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The advent of travel post-vaccine rollouts, plus the return of Pride Month media spending has convened into an opportunity for both travel marketers and media brands alike. Marketers are voicing support for groups of consumers with high purchase power and media brands are signing longer, and at times larger, deals than in previous years.

Thrillist found an opportunity to monetize a niche audience with a new LGBTQ+ travel channel, called We’re Out Here, that is sponsored with a long-term ad deal. Group Nine’s food, travel and lifestyle brand is among other publishers seeing an uptick in interest from advertisers with spends that extend beyond Pride Month.

The channel, which launches this week, will include written city guides and video content produced by a handful of full-time staffers and contributors who have personal experiences about the locations and businesses they are covering and/or are members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves. The vertical will live as a permanent vertical of Thrillist and will tap into the brand’s social distribution.

Orbitz, a travel company that has touted prioritizing the LGBTQ+ consumer base in its advertising strategy for the past 20 years, signed on as the launch partner for We’re Out Here in a mid-six-figure deal that extends through the end of the year, according to the company. Neither Thrillist nor Orbitz disclosed how much the deal is worth, but the agreement will include presented by branding and lower-funnel affiliate links with Orbtiz’s booking capabilities.

Pride Month 2020 was expected to be a big one for ad spends — it was the 50th anniversary of several Pride celebrations, including New York Pride. But just three months into the pandemic, ad budgets plummeted and campaign spend was down year over year.

Further into the pandemic — between the last half of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 — Group Nine surveyed more than 1,500 readers about their opinions on travel during and post-pandemic. That survey, which allowed respondents to self-identify if they were in the LGBTQ+ community, found that this demographic was five times more likely to take friendliness into account when planning a vacation in 2021 as well as 40% more likely to travel if they had the opportunity to learn something new. Group Nine conducts one or two large survey questionnaires each month using its Lab9 audience community network and has been asking the respondents to self-identify within the LGBTQ+ community for some time, according to the company.

“The community is focused on and has the same passions the other 11 months of the year, and so to market to them one month really doesn’t treat them as people that have all of those passions. And so we want to highlight that the commitment needs to be 12 months a year,” said Group Nine CRO Geoff Schiller.

In October, Group Nine relaunched its multicultural marketing and sales division as the MCC+ team, which focuses on campaigns reaching audiences in the Latinx, Black, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities, said Schiller. The company joined many other media companies and agencies that, over the last year, started making more concerted efforts in reaching their BIPOC audiences and consumers through dedicated multicultural marketplaces and sales teams in response to the increased interest from brands wanting to voice their support for the equality activism that took place in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Over the past year, socially conscious brands have elevated the level of activism that they are willing to take on platforms like social media and in their marketing strategy, said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of media planning and buying agency Media Kitchen. So while companies don’t have intentions to necessary make transactions from these campaigns, they want consumers to know that they are supporting causes that are important to them.

“The more these brands see negativity in the media, the more they’re pushing against it,” Lowenthal said. 

Since the beginning of the year, campaigns created and sold with the help of the MCC+ team amounted to more than 25% of all of Group Nine’s campaigns, according to the company. About one-third of campaigns run through MCC+ are new clients for Group Nine, but the team has also helped to strengthen the company’s relationships with existing clients like J&J, State Farm, Comcast, Amazon, American Express and Rocket Mortgage, according to a company spokesperson.

“All advertisers are looking to connect authentically and relevantly with audiences like LGBTQ+ [community]. If they’re an important target, it’s important to connect in a culturally relevant way. Consumers have a pretty good bullshit meter these days,” said Alice Sylvester, partner at marketing consultant firm Sequent Partners.

Orbitz first worked with Thrillist in December as a sponsor — with a mid-six-figure deal — for the brand’s Slay Ride, a new annual drag brunch that premiered as a virtual event last year. That event brought in more than 7,000 live viewers and 70,000 total views since the event.

Group Nine also secured American Express as the sponsor of another travel-based editorial package from Thrillist. This particular sponsorship is limited to this month but is a mid-six-figure deal. Group Nine did not share specific figures.

As publishers look to continue securing long-term deals, both sides should consider messaging needs. Most travel companies and tourism destination areas plan their media buys up to a year in advance of peak travel season, according to Michael Hubbard, CEO of Media Two Interactive. Pride Month and other awareness months, then have different messaging strategies — the bulk of campaigns are less about driving people to book right then and there, but are classified within the top of funnel strategies.

“With occupancy rates nearing record highs at places, the reality is this is more of a creative play than it is an increased media buy. While it won’t draw additional people to an already capacity-filled town — it will get visitors to consider coming back again and again,” Hubbard said.

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