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Pride Media, home to Out Magazine, The Advocate and Pride.com, has been acquired by Equal Entertainment and is rebranding as Equal Pride.
The acquisition covers all existing assets, including the digital arms of Out and The Advocate, Out Traveler Magazine and Plus Magazine, and returns the country’s largest LGBTQ-owned media, digital, TV and entertainment company to LGBTQ+ majority ownership.
Mark Berryhill will serve as Equal Pride’s chief executive officer, with Michael Kelley, chairman and president of global growth and development, reporting to Berryhill. Diane Anderson-Minshall, Pride Media’s first female CEO, is set to retain C-suite responsibilities as chief global and development officer, with her work focused on editorial brands and international audience expansion. Joe Lovejoy is named chief financial officer, with Stuart Brockington upped to executive vp sales and partnerships, effective immediately.
Kelley and Berryhill are life and business partners with a history in the media industry. Prior to Equal Entertainment, which specializes in daily TV, celebrity docuseries and branded content production, Kelley came from PwC, where he ran the entertainment innovation practice that built Hulu and, in the early days, AT&T’s ad offerings. Berryhill served as Meredith’s vp news and marketing before becoming vp programming and creative affairs.
The acquisition comes four years after Adam Levine, CEO of the Los Angeles-based investment firm Orevea, acquired Pride Media in 2017 through a management-backed buyout of Here Publishing. In 2018, Pride Media kicked off a new era that saw then-CEO Nathan Coyle hire Phillip Picardi — known for launching Conde Nast’s Them — as Out editor-in-chief and Zach Stafford, A Strange Loop co-producer, former Grindr CCO and editor-in-chief of the app’s digital magazine Into — as editor-in-chief of The Advocate.
By December 2019, Coyle, Picardi and Stafford — who also made history as The Advocate’s first Black editor-in-chief — had resigned or were departing, along with a round of staff layoffs and additional executive departures, as then reported by The New York Times. This was preceded by 42 freelancers publishing an open letter demanding Pride Media compensate them for their work. (That same year, an across-the-board pay cut was instituted and tensions around payment in Pride Media’s offices reportedly resulted in work stoppages.)
Coyle published a response promising payment while pointing the blame at the company’s complicated web of corporate ownership. At the same time, the company was facing public backlash over Levine’s political donations, with the equity firm CEO found to have donated to anti-LGBTQ Republican politicians after pledging to stop doing so, according to LGBTQ Nation.
Despite the magazine’s recent rocky history, Kelley and Berryhill see the acquisition of Pride Media as a significant move to expand the brand, affirm current readership and bring in new audiences.
“We’ve now got not just amazing American history, but LGBTQ history and 55 years of media outlets tracking the rise of equality from Stonewall to today. You can imagine the rich stories we have,” Kelley told THR. “We are thrilled that we were able to get these leading voices for the LGBTQ+ community into our portfolio and can really begin to grow and focus them at the most important time, arguably, in our country’s history.”
Plans are to expand existing ventures, with continued dedication to print, returning the 55-year-old Advocate brand “to its roots of news, politics and entertainment told through a lens of equality,” Kelley said. Meanwhile, Out will have a lifestyle-oriented focus on both the gay male experience and a larger audience of women and people of color. Kelley said of the first marketing campaigns for the legacy brands is to encourage subscribers to donate read issues to local youth centers, LGBTQ centers, affirming churches and accepting schools.
As for Pride.com, which Kelley says is “arguably the most valuable URL in all of LGBTQ media,” Equal Pride will be taking “a hard look,” doing focus groups with the LGBTQ community and advertisers to find out what they want. Early interest indicates a focus on Pride festivals, pride stories, coming-out stories, music festivals with queer artists and performers and an NFT queer artist forum “so queer artists from everywhere can sell their works virtually and also physically.”
Additionally, the company is looking to heavily expand into branded content with video and social. “We looked at how do we also take a brand that somebody maybe has not heard of and introduce them? It’s just very clear that at this time, we have a wonderful way to do that through video and social — to take care of our consumers who have been with us and then introduce a whole new generation to queer media.”
Equal Pride is not presently looking to expand into original scripted over-the-top content, according to Kelley. But he confirmed that beyond extending its Pride Today video show beyond its present five-minute run as the team grows, OTT content will be another way to deliver the company’s “progressive media voice” to its inclusive audience of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ viewers through trending pop culture, lifestyle and hard-news-angled content.
Pushing this work into international markets, “especially ones where LGBTQ rights are so oppressed and suppressed,” Kelley said, is also on the table. The duo says the company, whose expansion plans aim to serve a broader range of the LGBTQ+ audience, already has advertisers lined up, with General Motors, Google Pixel, Gilead, Capital One, Disney/Hulu, TikTok, McDonald’s, Molson Coors, NBCU and J&J, among its 2022 client list.
On a larger staffing level, plans are not to downsize but to grow significantly with Kelley telling THR Equal Pride has already brought on a new chief marketing officer, a new head of video and a new editor. “We’re keeping every single person. In fact, we have a demand,” he said. “We need more strong journalists. We need more folks to help us on the brand side in marketing. We’re moving into video. We’re creating an entire newsroom and content studio for these brands.”
The Equal Pride chairman also noted that the company is looking to start an alumni association that would include employees who have worked with the brands from their early beginnings. “We want to keep in touch with those people who shaped these brands, who shaped the stories because we’re the most vulnerable in the workforce and it’s important for us to provide support even after they’ve left us and to keep that history alive, keep health alive.”
“It will take time. It will take discipline,” he added. “It will all take some big thinking, but we know we can do it .”
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