Communications in Canada: Q&A with Out in Canada Editor Randall Shirley

November 25, 2008


As I've mentioned before, I was fortunate enough to participate in the 9th International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in Vancouver last month. In addition to presenting a workshop at the conference (more on that in a future post), I had the pleasure of serving as moderator of a panel on working with the media.

Randall Shirley photo One of the participants in the panel discussion was freelance travel journalist Randall Shirley. Randall is editor of Canada's major LGBT travel magazine, Out in Canada, and editor of the stories and blog section of, a U.S.-based site which helps gay cruise passengers connect. Randall's work also appears in such publications as The Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News. He grew up on a potato farm in Rexburg, Idaho and now lives in Vancouver, BC with his partner Kevin. 

As is generally the case, whenever I meet someone interesting, I ask them to participate in blog Q&A with us. Randall was no exception and I'm very happy he agreed to my request. Randall's insight and experience provide a really useful snapshot of Canadian communications from an American perspective.  And as many of us in the U.S. prepare to travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday, we thought it might be interesting to present a point of view on travel from a different perspective.

This is another two-part interview. Today, we talk about differences in media and marketing. Come back tomorrow for a look at mainstream media, blogs and the future for LGBT media in Canada. 
Ben Finzel: What are the differences in gay media in Canada and the U.S.? Do you communicate with our community any differently in Canada than in the U.S.? 

Randall Shirley: In Canada, “gay” is not much of an issue these days. Of course, we still have problems–the occasional bashing, small town gays who feel they can't come out, etc.–but overall, Canadian society is more accepting. We do have nationwide gay marriage, after all! How does this apply to gay media? Well, it means we can devote more time to daily life stories and less time to politics. As an American who has lived in Canada for many years, I actually find U.S. media less and less relevant to my daily life. When I read The Advocate, for instance, it seems the stories are often of equality and political issues Canadians dealt with many years ago.
Ben Finzel: How do companies market to LGBT people via the media in Canada?  What are the common activities they undertake and how are they received by LGBT consumers?

Randall Shirley: Companies market to GLBT Canadians the same way you would expect–via gay media outlets. Since I cover travel, I particularly notice that Canadian travel providers are very savvy at using PR and media relations as a major tool to tell their stories. And of course they use paid advertising, too, including both traditional media and new media. Surprisingly, some companies have even tried marketing via mainstream media. A high-end gay matchmaking service called Entre-Nous¬ has placed paid advertising in Canada's venerable national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. And hook-up companies like CruiseLine advertise on billboards in surprising towns like Calgary. How are they received? Gay Canadians are smart, and we know that within our country most companies would be glad to have our business. We also know when we're being pandered to. At the end of the day, I think we appreciated being marketed to, but that alone doesn't guarantee our loyalty as customers because we have so many business owners in this country who are truly gay-friendly. Personally, I look for value and customer service, and if I can find that in a business, I will become a customer. Of course there are gay-focused businesses–bars, restaurants, some shops, B&Bs, etc.–who provide options straight-owned businesses simply can't. And when we want those options, it's nice to have them.

Ben Finzel: Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of our conversation with Randall Shirley.

Photo courtesy of Randall Shirley.