When it comes to online investing, E*TRADE has been the company to break down barriers.  Once again, E*TRADE forged new ground as it partnered with Hill and Knowlton to reach out to the gay and lesbian community to increase usage and awareness of  E*TRADE services and brand. 


Following counsel from Hill and Knowlton, E*TRADE underwrote a comprehensive research project targeted to the gay and lesbian community to determine what services they want from a financial company and how much do they differ from the mainstream. Other insights included a more detailed understanding of demographics, the buying/spending patterns, investing habits, etc. This information provided the foundation for a multi-faceted campaign.



  • Increase the visibility and brand awareness of E*TRADE within the gay and lesbian community in three targeted cities: New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco  
  • Assist in preparing a crisis plan, anticipating a variety of scenarios and responses to the campaign


Hill and Knowlton combined research, public relations and community outreach to raise visibility and awareness in efforts to drive account acquisition. This multi-faceted approach included:

  • Community events sponsorship  
  • Employee communications  
  • Media outreach  
  • Original E*TRADE-branded events  
  • Development of other strategic partnerships


While all of the senior officers at the company were supportive of this targeted campaign as part of their overall marketing efforts, E*TRADE had previously experienced some customer backlash due to its perceived support of the gay and lesbian community. This backlash came about as a result of E*TRADE’s former president and chief operating officer making a generous, and very public, donation to support efforts to fight an anti-gay ballot initiative in California.  This issue was ultimately addressed by preparing a crisis plan for review by all E*TRADE employees.


Hill and Knowlton implemented a variety of community events and media outreach activities on behalf of E*TRADE. 

Community Launch Events: “E*TRADE Evenings”

Understanding that developing relationships with local and national organizations was the key to both increasing exposure and creating lasting ties in the gay and lesbian community, Hill and Knowlton developed “An E*TRADE Evening” events, “coming out” parties which took place in each of the three targeted cities.

In partnership with local and national gay and lesbian organizations, the cocktail parties raised funds for the New York Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in LA and the Community Center Project of San Francisco; as well as raising visibility and awareness for E*TRADE among the gay and lesbian community members who attended, or were invited to, these events. The events were consistent in theme and message across cities, but each had its own regional flavor. 

E*TRADE employees volunteered their time for these events, providing wireless demonstrations and providing information about the company. A Take One form was also distributed to all attendees, which would provide a donation to the benefiting organization in each city with the setup of each new E*TRADE account.

Community Events: Sponsorships

The research commissioned by E*TRADE (on Hill & Knowlton’s counsel) showed that, of gay men and lesbians surveyed, 90 percent would turn to an online broker that visibly supports the gay and lesbian community. 

To most effectively leverage that knowledge, Hill & Knowlton utilized its existing relationships with several local and national gay and lesbian organizations, and forged strategic new ones, to secure mutually beneficial partnerships for special events and ongoing promotions for E*TRADE. All of these events attract a high-end crowd who fit E*TRADE’s targeted demographic.

The first E*TRADE-sponsored event as part of this effort was sponsorship of the San Francisco (3,000 attendees) and Los Angeles (2,000 attendees) Macy’s Passport HIV/AIDS fundraising events. E*TRADE followed this with a sponsorship of the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) National Dinner (1,000 attendees), and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Fairness Awards in Los Angeles (350 attendees).

E*TRADE wrapped up the calendar year by sponsoring the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Anniversary Ball (1,500 attendees) and Divine Design (20,000 attendees), a fundraiser for Project Angel Food in Los Angeles. 

Employee Communications

Hill and Knowlton counseled E*TRADE to utilize H&K’s employee communications offering in order to best prepare customer service associates for questions related to the company’s gay and lesbian outreach efforts. Hill and Knowlton’s employee communications team developed a sensitivity training module, in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a national gay and lesbian organization.  A computer-based training module was developed as well. 

Hill and Knowlton also developed comprehensive issues management (crisis) plan for client for preparedness for positive and negative feedback based on gay and lesbian campaign efforts.

Media Outreach

Hill and Knowlton, in collaboration with E*TRADE’s public relations department, developed key media messages specific to the gay and lesbian outreach campaign. In addition, we developed a house in order news release, highlighting E*TRADE’s non-discrimination policy, as well as its offering of domestic partner benefits to its employees and the creation of an employee gay and lesbian advisory group. Hill & Knowlton worked in partnership with partner organizations to draft releases announcing E*TRADE’s support of the Macy’s Passport events, as well as its strategic partnership with PlanetOut. Hill & Knowlton distributed these to the gay and lesbian media.

Strategic Counsel

In addition to Hill & Knowlton’s day-to-day counsel, we also served in consulting role for client – in coordination with client’s advertising agency – on development of print advertising campaign and direct mail development.

Online Outreach

Hill and Knowlton provided counsel to E*TRADE as they negotiated strategic partnership with PlanetOut, the leading gay and lesbian web portal. This partnership will include online promotions, event partnerships and also add credibility to E*TRADE within the gay and lesbian community.

We’ve also continued to work closely with appropriate personnel at PlanetOut to develop additional promotions and enhanced media relations for both companies.


1.  While the budget did not accommodate a baseline awareness survey, due to increased visibility in the three target markets, three times the amount of normal sponsorship requests were received by E*TRADE.  In addition, E*TRADE has been nominated for several community awards based on their increased involvement in the community.  Key messages were delivered directly at community and sponsorship events to a combined total of approximately 28,450 attendees.

2. Approximately 800 E*TRADE employees underwent the diversity and sensitivity training. Overall, employees found the training to be very effective and critical to their ability to insure customer satisfaction. The majority of evaluations reflected an authoritative understanding of not only how but also why E*TRADE planned to initiate the Gay and Lesbian Affinity Marketing Plan. The training was viewed as practical and timely by most of the associates who completed the online session. In response to open-ended questions about the training, employees stated, “I am happy that E*TRADE is working to increase it’s customer base.” And, “I would like to commend the company for preparing us for the upcoming event since it might not have been obvious what the appropriate procedure would have been.” 

Special Note:  
E*TRADE was approached by the Rainbow Endowment which, after hearing about the committment E*TRADE had made to the gay and lesbian community, was interested in pursuing a partnership.  The Rainbow Endowment is a charitable fund which provides grants to a range of organizations, both local and national, that serve the gay and lesbian community.