Published On: June 27, 2024By
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Graham Nolan is a Texas-based PR consultant and a co-chair at Do the WeRQ­­, a group dedicated to increasing queer creativity and representation in the marketing industry.

His day job sees him working as a freelance PR consultant and brand storyteller, helping agency brands do for themselves what they do for their clients. “A lot of what I do is just try to find the personal relevance or the water cooler value of a discussion and try to bring that to other people.” When asked about Do the WeRQ, Nolan quips, “My gay job is co-founding and co-chairing, alongside Kate Wolff, the premier, maybe the first ever, national LGBTQ marketing community in the US.” He notes that there’s a lot of overlap in the skills needed for both jobs, noting that agencies often wanted to address DEI issues but wanted guidance on what they should say based on what standards they were able to maintain.

Do the WeRQ is a volunteer-based organization that works more as a community than an agency of it’s own. ”The importance, personally, is the ability to build community,” Nolan says. “It’s very specifically, interested in the intersection of these two worlds: the LGBTQ+ community and the marketing community, that had not overlapped in this way before.” He sees the initiative as “a commitment that we’re here and that we’re not going anywhere.”

“Commitment is such a huge thing,” Nolan says. Pride season has often been seen as the only time that brands are willing to embrace representation and show support to the community. “That’s when we get our budgets, that’s when we get our attention. So, I think the ability to have continuity in this conversation and the larger community is really important.” And it’s not a small market that brands are ignoring those other eleven months in the year.

“I think it surprises people still when you report that according to Gallup, one in five Gen Z adults say they’re not straight. That is a huge shift in the world. And I think that we’re going to continue to see increases in those numbers.” Despite this, there’s a tendency toward only representing idealized versions of people in marketing, instead of embracing the reality who people really are ”People want to see airbrushed abs, people love these old ad tropes, but the world is changing.”

It’s no longer possible to ignore the fact that 2SLGBTQ+ people need representation too. “If any group was suddenly going to be one in five of your consumer base,” Nolan says, “And maybe the other half of your consumer base loved that one in five and looked to them for cultural advice and trends, why would you ignore them?” Especially when the group is looked to as trendsetters and changemakers. “It’s too important to understand that we do have an outsized influence on culture, and we do have a lot of money to spend, if you find a way to connect to us, you can connect better to the general market.”

Fear is a common emotion that can silence brands and creatives alike. Graham views fear as creative quicksand, and wrote an article for AdWeek saying as much. “You should be more afraid of not making mistakes than you are of making mistakes. Which is very easy to say. But it’s true. Most of the brands that we’ve seen who’ve made mistakes have recovered and continued to make millions and millions of dollars for the mistakes that they’ve made. A lot of them have taken steps to get better. When you make mistakes, make them in the name of community versus in the name of ego. Your fear is the quicksand. Make your mistake, no one action is going to define you as a good person or a bad person. Move on, iterate.”

This year’s Pride celebrations saw brands like Target and Bud Lite pull back their presence after being lauded by the queer community and facing backlash from more conservative audiences. But silence says something too. ”By saying anything, you will eventually have to commit to something.” It’s easy for brands to fall short with their marketing during Pride, but Graham has a simple tip to help brands improve.

“I think that people will be most successful when they understand that they should market to people instead of Pride.”

He compares this to other key calendar events that marketers build toward. “I don’t think that you market to Halloween, I don’t think you have a Halloween plan,” he says. “I think that you market to parents who buy candy on Halloween. And if you do, you can find a real problem that they need you to solve and that they need you to fix.”

It’s not a new idea to focus on the problems of your audience, even when you don’t identify as part of their demographic. “But we’ve always done this, we’ve always marketed products to people that we’re not like.” So why is it so hard for brands to market to the 2SLGBTQ+ community? “Success is to be able to find empathy and to be able to bridge a gap and say, that’s not for me but there’s merit to that person because they’re a human being. Also, in the process of doing so, you grow your revenue for your company. Surprise!”

“I talk a lot about authenticity these days, people say that in marketing, authenticity is so important. I don’t think it’s that important because I think that what authenticity means is intent. Consumers knew to say, we don’t care about your intent as much as your impact. And I think authenticity is the same way. I think authenticity is about how you feel, and I think impact is whether or not you do the thing. Integrity, to me, is better than authenticity because it’s ‘Do you do what you say you will do?’”

“I think that that influence is not the same as being liked,” Nolan says. “And I think integrity is more important than authenticity. I think everyone who says, ‘I wish the world was a better place,’ means that authentically, but their integrity comes down to what they are doing to make it a better place.”

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“The best advice I’ve gotten from others and applied to myself is to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. If I had a friend who was diving into every bad thing that is happening because they feel like they need to see it all to experience it fully and make sure they’re taking the right action, but I see it’s making that friend very sad all the time, I’d take that friend aside and ask, ‘Are you feeling okay? What can you do to balance this? Because you need to have health to do anything, period.’ You can’t run on an empty tank. So, stop, meditate, and say, ‘How much use are you to anyone feeling the way that you feel right now?’ A month ago, your rage was being channeled into productivity, now it’s being channeled into eating another Stuffed Crust Pizza in its entirety, because you’re slightly sad. How much is that helping?” It’s a great way to check-in on yourself. “Give yourself the forgiveness and the advice that you would give to a friend. We are always harder on ourselves than we are on other people.”

Graham isn’t one to give—or take—advice lightly. “I don’t take advice from people whose lives I don’t want,” he says. And you shouldn’t either. “I’ve gotten so much advice from people who were like, “If you do this, you’ll be a millionaire.’ Under the impression that I wanted to be a millionaire because they wanted to be a millionaire.” This is something Nolan refers to as reverse empathy. “If I don’t want that specifically, it’s not a judgment,” he explains. “I will take advice from my best friend on relationships because I love her relationship and I would not mind having something like that. The advice is great if I happen to want what you want.”

Luckily, if you want what Graham wants, then he has a wealth of knowledge you can benefit from. “I learned that when someone else freaks out about something I don’t have to match their energy. I’m not saying I don’t stress out sometimes about stuff. I’m saying I aspire to be the calm at the center of the storm. It’s not that I don’t care, but I’m also not going to let it ruin my day. I’m not going to feel the same way that you do. It will try and bring my emotions instead of trying to bring yours.”

This idea aligns well with his view that he’s “not for everyone” and that his personal worth is separate from his market value. “I understand that people will have opinions on me, and in certain ways, my value will go up, but my worth is always the same. If I’m not going to tell myself this, then no one else is going to. I’m valuable, I’m a human being on this planet, and my opinion matters. My objective is to be happy and that is not tied to whether or not everyone likes me.”

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There was a time however, when burnout made happiness seem impossible. “You don’t see anyone break down in a television narrative or a book until a terrible thing happens to them that snaps. My understanding of burnout and my personal experience with it, are now aligned with the concept that it’s very insidious, it creeps in, and it’s not what you think it is.”

Much like a single straw can break a camel’s back, it’s possible to function at a high level, with the same routines and workload for years before it simply becomes unmaintainable. For Graham, this manifested as sever tension headaches. “Your body eventually just says you can’t do this anymore.” Nolan marks a turning point in which his friend offered him some hard truths. ”He’s like, ‘You’re not going to like to hear this because you’re in terrible pain right now and you can’t function the same way that you did. Your body did you a favour. I know that you’ve always been able to do this, but I’m here to tell you, you can’t.’”

Setting clear boundaries and sticking to them is huge. “If you do 12 hours of work, you think you’re going to get ahead on the next day, and sometimes it’s true,” Nolan admits. “But what you’ve almost always done is give people 12 hours of things to respond to.” It’s a cycle that results in constant overtime, instead of a consistent eight-hour workday. “That work ahead thing sets you up to the place where you’re always having to work ahead because you’re always getting all these inputs. Understanding the connection between what you output, and how much people can respond to you based on that is very important for me. There’s always something to be done. And so, if you give your precious time to the next thing that needs to be done, what’s your goal? Reaching the point where they just go, ‘Well, you did it! You solved creativity! Mission accomplished!’ No, there’s always a thing.”

Now, if he dares attempt to work past 5:30pm, his headaches will immediately return. “My body is very, very clear about things.” But the body is only part of the equation, the mind also has a key role to play, which is why Nolan recommends therapy and meditation too. “Meditation has been huge for me. I can’t believe how much meditation has transformed so many different parts of my life and that teaches me specifically to stop, breathe, and listen to your body.”

“One part of the meditation process is learning that no one emotion should define you, or why you do anything.”

Nolan recounts that when he’s ended up in a rut, he falls into a trap of identifying with a single feeling. “I’m an anxious person, I’m an angry person.” Escaping this mindset can be as simple as a quick mental copyedit. “Slight language shifts, like, I’m a person who feels anxiety. I’m a person who feels angry. I’m also a person who feels happiness. I’m also a person who feels hope. It’s good not to label yourself as a person defined by one emotion. So, I’m a person who feels angry sometimes and when I do feel angry, I channel that towards positive things.”

The world is changing and younger generations are embracing what it means to be themselves in a world that’s still struggling to accept their views on gender, sexuality and even what it means to be a professional. “I want everyone to listen to a SXSW talk that my friend Arielle gave last year.” Arielle Egozi is a queer, Latinx, neurodivergent keynote speaker, author and creative director. “It’s called  . It’s basically about how professionalism is very much a social construct. It is just one of those things we’ve always done.”

“I very intentionally consider myself a non-professional person. I would rather be a performer than a professional,” Nolan says. “ What’s the reward for professionalism? It’s still the corner office, it’s still dressing a certain way. I think that the people who are in industries where they have to dress a certain way all the time are trapped. You worked for this extra money for what? So you can spend it on dressing the part? No, thank you.”

Graham doesn’t see value in formalities that don’t affect the work. “I don’t think professionalism does us a lot of good these days. I would rather focus on the objectives,” he says. “If you underestimate me because I wore a T-shirt to the meeting,” Nolan says, then it’s important to remember, “I also brought the best ideas to it.” He’s used to people judging him based on what they see in their Zoom windows. “ They’re constantly surprised, like, you came up with that? You’ve got all this comic book art on your walls?” Graham is a comic book fan who has a soft spot for the X-Men books and original cartoon. ”I am a person with ideas that contribute to business. You’re a person too, I don’t know why we’re hiding that in a world where bringing your humanity to the work is that much more important to your bottom line.”

When not rocking out to Begin Again by Jessie Ware or leading nerd-themed costumed pub crawls, you can find Graham Nolan on LinkedIn or Instagram.