A Space for the Journey: A Conversation With Laramey Lawson

Laramey Lawson serves as Executive Vice President, Director of Insights & Engagement at GS&F. After joining the team in 1990, Laramey has created work for almost every client the agency serves. He identifies key insights that guide recommendations for reaching audiences meaningfully.

But that work represents only part of his journey. Over time, Laramey has seen the industry—and himself—grow, develop and change. 

 As we celebrate Pride month, we sat down with Laramey to hear his story firsthand. Here’s our conversation.

I started in this business in 1987. At that time, I was only out to a handful of my friends. I never purposefully hid it, but I didn’t necessarily embrace it at that time in my career. In the early 90s I did come out to my parents, and I was one of the fortunate ones who had loving parents who said, “Regardless, you’re our son and we love you,” which was very reaffirming.

Around the same time I joined GS&F, and there’s something about our culture that always feels so welcoming and accepting. Again, through those early years, I didn’t hide it, but I also didn’t bring it to the forefront. That’s in part because I feel like it’s a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define who I am. I didn’t want to lead with “Look at me, I’m a gay man in advertising.” That is just one facet of who I am.

It may not have been in the spotlight, but there’s always been acceptance at GS&F. What’s happening in the world has brought it more to the forefront, but it’s always been there—we just didn’t necessarily talk about it like we do now. The company has always put the individual first. Any person at GS&F—I hope—has always felt like they were supported for who they are.

Laramey’s personal journey of getting to know his true self intersected with his professional journey when an opportunity fell into his lap through the agency’s partnership with Bridgestone.

At the time, Michael Fluck served as Bridgestone’s Director of Brand & Retail Marketing. He was very passionate about diversity—and he also happened to be a gay man. Having a client with whom I shared this in common opened up a dialogue and gave me the ability to dive a bit deeper into it—not only from a personal standpoint but from a professional standpoint. I give him a lot of credit for nudging me along in a way that I might not have been able to do myself.

For example, based on his position and the 2000 census data that came out, Michael realized that the makeup of the country was changing. In response, he developed a multicultural initiative for Bridgestone. At that time, GS&F was the print agency of record for Bridgestone, which was the best channel to reach the three audiences we worked on—the LGBTQ, African American and Hispanic communities.

All of the sudden I thought, “Wow, I am actually working on a project that has a component that is trying to reach me.” That was an eye-opening experience; it felt so liberating and so confirming in a way I never expected. The ability for us to put content out there that allows people to see themselves is so important for individuals who are growing up and trying to define and decide who they are as a person.

I’ll always look back on that experience because it shook me to my core in a good way. We were also very proud to win the very first Mosaic award for the AAF Nashville chapter with that campaign, which recognizes excellence in multicultural advertising.

I look back and the campaign seems so elementary—far from where we are now. But it all has to start somewhere, and you learn and grow until it becomes what it needs to be.

Laramey’s work with Bridgestone also inspired more work in the community.

Around that same time, Michael suggested that I join the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce as a board member. After that, it became more natural to be myself. For instance, I began talking about my partner more often and the things that I did through the LGBTQ Chamber, and it allowed me to become more visible.

As his work and life continued to unfold, Laramey found the unique ways growing at GS&F made a great fit—one that he didn’t take for granted.

What makes a career are the people you work with. When you get down to it, if you’re not working with people you enjoy you’re not going to enjoy the work. Creating an environment where you have people—some who are like you and some who are different—allows you to have relationships and grow in ways that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

The last thing we want is to be surrounded by people just like us—I find that rather boring, and it doesn’t allow you to grow. I tend to think, for example, that many people who aren’t accepting of things just haven’t been exposed in the right way. You have to give yourself the opportunity to have that exposure and interaction. It requires a certain vulnerability on your part.

The comfort Laramey finds in a supportive, affirming environment allows him to explore his professional work in light of developing trends, such as brand acknowledgement of Pride month, that also impact him personally.

I see so many brands being part of Pride. Part of me is overjoyed with that—talk about recognition! But it’s critical that brands are truly committed and on board and not just jumping in because it’s the right thing to do nowadays. That’s the easiest way for someone to lose trust in a brand.

For example, many companies have pushed out Pride logos for June. At first, I was taken aback when I saw a certain brand prominently displaying a Pride logo. I pushed myself to remember to appreciate it, because that company may not have a lot of pro-LGBTQ people in their audience. Putting it out there may make people rethink their stance on it. It was an important step for that brand.

The tall task that I see is taking the time to truly research these brands to see what Pride actually means to them. As a marketer, I know brands could be saying what they know they should be saying.

However, the evolution that the LGBTQ community has gone through is mind boggling to me. 68% of Americans support LGBTQ initiatives. Honestly, I never thought I would see that in my lifetime. I never thought I would see gay marriage. I find it very liberating that individuals now may not have as much hesitation to totally embrace it.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact employers can have when they support their employees for who they truly are—no matter what. They have the gift and the power to give people freedom in their lives and help them build their identities. While no bottom line will speak directly to that work and it’s not a KPI—there’s not much greater work to be done.

We’ve done a lot of internal searching at GS&F regarding our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts, and we’ll always be doing that. I can say with conviction that I always felt I would be supported for who I am—and that’s such a comforting place to be. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed where I have for so long. I feel accepted as a whole individual, appreciated and respected. What more could you ask for?


Special thanks to Laramey Lawson for his insights and contributions to this post.

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