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Bob Witeck: America’s LGBT economy is a force to reckon with

Bob Witeck, CEO and co-founder of Witeck-Combs Communications and author of Business Inside Out, shares his views on America's LGBT economy with dot429.

You originally launched your business in 1993 to help guide corporations attempting to understand and enter the LGBT market. What inspired you to take that leap?

Bob: I have spent most of my career as a professional communicator. For over a decade, after college here in Washington DC, I served on Capitol Hill as a Senate press secretary.

Off the Hill, I then was senior vice president at a major public relations firm. In both roles, I loved my work but always realized that although LGBT people make substantial, valuable contributions to our economy and national life, we still remained largely invisible in public life and throughout corporate America. In 2010, I can still ask how many openly gay CEOs can any of us name?

I have long believed we needed to do a better and more serious job to build an authentic bridge between our community and business leaders. The goal of securing equal rights should be sought everywhere we work, live and raise families.

What did you hope to accomplish and how did you try to educate business leaders?

At a minimum, I aimed to help get past instinctive fears that somehow merely engaging LGBT consumers and households would stir painful culture wars, backlash and costly conflict. Some felt then, and some still do, that simply speaking openly to their LGBT employees and customers invites unacceptable kinds of risk.

At the same time, almost 20 years ago, I felt equally concerned that other stereotypes seemed to drive simplistic gay marketing nostrums. Early marketers so often defined their gay customers exclusively as affluent, white urban males that it became a distracting and narrow and misleading definition.

I worried that with a gap in market research and knowledge, we would ricochet between ignorance, panic and hyperbole. Getting it right was important so that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Americans can be truthfully recognized, understood and welcomed no matter where we live or what we purchase or how far we rise in our livelihoods.

I think my immediate aim was the yawning ignorance gap, on all sides. Fortunately, I think we all are doing a far better job to narrow that gap.

Read the full interview, here