Ten Money Questions for Ben Finzel and Steve Kauffman
Ben Finzel and Steve Kauffman are senior executives at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and the force behind FH Out Front, the firm’s global gay and lesbian communications practice. They “believe outreach by businesses and organizations to the LGBT community is one of the most powerful forces for change in modern society.” Typically, in order to produce change, a message needs to be communicated. Communicating is their business so I asked them to get up close and personal about their finances as well as those of the queer consumer with ten money questions.
1. FH Out Front is the first global gay & lesbian communications practice at a major communications firm. Why is there a need for companies to segment out LGBT consumers?
Ben: As the marketplace continues to fragment, marketers are realizing that different audiences require different approaches. Smart marketers shouldn’t assume that the same techniques and venues they use to reach straight audiences would be effective in reaching LGBT audiences. We expect marketers to understand our lives and experiences and to reflect that in their outreach to us. Although LGBT audiences are all different, we all expect companies interested in our patronage to be interested in who we are and what we care about.
Steve: Market segmentation is key for marketers to effectively reach most audiences today. The one-size-fits-all marketing model has never been less successful, especially in reaching the gay and lesbian community. We prefer companies that recognize as well as understand our community. That awareness can be as simple as not utilizing a male-female couple in a gay-targeted print ad. It can also reach the complexity of fine tuning the marketing mix, e.g. utilizing more online communications channels since data shows gay men more highly adopt a digital lifestyle than the average consumer or advertising in non-urban areas to reach parts of the lesbian community since statistics show lesbian couples increasingly moving outside traditional urban areas in the U.S.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Ben: From my childhood through today, my grandfather has always encouraged me to save money and not spend it all at one time. I can remember visiting flea markets with him and learning first hand about what a “bargain” was and how/why to spend money on something. My grandpa’s advice has stuck and I continue to try to follow his advice about saving money.
Steve: As a young child, I was caught up in the bicentennial fever, and I horded a stash of 1976 bicentennial coins and dollar bills that I had long since forgotten. Last fall, I was told that my 10-year-old niece last summer had found “a bunch of money” in my old room at my parents’ house and took it home to put into her bank. So, I guess that was a lesson learned about hording vs. saving vs. collecting.
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Ben: Worrying too much about saving for the future. I’m saving, and I have a financial plan, but I generally think I should be farther along and that makes me worry about having enough money in retirement.
Steve: I’m learning to become a better financial planner. While I’m far from being at my ideal state of saving, investing and planning, I’m much more aware of my shortcomings — and working to become more strategic — than I was even a few years ago.
4. Much has been written recently about Suze Orman announcing that she is a lesbian. Do you think that she stayed in the closet all these years because it was favorable to her earning potential? Why would she choose to communicate this to the public now?
Ben: I don’t really know. I thought her coming out was remarkably low-key. As popular and well-known as she is, there wasn’t much recognition of the fact that she had come out and I think many folks in our community aren’t even aware of the fact that she did. Not everyone reads the New York Times…
Steve: That’s a question for Suze, but I’ve seen interviews where she has said she was never really in the closet and often attended functions with her partner. It is a facet of her life that didn’t have any bearing on her as a financial expert. It was fortunate that the official coming out story was published when her new book needed a publicity push, but I’m encouraged that the story essentially became a non-issue for the public. Still, she is in a more public position now to be a role model for gay or lesbian youth.
5. Do you and your partner see eye-to-eye on money? If you are not partnered, then how has money played a role in past relationships?
Ben: In general we do. I think Mark (my partner) is more cautious than I am, and that’s generally a good thing, at least where having resources is concerned.
Steve: My last long-term relationship spanned almost 14 years, and we came from very different backgrounds with widely varied views on money. As with anything in a relationship, we compromised often, and, I think, shaped practices about spending and saving that are beneficial to us both today.
6. Who or what experience taught you the value of a hard earned dollar?
Ben: Definitely my family. My grandfather (on my mom’s side) and my grandmother (on my dad’s side) were really clear about communicating the value of a hard earned dollar and the importance of hard work. They both worked their way up and planned for the future, so they both set very strong examples for the grandchildren.
Steve: I’m from a West Texas farming family, and my dad in his 70s still gets up early every day to oversee the family business. I spent my school-year weekends and summers in the cotton fields. While I was not fond of the work and long hours at the time, it created a strong work ethic and sense of earning my own way that is engrained in my character.
7. Which is more important when it comes to retirement: how much money you made or how you spent it during your primary earning years? What are your plans for retirement?
Ben: How I spent the money during my primary earning years to ensure that I’d have enough for retirement. I have a monthly budget, I use our company’s 401k, I save money on top of that and I have a financial advisor. I’m definitely doing what I can to ensure I have a secure retirement.
Steve: How you spend your money has far more influence on retirement than how much you make, since people tend to spend more as they earn more. It comes down to smart budgeting and spending. I’m learning that balancing act, and increasingly utilizing a 401k and other savings tools to help ensure a solid retirement strategy.
8. One of your colleagues recently posted on the FH Out Front blog that “Transgender is perhaps too small a group to target specialized marketing campaigns.” Does money drive everything in business and is this the only motivation for companies reaching out to LGBT consumers?
Ben: I don’t think money drives everything, but it drives a lot. The earning potential of our community is definitely a reason that companies are learning to reach out to LGBT consumers. I would caution, however, that it’s not the only reason. In our FH Out Front work, we describe the market as “powerful, loyal, and untapped.” “Powerful” refers to our size and sending power and “untapped” refers to the nascent engagement in our community by mainstream marketers. I think “loyal” has the most potential to change how companies view us. The idea that we’re loyal to brands that value is really attractive to companies looking to grow their business with customers they can count on to be there for the long-term.
Steve: Often, the bottom-line impact is our strongest tool for introducing a client to the LGBT consumer. Piquing a company’s interest by introducing it to our market’s expendable income can be the carrot on a string; however as communications professionals, we also need to work toward educating companies about the less-tangible returns on investment such as brand loyalty and consumer activism that are nurtured by partnering with our community. Reaching our community is more than just spending ad dollars. We’re highly sophisticated consumers and recognize companies that are fully engaged with us, including offering domestic partnership benefits and including sexual orientation in their non-discrimination hiring practices.
9. If earning money wasn’t essential would both of you do something else for work?
Ben: I’d want to work in our community in some capacity: perhaps on a gay rights initiative or some effort to promote the growing engagement of LGBT people in mainstream society.
Steve: Years ago, I might have answered that I’d go into acting, which was my career dilemma after college when I chose journalism/PR. Today, being so involved in the LGBT community and seeing the benefits and the needs of our community organizations, I would become more fully involved in community centers, especially and youth programs that provide mentoring, social services and other vital support to LGBT youth.
10. Do you see more and more companies embracing LGBT equality and how is this apparent in their corporate communications?
Ben: Definitely. I’ve noticed a growing trend of companies openly touting their high HRC Corporate Equality Index scores and a real interest on the part of other companies to be viewed positively by HRC and other organizations that represent facets of our community. I think that’s only going to grow over time.
Steve: More companies not only are marketing to us today, but they are investing in our community: supporting our issues and shaping policies that benefit LGBT employees. What’s most refreshing is that the corporate motivation increasingly is simply that it’s the right thing to do.
More about Ben Finzel and Steve Kauffman
Ben Finzel is a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and the founding co-chair of FH Out Front, the firm’s gay and lesbian communications practice. He has more than 17 years of public policy and communications experience including ten years of public relations agency experience and service as a presidential appointee in the Clinton administration. Ben lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner Mark.
Steve Kauffman is a Chicago-based public relations professional. A former journalist, his public relations career has included corporate and agency experience ranging from higher education and fine arts management to consumer marketing and corporate crisis communications. He is a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and co-chair of FH Out Front, the firm’s global gay and lesbian communications practice.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.