The gay and lesbian community represents around $450 billion in annual spending power, while Simmons Market Research Bureau recently reported that 48 percent of the GLBT community is college-educated and 58 percent holds management positions. As for the competition, none of the publications currently targeting the community share Echelon's business focus. While the online Gay Financial Network has written extensively about gay executives, the four-year-old company hasn't shown any inclination to make an offline move.
"There is a void in the industry," Lamb says. "Frankly, I'm a little surprised that nobody beat me to the idea."
That statement isn't entirely accurate: Victory!, a magazine with a similar bent, arrived and disappeared quickly in the 1990s. But with smart niche publications like Asian Entrepreneur, Black Enterprise, and Latin Business thriving, it's amazing that a magazine like Echelon didn't emerge any sooner. Sure, major publishers may have questioned whether big-name advertisers would shy away from anything remotely controversial, but that still doesn't explain why they potentially left a pile of cash on the table and instead decided to unleash an avalanche of shelter magazines.
Lamb points to several factors that have convinced him the timing is right for Echelon, ranging from extensive marketing pushes targeting the gay community by Volvo and IBM to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that homosexual couples have a constitutional right to marry. "I never realized how many gay and lesbian chambers of commerce there are, or how many gay and lesbian employee associations there are," he says. "It's a community that wants and needs to be united by a publication like this."
Echelon came together very quickly, as Lamb didn't even start working on the business plan until March. Support from those chambers of commerce provided an early lift, although corporate backing didn't materialize at the pace Lamb anticipated. "It may sound a little cocky, but I thought [Echelon] was such a good proposition that corporations would sign on right away for prepaid advertising sponsorships," he says. "As it turns out, we've had a lot of interest, but most of them have us slated for next year."
One of the things Echelon has going for it, strictly from an ad standpoint, is that the magazine will include minimal sexual and political content. Such content hasn't stopped The Advocate and Out from succeeding beyond even the most optimistic projections, of course, but Lamb acknowledges that there's still a certain amount of skittishness in corporate America regarding sexually and politically charged material. Echelon, then, will lean heavily on profiles of GLBT entrepreneurs, financial strategies, and in its "Build" section, information about opportunities for economic development in a given city or region.
Highlighting research about the overall GLBT impact on the economy is also a priority; Lamb believes that the aforementioned $450 billion figure may represent only half of the true purchasing power of the gay and lesbian community, partly because many business professionals are not willing to disclose their sexual orientation. "I truly believe it's part of our mission to encourage people to be out at work," he says.
Lamb emphasizes that Echelon will be a reader-focused publication. "We could do the advertiser-first thing, but the bottom line is that advertisers come when you have readers." That said, he notes that initial interest from marketers has further convinced him that he's on the right path. While Lamb won't confirm which companies are and aren't firmed up for the first issue, he says that he's been in contact with a host of automakers (Volvo, General Motors, Ford) and financial services companies (American Express, Prudential). "Everybody's got our media kit," he jokes. Among the other companies Lamb is attempting to lure are Verizon and Bridgestone ("they love to come into new publications and take advantage of the impact you can have on a new niche market").
The first issue of Echelon, a bimonthly, will arrive in January. Of the 50,000 copies that will be printed, 40,000 will be sold through conventional channels and 10,000 will be distributed in bulk to gay and lesbian chambers of commerce. Lamb hopes to jump the mag's frequency to monthly and its circulation to 100,000 in 2005.