Manchester is digging out the rainbow flags in preparation for Pride Weekend – the annual celebration of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, which takes place from August 23-26.

The Manchester festival is one of many Pride events that now take place around the globe. They range in size from the world’s largest gay pride parade in São Paulo with 3.5 million participants, to the world’s smallest gay pride parade with 100 participants in Sligo, Ireland.

These hugely popular – and lucrative – events evolved in the US, where they started out as equal rights protests in the late 1960s. Today, gay tourism is estimated to be worth a whopping US$181 billion – up from $70 billion in 2007. According to a survey by Out Now, the UK is the eighth most popular destination for gay travellers, worth US$9.7 billion to the British economy. Domestically, the gay market is estimated to be worth up to £6 billion a year (Gay Times claims that about 6% of the UK population is gay).

With the economic power of the ‘pink pound’ expected to keep on growing, mainstream brands are choosing to engage with the gay market with targeted marketing campaigns. A look at the sponsors list for Manchester Pride shows you just what a diverse range of brands are reaching out for pink pound, from easyJet and The Co-operative Group through to Enterprise rent-a-car and the Manchester Conference Centre.

It’s a sensible strategy; according to a study carried out by Stonewall, the gay community is much more likely to buy goods and services from a brand that is known to be gay-friendly.

Quoted in an article published by Marketing Week, Nick Gadsby, associate director of research firm Lawes Consulting, says that there are opportunities for all sorts of companies to win gay business: “The traditional areas have been entertainment and luxuries, but you’re going to see the pink pound diverted into more traditional family commodities. The pink pound is being slightly diverted from the more fun aspects that are traditionally associated with gay culture.”

Branded promotional gifts present an ideal way to initiate engagement with a new market. A giveaway at a Pride event or other gay gathering sends the message that your company is ‘gay friendly’ and exposes your brand to thousands of potential consumers – last year Manchester Pride sold 32,000 tickets. It also provides an opportunity to directly engage with your target customer, by encouraging them to stop and talk.

Beyond the usual pens and sweets, affordable items worth considering for a mass giveaway include branded bottles of water (from 40p each) – always popular at events and guaranteed to give great brand exposure – and printed drawstring bags (from 79p each), which are likely to be retained and used again after the event.

Manchester pride also includes an indoor Lifestyle Expo with exhibition stands available for businesses and organisations supporting the LGBT community. Applications for this year are now closed, but this could be the ideal way to get involved in 2014.

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