The Basics of Marketing to Same-Sex Couples
By Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting, Richmond, Va.

The following is the second article in a three-part series on same-sex marriage, both culturally and politically and within the wedding industry.

The scope of the market for same-sex marriage is broadening daily as legal recognition of gay marriage spreads throughout the United States, and social recognition of marriage equality takes root in contemporary culture. Wedding professionals who plan to target marketing efforts toward same-sex couples tailor their services to meet unique needs—modernizing traditions from every culture and developing the skills necessary to address the finer points of providing gay-friendly service.

Developing Gay-Friendly Service
Asked how wedding entertainment has evolved with the increase in gay weddings, Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) member Liz Daley, ABC™, of Liz Daley Events in Williamsburg, Va., points out that the transition has been particularly painless in an industry where many have long been comfortable with same-sex relationships. Yet, without library shelves full of traditional etiquette rules, like those straight couples may refer to during planning, same-sex couples, planners, and other wedding professionals find themselves forging new paths and creating “new traditions.” Daley encourages couples to find their own take on wedding formalities. She recently introduced two men as “husband and husband” after discussing the grooms’ comfort and terminology preferences.

Some changes simply require attention to detail. Christi Lopez, owner of Bergerons Florist in Washington, D.C., changed the forms she uses when meeting with clients. “Bride and Groom” is now “Couple” or “Client 1 and Client 2.”  Lopez does not make assumptions either, “like not assuming one will wear a boutonnière or carry a bouquet.” She finds that couples are open to other options such as pocket squares that are floral or decorative instead.

A relatively unique challenge for wedding planners servicing gay weddings is the need to act as diplomat among service providers, some of whom may not be as comfortable working with same-sex couples as others. Resha Zazueta, a Houston-based event coordinator with Something to Celebrate Wedding and Event Coordination, warns that “the only major difference [between weddings and any other kind of union] is that you must be aware of any vendors who may not want to work with the couple. Do not place the couple in a potentially uncomfortable position.” Daley agrees. “If you secretly oppose same sex unions, don’t take the job. Don’t even bid on the job. Everyone will see right through the ruse. Politely become unavailable.”

Modernizing Wedding Traditions
Same-sex weddings are as diverse as straight weddings, and couples require guidance when planning how to honor their cultural traditions. Preeti Moberg, founder of the wedzine The Big Fat Indian Wedding, suggests couples talk to their officiant to find ways that rituals can be adjusted to meet their needs. “For example, the kanyadaan is the ‘giving away’ of the daughter from her family to her husband’s. A same-sex couple may rewrite the kanyadaan to give away both daughters to start a new family of their own, give away one son to the other’s family, or eliminate it entirely.” Moberg recommends that wedding planners explore the roots of traditions and seek awareness of modern twists so they best can help customize Indian weddings for same-sex couples. “Be in the know. Who comes in at the baraat? Who waits at the madap? Who wants to do mehndi? Men do it, too!”

Cigall Goldman, founder of www.MazelMoments.com sees Jewish weddings as perfect opportunities to embrace same-sex weddings. “It’s no surprise that certain elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony are evolving to become more inclusive,” says Goldman. “Traditionally, the groom breaks the glass and the bride circles the groom seven times. Modern couples, whether they be same-sex, interfaith, or simply want a more egalitarian wedding, are personalizing and adapting these rituals…bride and bride, groom and groom, or bride and groom can break the glass together!”

Ketubahs, which are customized for all couples, can feature symbolic images or colors that celebrate same-sex couples. Goldman has even seen chuppahs made with the rainbow flag, symbol of the gay community, as the wedding canopy. Small adaptations can be made to ceremonies rooted in most cultures to create a more gender-neutral dialogue. Effectively executing these changes requires knowledge of traditions and sensitivity towards today’s same-sex couple.

Seek Information and Educational Opportunities
Addressing the needs of the expanding same-sex union market successfully means undergoing sometimes-significant professional development. “In what has become an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s not enough,” says Kathryn Hamm, president of www.GayWeddings.com, “for wedding professionals to be ‘gay-friendly.’ They must be ‘gay wedding competent.’ That is, to earn the business of same-sex couples, wedding pros need to be able to indicate to prospective clients that they are inclusive but also able to serve them as knowledgeably and as competently as any other couple. These days, on-the-job training just won’t cut it.”

Planners should be sensitive to the journey same-sex couples have taken to get closer to equality and recognition today; that journey flavors every interaction and decision made in the planning process. Knowing legislation and regulations, as well as regional attitudes and the sensibilities of other vendors is also important. It’s important to become familiar with the ways other contemporary couples using rituals and traditions to understand the origins of these traditions before adjusting them to suit client needs. An open-minded and conscientious approach to same-sex weddings will undoubtedly expand professional horizons and enhance future opportunities.

Same-Sex Weddings—Here’s What You Had to Say 
About Marketing
Responses compiled from a January 2014 survey of Wedding Planner Magazine readers (338 responses with a 12% response rate).
• Nearly 72% noted that their marketing material contained inclusive language and images while 10% distributed marketing material specifically targeting     same-sex couples.
• The most popular promotional tool to target same-sex couples was split between websites and social media platforms.
• Only 18% of respondents had submitted same-sex weddings to blogs or publications.
• Referrals were top strategy for informing same-sex wedding couples of services.

Helpful Resources
• www.GayWeddings.com/seminars—group and individual consultations for professionals.
• wwwGayWeddings.com/industry-trends—the latest same-sex wedding trends impacting wedding professionals.
• www.GayWeddings.com/real-weddings—get a closer look at the real wedding events of same-sex couples.
• www.WedWeCan.com—information, community resources, inspired ideas, and social media tools for the LGBTQ community and its straight allies, from engaged couples to wedding professionals.
• www.FreedomToMarry.org—for legislative updates and events associated with the national campaign to win marriage equality in the United States.
• www.hrc.org—For legislative updates and events on all issues impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
• http://problog.WeddingWire.com—the latest news and technology to help wedding professionals power their business, featuring a column dedicated to same-sex couples by Education Expert Kathryn Hamm.
• www.GayWeddingInstitute.com—gay wedding certification course for professionals offered by Bernadette Coveney Smith.
• www.WeddingWireWorld.com—the award-winning user education conference will embark on a multi-city tour of the United States with industry experts, including Kathryn Hamm, president of www.GayWeddings.com, highlighting 2014 marketing resolutions; social, local, and mobile technologies; and small business tips, tools, and resources.

Marketing/Public Relations Tips
• Never underestimate the value of research and thoughtful planning. 
Take time to understand the target audience—their buying habits, tools     they are using to plan their wedding, etc. Carefully develop the message you’d like to relay to them.
• Consider promotional options that primarily target same-sex couples, such as online directories, magazines, and bridal shows.  Take time to do the same due diligence you would for any other advertorial opportunity by gathering the necessary information to make an informed decision.
• With the couples’ consent, contemplate submitting same-sex weddings for publication as an effort to increase brand awareness for your company. The majority of mainstream publications and blogs will enthusiastically welcome same-sex weddings. There are also a number of media outlets that specialize in this niche.

Win a Copy of The New Art of Capturing Love!
Increasing legalization worldwide of same-sex marriages and unions means the market for same-sex weddings is exploding, providing significant opportunities for today’s wedding planners, photographers, and vendors. Yet few are equipped for the nuances of weddings oriented toward same-sex couples. Published by Amphoto Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House), The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography by Kathryn Hamm, president of www.GayWeddings.com, and photographer Thea Dodds of Authentic Eye Photography, is a groundbreaking guide to LGBTQ wedding photography, offering tools for emotive and flattering images that are a must when creating memories for same-sex couples. Wedding Planner Magazine is giving away one free copy to a lucky reader. If you would like a chance to win, please email editor@weddingplannermag.com with “Win a Copy” in the subject line. In the body of the email, you must include your name, business name, complete mailing address, and phone number. All entries must be received by midnight CST on June 9, 2014, to qualify. The winner will be selected at random.

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