Chief Communications Officer, I would love if you could just take a moment to give some details about what your role looks like on a day to day. What exactly do you do? I feel like you sort of have so many responsibilities in so many different areas, I think for part of our conversation as we sort of talk through the different things that I’m thinking about for today, I would love for people to just have a better sense of what that looks like logistically from day to day.

Rich Ferraro:

Great. Sounds good. Yeah. The Chief Communications Officer role at GLAAD is quite a unique one because it’s not typical brand and corporate communications or it’s not just the usual branding in corporate communications. I’ve been with GLAAD since 2008 which is, if you can imagine, before Barack Obama was elected our president and I joined GLAAD right before voters in California voted in favor of Proposition 8, which banned marriage equality in 2008. I’ve seen the culture change and I’ve seen GLAAD’s role as a communications consultant in those changes.

Rich Ferraro:

As the Chief Communications Officer, I oversee our executive visibility, our brand and event PR, but I also do a lot of GLAAD’s mission, which is working through the media and by media we mean media and cultural institutions. That’s news media, Hollywood, video games, as well as journalists and sports leagues, so we work through all of those media and cultural institutions to tell LGBTQ stories that move hearts and minds and I’ve seen so many of them come across my desk, so a lot of my work is behind the scenes pitching media and consulting with media to tell LGBTQ stories. I also oversee GLAAD’s digital and social media. We have a footprint of about 1.5 million on social media and it’s a big priority at GLAAD to grow that number and then I oversee our Celebrity and Talent Relations Department.

Vanessa Wakeman:

So, that is a lot. It’s definitely-

Rich Ferraro:

It keeps me very busy.

Vanessa Wakeman:

That’s a lot. This is a little bit of a departure from what I would like us to talk about today, but I do have a question. I’m always trying to have these conversations on the podcast through the lens of the people who are typically listening, which are medium and smaller size organizations. We do have some large ones, but I’d say the majority of our listeners are sort of that midsize. In thinking about how you’ve been able to sort of capture the interest of those sort of corporate organizations or sort of have a hand in sort of the pop culture aspect relative to what the mission of the organization is, are there any sort of… gosh, tips, advice, suggestions that you can provide? I know it will be very different for every organization and because of what GLAAD does and just based on the sheer size of it, you folks definitely are leading the charge on many things, but I always think there is an opportunity for an organization to potentially sort of look at what other organizations are doing and maybe find something that could be translated or transferred to their organization.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Just wondering, for those organizations that are working on sort of the pressing social issues that are really… we may be hearing people talking about them on social or they are sort of dominating much of the dialogue in mainstream media, et cetera. How can organizations that may not be as large or as wonderfully funded as GLAAD be able to capture some of that?

Rich Ferraro:

Yeah, and I’ll give you a peek behind the curtain, in that we have about 40 staff nationwide at GLAAD who are full time, and that includes everything from IT departments to fundraising staff to operations, so we’re a bit of a smaller organization than people expect in terms of staff. We have a budget of around $12 million per year, an annual operating budget. We’re not one of the larger nonprofits in the space. Our brand really is that of a much larger organization, so that was a little peek behind the curtain but how we got that brand so visible and how we became what I see as a very trusted resource for pop culture players like celebrities for news journalists, I think the biggest tip is to just be very visible, be very vocal and be fast.

Rich Ferraro:

Every morning at GLAAD, we start our days [inaudible 00:07:15] and this started after the election of President Trump because LGBTQ rights started to slip back and we start our morning every day at 9:30 with a morning briefing, where our news director does a readout of LGBTQ news and news related to other marginalized communities and we as a staff including our CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, all listen to this briefing and participate and decide what can GLAAD be out on every day both from an impact standpoint and from a visibility standpoint.

Rich Ferraro:

GLAAD pumps out so much information and so many reactions to breaking news that over the years I’ve seen our relationships with news outlets and then with other key players like celebrities, like global brands, I’ve seen all of those relationships grow because we have so much information going out from the organization every day. I think the biggest tip I have is to be very active, be very visible, and be fast and make sure that you’re one of the first out of your gate if there’s a breaking news story that makes sense for you to comment on or to weigh in on, or if you can help move the needle on any issues.

Rich Ferraro:

I think right now overall, we’re living in a politically and culturally divisive time. That’s news to no one, but what I’ve seen sitting in this chair at GLAAD is that there’s a lot of energy from global brands, from celebrities, from media who want to do the right thing and who want to step up because of a lack of moral leadership on Capitol Hill and in the White House these days. I think our role at GLAAD is to give some of them tools and ideas and a roadmap for how to do that and I guess we’ll be talking about some of those tactics today, but there are a lot of ways that we help brands, celebrities, media become more active and become more educated on the issues and try and create tailored approaches so that they can have impact.

Rich Ferraro:

We become a behind the scenes resource, and then they see the benefits when they go out on some LGBTQ news and it’s celebrated on social media or their LGBTQ fans or employees thank them for doing so but we tend to be a behind the scenes resource, where we’ll give them the tools, we’ll give them the best language, we’ll get them some ideas for how to take action, and then whether you’re a brand or a celebrity or a media outlet, it’ll be up to you to then lead the charge but also doing so in a behind the scenes way, where GLAAD doesn’t have to be front and center shows kind of our authenticity and we’ve been able to build some very trusted relationships with some power players because of that.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Thank you, Rich. I think all of that is very helpful. I think this idea of not having to be in the center of it but providing the resources and tools so that other people can sort of run with things, I think that’s really important and at the beginning you said to be proactive and to be quick and I think that that is where a lot of organizations struggle, the speed at which they are able to respond and so this idea of doing a briefing or a huddle, we encourage our clients all the time like you got to put yourself out there. Yes, I agree. You have to be quick and really be thinking about anticipating what’s going to happen next. We don’t know. There’s no guarantees, but I think even being in that sort of space of anticipation helps you to be more nimble and more flexible, so I think that’s fantastic information.

Vanessa Wakeman:

All right. On this season of the Social Change Diaries, we’ve been talking about the idea of celebrity and influencers… influence, excuse me. We’ve all seen through multiple channels, again, primarily, I feel like it really sort of elevated to a different level when our current administration sort of took office. People felt like they needed to do something, and we’re seeing many more celebrities, entertainers, sort of influencers really putting a stake in the ground around what issues they care about and trying to use their voice for good and many times that works. It’s been really effective and we’ve also seen some times where it sort of backfired.

Vanessa Wakeman:

I’m wondering if we are at a place where influencers and the power of celebrity, have we hit saturation? Do you think that there’s still an effective approach to getting people engaged and drawing attention? Do you feel like now the space is too cluttered? Is there still an opportunity for organizations? What are your thoughts?

Rich Ferraro:

Yeah, I love that you brought the phrase of saturation because I think that there are a lot of people in social justice and who work in nonprofits who feel that way and I think what I see from my desk at GLAAD is that there’s huge interest in Hollywood and becoming more active on social justice issues, and the other part of it happening at the same time is that, traditionally at GLAAD if you look at the fight for marriage equality, which I worked on at GLAAD in terms of media strategy, it was very easy to call a reporter and they would start writing about a local couple or a new piece of information about marriage equality.

Rich Ferraro:

These days, it is in news rooms around the country and I think at the national and at the local level it’s like drinking from a fire hose. There’s so much news for them to report and at the same time we have fewer journalists at their desk, so a number that I often cite for our board and for other GLAAD presentations that over the last 10 years the number of journalists has dropped by 40% around the country, so the number of people who report being journalists. With fewer journalists and more news it’s really difficult to break through if you are a social justice organization and if you have an important issue to break through out there.

Rich Ferraro:

At the same time, the rise of social media is pervasive and celebrities… we now approach celebrities and their social media channels as media outlets that we can leverage when there’s important news to share or when an issue is flying under the radar and oftentimes those media outlets being celebrities’ Instagram, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, or videos that they produce on their own are more trusted by the general public than the actual news media. There’s so much controversy around fake news today and can liberal media outlets be trusted? Are they reporting in a fair and accurate way? You can really go around that discussion if you have an important social issue by enlisting a trusted celebrity.

Rich Ferraro:

I think one of the great case studies to look at is Taylor Swift, GLAAD’s very good pal and a very strong ally of the LGBTQ community, so Taylor on day one, Pride Month this year, June 1st, Taylor put out a petition on Change.org about the Equality Act. The Equality Act is desperately needed by LGBTQ and other marginalized communities in this country. It would protect LGBTQ people on a federal level against discrimination in employment and housing and other areas of public accommodations. It’s really hard to get journalists to talk about the Equality Act which passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate but it’s been such a… there’s such barriers to journalists talking about the Equality Act because all of the circus and all of the news that happens in DC every day.

Rich Ferraro:

Do you know who got the Equality Act on the front pages of newspapers and in the headlines during Pride Month when we needed it as a community? It’s Taylor Swift, and to be transparent and also kind of give another peek behind the curtain, she did that on her own accord. It wasn’t any LGBTQ organization who went to Taylor Swift and said, “Hey, can you start a petition with the Equality Act?” Instead, Taylor took it upon herself knowing that it was important. Her team drafted what I thought was such a powerful petition on Change.org that now has been signed by over half a million people and sparked countless articles to kick off Pride Month about the road ahead for LGBTQ people and the fight that we need which is the Equality Act.

Rich Ferraro:

That’s also an interesting case study because I think there are a lot of people in the community and around the community in social justice spaces questioning her authenticity but I found it very authentic that she took it upon herself and I think it wasn’t just she put LGBTQ people in a music video. It wasn’t just that she tweeted a rainbow flag and said she loves LGBTQ people. No, she had real substance with that petition and they pushed it and GLAAD helped them push it to media in such a way that it was a big moment for the Equality Act. There are now elected officials who are taking another look at the Equality Act because of Taylor’s petition.

Vanessa Wakeman:

That’s a great example and sort of leads me to think about vetting or trying to make sure that the interaction with a celebrity or influencer doesn’t blow up in your face. When you are approaching people to sort of support the vision of GLAAD or sort of some of the issues and hot topics that you’re focused on, how are you vetting them? There could be people who seem like natural allies and then when you sort of, to use your language, look behind the curtain, sort of look under the hood, things don’t look as rosy as you thought. How do you sort of protect GLAAD from that?

Rich Ferraro:

Yeah, it’s an interesting question to have sitting in an LGBTQ organization because I think a majority of Americans have gone through an evolution over the last five to 10 years or even a bit longer than that on LGBTQ issues. I even think of my mother who years ago didn’t support marriage equality and now doesn’t leave her house without a rainbow pin and is so proud to talk about how her gay son can one day get married and I think that if you look at celebrities a lot of them also have histories that are not completely LGBTQ friendly and are approached to about GLAAD and this came up most notably and most recently when Kevin Hart was selected as an Oscar’s host last December and someone had surfaced tweets from many years ago that Kevin made and media just started ringing my phone off the hook and people… executives at the Oscars also asked for our advice and the advice of other LGBTQ organizations what do they do with this individual who is a beloved comedian but has this history of anti-LGBTQ tweets?

Rich Ferraro:

Our approach, and we also… and this was shared with the press as well, we were in touch with Kevin Hart’s team and the recommendation to all of those parties, the media and the Oscars and Kevin Hart was that he shouldn’t step down as host instead he should step up as an ally because we approached it as if Kevin Hart who has 60 plus million Twitter followers and many of them are straight black men who often don’t hear from LGBTQ organizations, who often don’t hear pro-LGBTQ messages from media outlets that they frequent. If Kevin Hart could make a statement of support, an allyship that would go a long way.

Rich Ferraro:

Now, I can’t get into details about whether or not he did that, but ultimately he decided to step down from the Oscars but the response from the community was, “Hey, don’t step down. Let’s use this as a teachable moment.” I think that’s very important when you deal with celebrities especially with those who might have comments that are questionable in their past is let’s look at those comments, let’s check where they’re at today and if they’ve evolved let’s tell that story because there are dads out there who could’ve evolved the same way as Kevin Hart or who hearing how Kevin Hart evolved, if he in fact did as an ally, if they heard that they might think differently if their son or their daughter came out as LGBTQ.

Rich Ferraro:

I think those teachable moments are what we focus on at GLAAD instead of the standard watchdog work that GLAAD did for many years in the ’90s, in the early 2000s. I think we’ve moved on from that call-out culture, and instead we’re looking for teachable moments that can foster understanding and build bridges and celebrities are a really great way to do that if they link arms with you and are going to be able to share info about their journey.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Well, I think what I find so beautiful about that is that it also sort of shows that even in social change work there’s room for people to sort of make mistakes and sort of looking at the humanity in people as opposed to sort of like these perfect figures and perfect beings and so there’s a lot of conversations about what an activist should look like, what an ally should look like. If this was my perspective 30 years ago and I’ve now grown and matured and sort of seen a different side of things, where does my accountability towards my old thinking and where I am now and so I think it’s really a thought leadership move of GLAAD to be able to sort of counsel in a place of, don’t step down, step up, and look at what the potential impact of this could be and I think that’s a really powerful stance to have for an organization that is focusing on such an important issue.

Rich Ferraro:

That’s a big learning for me at GLAAD too, is that there are going to be some people in the community who might not agree with that approach, who might want us to go stronger but at GLAAD again, we focus on that teachable moment and also we look at our constituents not only as LGBTQ people but non-LGBTQ people and oftentimes the best way to reach them and move them along towards a world where they accept their children if they come out as LGBTQ, is to work with unexpected allies and sometimes imperfect allies, but to use their voices to reach new audiences and sometimes the community might not fully agree with that but a lot of our work at GLAAD is less about working with the LGBTQ community. It’s more about how do we get LGBTQ messages to non-LGBTQ people and foster and build understanding for them so that they vote for LGBTQ issues so that they accept their LGBTQ children. Oftentimes that means we have to meet them where they’re at.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Tell me about the imperfect ally and what that looks like for you. I think that’s such an interesting way to approach this idea of allyship and then I also feel like this could be an entirely different episode of the podcast, but give me your quick thoughts on that.

Rich Ferraro:

We’re living in a world too in a political climate where we have real enemies and an enemy is very different than an imperfect ally.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Yes, yes, yes, yes and being able to make that distinction is really important. Now, I want to sort of switch gears a little bit and talk about dollars and cents. For many organizations and GLAAD fits into this bucket as well, what helps to move the needle is money and when people are sort of short on resources or have very small teams there’s constantly the conversation about what are we going to use our resources for? Like what are the outcomes going to be? In your experiences in working with celebrities and influencers, have you seen a big sort of jump or additional fundraising opportunities their or has it really been primarily on creating the awareness and which of those have you been prioritizing in these relationships?

Rich Ferraro:

Fundraising definitely comes from working with major celebrities and we do so in some creative ways where sometimes a celebrity will also be an individual donor, which is great but sometimes a celebrity is really key to reaching those low dollar donors and potential members who will do small donations. Some examples of things that we’ve done in that space that have not only raised funds for GLAAD but I think almost equally and more important brought in new members to the organization who then can learn more about the organization, can take action with us, are signed up on our email list, go into our member database. Some examples of that… a lot of it happens on Facebook actually.

Rich Ferraro:

Facebook has a really great tool for celebrities to fundraise for organizations and for causes that they care about, so we’ve worked with celebrities including Demi Lovato and Adam Lambert around Pride Month and around an anti-bullying day that GLAAD leads in October called Spirit Day and what they do is they just start Facebook fundraisers and Facebook has an infrastructure and a team dedicated to engaging celebrities in Facebook and fundraising for nonprofits it’s one of their favorites things to work on, so Facebook has been really helpful. Once we get a celebrity on board and we ask them, “Will you consider doing a Facebook fundraiser for us?” Once they say yes, we help them with the language, it goes live and then Facebook has a pretty good team to promote that on Facebook as a platform and then to also share that with media.

Rich Ferraro:

For instance, when Demi Lovato started a fundraiser for GLAAD around Pride month, it raised around $25,000 really quickly. That became a really great media story which inspired more giving and again, it wasn’t only about the 25,000 that was raised, those donors, and there were many of them who made low dollar donations, became members of GLAAD. We also have worked with eBay in this way where… and this is a bit more fun where celebrities, if they’re not able to make donations directly, they can do things like donate items or donate experiences and then eBay also has a marketing and communications team dedicated to celebrity engagements.

Rich Ferraro:

Around Pride Month this year, we had some of the Real Housewives from around the country donate lunches. Bethenny Frankel went to lunch with someone that you can bid on eBay for that. Sarah Jessica Parker donated a pair of shoes and all of it benefited GLAAD. eBay as a result was able to tell the story of how celebrities were using the platform for good and we were able to, again, get some low dollar donors into GLAAD, and then also, I think the celebrities themselves can be donors. That does often happen, but I think you also brought up the visibility factor where for example, we honored at the GLAAD Awards. At the GLAAD awards each year, which are… we just completed our 30th anniversary of the awards they honor in over 25 categories, the most outstanding LGBTQ images in the media. That’s across news, video games, music, comic books, Hollywood, kids and family programming and what we do is there are nominees in those categories, and we have envisioned that as a way to raise the bar for those specific industries.

Rich Ferraro:

We nominate programs and media that reaches non-LGBTQ audiences and changes hearts and minds in bold and innovative and diverse ways, so we also have honorees and we hold the awards in New York and in L.A. We have one LGBTQ honoree and one ally honoree and we use that moment not only for fundraising but for visibility. This year in Los Angeles we had Beyoncé and Jay-Z accept our Vanguard Award and they have a very long history of including LGBTQ people in videos. I think Jay-Z speaking about marriage equality, before marriage equality passed in 2013 or 2014 moved the needle and opened so many hearts and minds to the idea of marriage equality and of course, Beyoncé has been very active on LGBTQ issues throughout her career on her social channel which like I said earlier, probably reaches way more people than a typical news outlet and it’s more trusted and more respected than a lot of the news outlet.

Rich Ferraro:

We honor them for their contributions but also knowing that having Beyoncé and Jay-Z on our stage would be a moment of visibility for the community not just for GLAAD but we had worked with their team and their remarks were spot on both calling for LGBTQ acceptance and also one of our big initiatives at GLADD over the past year, because I think it’s been very much under the radar, is to raise visibility for people living with HIV and to break some of that stigma because of the news environment that we’re in you often don’t hear about stories anymore about the state of the HIV crisis in America, the prevention and treatment and best practices and people living with HIV who are leading long and healthy lives. Well, the best way to get that message out there is the world’s biggest and most beloved superstar, and Beyoncé knocked it out of the park.

Rich Ferraro:

Her remarks about her uncle who was living with HIV not only resonated with our donors who had bought tickets for the event in the room, but it went around the world and it went around the world in the way that GLAAD and I don’t think any social justice organization could have gotten the issue of HIV around the world and it went there with one of the most beloved ambassadors and it reached LGBTQ people of color around the world who likely haven’t heard about LGBTQ issues or HIV issues, some of them… I also got news hits from Google Alerts that Beyoncé’s speech was running in countries where LGBTQ issues are criminalized, but because Beyoncé spoke it the media had no other option but to run those remarks.

Rich Ferraro:

I think we use celebrities in that strategic way, where yes, it was a great fundraising moment for GLAAD. People wanted to be in that room. Our donors were so excited but I saw it more as a responsibility to get this message of acceptance from such a beloved and iconic star and that’s both Beyoncé and Jay-Z to audiences around the globe who otherwise may not have heard a story about HIV, a story of LGBTQ acceptance in that year.

Vanessa Wakeman:

That makes me think about engagement. Sometimes I see organizations that do build these great relationships with celebrities or influencers and then it kind of dies out because the organization and for lack of a better term, sort of resting on its laurels and it seems just watching GLAAD as an outsider, I see that you folks have a consistent drumbeat of engagement and energy and those relationships and people are overwhelmingly sort of trying to show support in different ways. I guess, how do you accomplish that or what have you found effective for that?

Rich Ferraro:

Yeah, you kind of hit it like a steady drumbeat of conversations with publicists and with management teams, stars that are big and visible and want to be out there on these issues. One thing that I don’t think people know, but I think other organizations could replicate is when breaking news happens. For instance, when president Trump two years ago tweeted the proposed trans military ban that is now unfortunately and disgustingly law of the land, we reached out to publicists with some talking points and some best practices and some ways that some links and things that their clients could point to because we knew that celebrities wanted to speak out about this.

Rich Ferraro:

People in the public eye want it to be really visible and vocal, but they want tools and they want to do it smartly and they definitely should do it and want to do it in their own voices, but if we provide at GLAAD links and [inaudible 00:30:05] not always to GLAAD, many times they’re are to other organizations or to new stories or hashtags that the community is investing in, we are kind of that… we connect the dots between the activist community and the celebrity community so that they’re doing so in an informed way that benefits everybody.

Rich Ferraro:

I think like I said, there’s a lot of energy and interest in this, but some people especially when you get down to maybe not the celebrity themselves, but their publicists and their management team, they’re scratching their head at, well, I’ve never written about transgender issues before. How do I talk about this in a way? By just sending a quick email with a few bullet points of the best practices, that has kept up a relationship with some of the bigger celebrity teams and they’re very appreciative of that and then it’s also finding campaigns throughout the year to plug them in.

Rich Ferraro:

Our first discussion with Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s team happened years ago and I think when you’re working especially with A-list megastars like that, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the relationship that has to be built over years, so Beyoncé had participated in some of our LGBTQ campaigns over the year on social. Her team had attended some of the events and then other people in the industry who they knew and who they trusted also attended our events to let them know that we run a tight ship, that we’re capable of and successful with some of the bigger stars out there and that we can handle them on the inside of an event.

Rich Ferraro:

It doesn’t happen overnight. It took years and then also we create campaigns. One of the biggest one and one of the ways is Spirit Day. Spirit Day as an anti-bullying campaign and the ask for celebrities is very small. It’s held annually. The first year was 2010, so if you can put yourself back into 2010, take a time machine. It was before marriage equality was beloved across the nation. It was still a controversial issue. Many celebrities weren’t speaking out for marriage equality.

Rich Ferraro:

At that time the LGBTQ community were like, well, we see marriage equality nationwide in our lifetime, so it was 2010 not… LGBTQ acceptance wasn’t as pervasive as it is today. What we did was we saw this as an opportunity with Spirit Day to say, okay, let’s not talk about marriage equality. Let’s talk about LGBTQ youth because that’s something that we can all unite around and the campaign is wear purple or go purple online or share a message about LGBTQ youth on Spirit Day, it’s October 17th this year and what we saw was, it was a way to get really unexpected allies because the bar for participation was so low but it was a way there’s interest in telling LGBTQ youth you’re supported, that we’re… there was a rash of teen suicides in 2010 right before Spirit Day of gay teens taking their lives and dying by suicide.

Rich Ferraro:

We wanted to use that moment to rally support and as a result of finding a way to engage celebrities that was, they could do it in their own voice, they could do it on their own terms. All they had to do was wear purple or go purple online and let GLAAD know so that we could help tell the story and we saw some really unexpected allies from the country music world, from the sports world, major league baseball. One year for Spirit Day they had all of the major league baseball teams around the country participate on Facebook and on Twitter and their fans were really not happy about seeing their favorite baseball team go purple for LGBTQ youth and even say the word LGBTQ youth on their social channels but that’s exactly the type of people who we need to hit and who we can only hit by working with sports teams, by working with celebrities who they respect and now when major league baseball goes purple, this is now probably four or five years after the first time. The fans are used to it and they’re supportive and they’re doing it on their own too.

Rich Ferraro:

It’s really cool to kind of see that switch but Spirit Day has become a really great and easy way to keep celebrities engaged and kind of… it also serves as an excuse to check in with them, let them know what GLAAD is up to, and to ask them to share their support for LGBTQ youth every year.

Vanessa Wakeman:

That leads me to your talent relations department. It seems like you folks have your hands in a lot of different areas around celebrity entertainment. What exactly is the role of the talent department and is the department made up traditional PR people or are they more on the entertainment background? I’d love to sort of give people a sense of what that would look like if they were able to create that in their own organizations.

Rich Ferraro:

Yeah. Two and a half years ago we hired a dedicated director of talent and celebrity engagement and this was an investment that GLAAD chose to make. A big part of the reason why we chose to make it was because of that changing news environment. We saw that the news wasn’t picking up on LGBTQ issues and we had these relationships with the celebrities but it often fell under myself and our communications director and they were just… there were such opportunities that we were missing because we didn’t have someone dedicated to that and we couldn’t cultivate the proper relationships because we were wearing so many hats, so the CEO decided now is the right time and it’s the right political and media landscape to have someone dedicated to this. What we did was, we hired Anthony Ramos who was a former producer at Access Hollywood. He was a producer, Access Hollywood for 14 years and decided to make a switch and come to GLAAD to run our celebrity engagement program. It was important that we hired someone who knew how to work with publicists, who was trusted by publicists.

Rich Ferraro:

GLAAD as a brand I think it’s trusted and known, but we wanted to make sure that their relationship and their connect was also someone who they were familiar with and Anthony’s role is to not only book talent for our fundraisers that were very much well known for, but to do all of those behind the scenes things that I shared earlier to keep publicists and managers and teams updated on LGBTQ issues. When a big LGBTQ moment happens, Anthony as the talent relations director will reach out to his contacts to share best practices, preferred language, hashtags, and just give them some… like a cheat sheet for how their clients can participate and then he also is a part of that morning briefing every morning because there’s so much happening in the LGBTQ world with celebrity where celebrities are coming out or you have Gabrielle Union and her husband speaking about their LGBTQ child.

Rich Ferraro:

There’s so many of those moments where Anthony can then reach out to those celebrities in their teams in real time and see how GLAAD can help share their story. Just be an off the record sounding board as well so that they don’t miss that or so that they could speak in a way that the community is going to rightfully champion them and celebrate them but it’s definitely… it’s a full time job and then some of them are looking to see if we even expand that department because I think we’ve talked a lot about Hollywood celebrities, actors, actresses, musicians but Anthony also oversees our relationships with digital influencers and that’s another world that has exploded in recent years as the media has changed, so we see like especially LGBTQ, popular LGBTQ YouTubers or Instagrammers as a really good way to get the message out there.

Rich Ferraro:

When GLAAD has an action or when the community as a whole needs to take action like we will this upcoming fall around the Supreme Court case about employment discrimination, we’re going to go out to LGBTQ Instagrammers and YouTubers and those influencers to make sure that they’re armed with the best ways that their followers can take action and then there are also athletes, country music stars, like there’s so many opportunities and interest in working with LGBTQ, so our talent relations director is managing all of that and trying to be strategic and trying to keep all of them informed on a regular basis too.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Everything that you said, literally shaking my head in agreement. We’re seeing the same things that you’re seeing around the opportunity with the influencers on digital and then also how to engage celebrities and one of the things we’re starting at Wakeman, is called amplify and what we’re looking at is a way to amplify the voices of different groups around particular issues.

Vanessa Wakeman:

If an influencer is interested in sort of raising awareness and creating action around poverty or hunger or education or LGBTQ issues, we’re trying to help them figure out where they can direct that energy and sort of… I find that sometimes what happens is celebrities and influencers may not know who to align themselves with or how to align and so we’re trying to play like that sort of connector to make sure that people are using their voices for good and that we’re not sort of missing the opportunity by people just not being sure about what to do or making it a one off engagement where really they want to do more but just haven’t found the right partners and so that’s launching this fall and I’m really happy to hear that, an organization has instituted something even greater and grander in-house and I’m hoping that what we’re looking to do will play a similar role for organizations and those people who want to provide support.

Vanessa Wakeman:

I have one final question for you before I let you go and this one is… oh gosh, about 2020. We are in the early stages of the presidential election. We’ve had a couple of debates happen and we know that the news cycle is going to get noisier, it’s going to get busier, it’s going to get more vicious and adversarial and I remember in 2016 there were definitely some challenges around organizations trying to get their stories out just because of the chaos and I think the trauma and shock of what was happening in the presidential election. Have you given any thought, it may be too early, but have you given any thought around any pivots or shifts that you think you and your team will need to make for 2020 to make sure that you’re keeping these really important issues top of mind?

Rich Ferraro:

Yes. The sure answer is nonstop. Yeah. I think you also hit on that. I think we’re… As a social justice advocate I think I’m very attuned to my staff and the idea of burnout and just emotional… being emotionally worn out from the past few years fighting not only for LGBTQ but GLAAD as an organization that speaks out and links arms with Black Lives Matter that speaks out against the disgusting things happening to immigrants in our country, against Muslims, like where… We approach our work at GLAAD in a very intersectional way, which means like so many of our colleagues across the social justice movement whether you’re at an agency that focuses on that or you’re at a nonprofit.

Rich Ferraro:

I think that I worry that they are burning out and that they are emotionally distressed, so finding ways to make sure that people are focusing on self-care or taking their time to take a break from the news cycle and all of the dark news is very important to me, for my staff but then in terms of election, what we have to do is at the same time that we’re trying to make sure the staff is taking some time and developing a work life balance and taking some time to unplug, we have to be so active and in your face and I think it’s going to be an election where you’ll see social justice organizations linking arms and joining together to make sure our issues are addressed by the candidates and that’s something that has changed in recent years that’s been really wonderful to see, is that we have regular calls with colleagues at racial justice organizations, at immigrants rights groups, at the Muslim public affairs council.

Rich Ferraro:

It’s been very good to collaborate and to brainstorm and to stand united because I think that’s the only way we’re going to break through and reach the biggest audience possible and I think celebrities in the next campaign will be critical and I think there’s always going to be naysayers of what, you know… Will it be helpful if Madonna endorses a democratic candidate? I think it will because I think there are moms out there in Middle America who… and I think it’s great that that debate is happening amongst the intelligentsia and amongst talking heads on media, but there are moms out there who are die hard Madonna fans and who when Madonna speaks, they listen and even if they don’t trust the candidate or know the candidate that well they will listen to icons like Madonna.

Rich Ferraro:

I think the power of celebrity is changing, but it’s always going to be present and that especially for voters who might switch and vote for a more progressive candidate this time in the last presidential election, that’s where I’m focused on. That’s who I’m looking at. How can I reach that voter with the messages to get them to get into that ballot box and make a more informed choice this time around and to make sure that our country is set aside. Our country goes into 2021 in a more progressive way and in a way that is way more friendlier and safer for marginalized communities.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Rich, if people… I know everyone knows GLAAD, but if people are looking for more information about the organization, where should they go?

Rich Ferraro:

Yes. Like I said, we are really focused. One of our big priorities is to grow our social media following. I think right now we’re seeing LGBTQ news is not being picked up in the way it was, so it’s really important to keep informed. There’re so many negative, rollbacks of policies, there’re anti-LGBTQ people who now have seats in the oval office and all of that is flying under the national news radar, so I think it’s really important to keep informed and that’s one thing that we try and do on GLAAD social, so liking GLAAD on Facebook, G-L-A-A-D then following us on Twitter and Instagram would be great.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Rich, thank you so much for your time today. I’m so appreciative of you sharing your experience on how you’ve really used a number of approaches to engaging with celebrities and influencers around the mission of GLAAD and what I really loved about our discussion was that you provided specific examples that have worked for your organization and many of which I think that our listeners can sort of think about and maybe not copy but use as an inspiration for how they look to implement some practices for their organizations so really, really appreciative of that.

Rich Ferraro:

That’s great. Yeah, we’re very loud and I think that’s important for all nonprofits to be these days.

Vanessa Wakeman:

Yes, loud. Loud indeed. Well, I thank you. It was a pleasure and-

Rich Ferraro:

Thank you.

Vanessa Wakeman:

…we will definitely talk again. Well, I promised you that today’s conversation was going to be special and it was indeed. I am so appreciative of all of the examples and details and sort of the peek behind the curtain that Rich provided today for this conversation.

Vanessa Wakeman:

There were a number of sort of important takeaways for me that I think are relevant to our audience and one of the main ones is this idea to move quickly and be responsive to the issues and to proactively be thinking about it and so at GLAAD Rich shared that they do a morning brief to really talk through the issues and what that… well I think that is a wonderful and brilliant practice. What it also says to me is that they have to sort of tapped into the value and understand the value of sort of taking ownership of the message and thinking about how to get that out to the media and to the various demographics that they want to reach and so they’re not sort of sitting idly by waiting for people to, or organizations to approach them. They are sort of taking control of the narrative in many ways and empowering others to join them in that process and so I encourage our listeners to think about what that can look like for their organizations.

Vanessa Wakeman:

The other thing was that he mentioned that I thought was important was some of the smaller campaigns that they do. I feel like a lot of those could be possibilities for organizations of all sizes and sometimes we get so stuck in this idea of we have to have more resources, or we have to be this size before we do this or no one’s going to pay us attention because we’re too small or we’re in this particular geographic area. I think if you create the proper messaging, if you find a way to tap into sort of the emotion of the mission and what you’re asking people to do or how you’re trying to change people’s lives or the world, I think that you have a very good chance of connecting but it requires some research and education and thinking about who is interested in the issues that you are a champion of.

Vanessa Wakeman:

It requires sort of being really thoughtful and mindful about how you’re providing support to them and then thinking about the end game, what do you want as a result of this? I think there are a lot of things worth thinking about in this conversation. As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, this is sort of the cliffhanger. We will continue with part two of this season on celebrity and influencers. As always, I want to thank you for taking your time to listen to us and to share your feedback and your thoughts. That’s always very appreciative and I also want to ask if you would take a moment to write a review and also share this with people in your network who you think would be interested in hearing the show.

Vanessa Wakeman:

As always, if you are looking for more information about us and what we’re up to, you can go to thewakemanagency.com or you can follow us on social at Wakeman Agency. Thank you and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.