The first of his working-class Liverpool family to attend college, Josh Fletcher felt out of place as a young gay man without many clear examples for a viable path forward.
“I felt pretty invisible in advertising and media growing up, and when I moved to London, this began to really affect me,” said Fletcher. “For the first time in my life, I really struggled with my sexuality as I didn’t fit into any of the boxes I could see around me.”
At the time, Fletcher said, gay representation was rife with stereotypes. Shirtless white boys covered magazines, and anyone who didn’t conform was left out. Fletcher began working as a freelance writer, hoping to change perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community through storytelling. In 2016, he co-founded the gay culture magazine Hiskind with Dean Eastmond, a 20-year-old wunderkind who tragically died from a rare bone and tissue cancer mere months after the periodical’s launch.
“My whole personal and professional life was flipped upside down as I tried to rationalize what had happened,” Fletcher said.
Eastmond’s death set what Fletcher called a “fire” that inspired him to continue with the mission, and the upstart magazine went on to secure brand partnerships with Absolut, Amazon and Sonos.
While launching a new outlet was a challenge, joining a legacy gay media empire and updating it for the 21st century was a whole other hurdle.
Fletcher joined the 45-year-old Gay Times in 2018 as a consultant to reposition the British LGBTQ+ magazine for more diverse audiences and expand its work with brands. In January 2020, he was promoted to executive creative director, overseeing its full-service in-house agency GTX, which was dedicated to authentically queer campaigns and accomplished such by employing LGBTQ+ creatives.
“The success of LGBTQ+ campaigns can come down to nuance,” said Fletcher. “It’s really important that brands work closely with minority creatives, strategists or producers who really understand what resonates with these audiences.”
Fletcher’s early mistake was “not trusting my own perspective in fear of disrupting the status quo, especially when it comes to status or hierarchy in a meeting room,” he said. He recalled times when he’d sit in meetings with directors and managers who “so often presented problematic campaigns or were outright offensive with their LGBTQ+ ideas.”
“When I started out, I naively assumed that everyone would care as much as I did,” said Fletcher. But not everyone is “as passionate or dedicated to the work.” He adapted by collaborating with those working at other organizations or on other teams to make engaging projects for stakeholders.
How He Got the Gig
Turns out a squeaky wheel does get the grease. “I actively campaigned about the problems with LGBTQ+ media and advertising, so much so that the chairman of Gay Times invited me for coffee, and we began looking at ways that I could help the organization grow during its reposition,” said Fletcher. He started working with the magazine on its branded content and repositioning, and three years later, he’s in charge of an entire agency.
“Don’t be afraid to push your clients or brand,” advised Fletcher. “If everything feels easy or comfortable, then you’re probably not being as bold or as brave as the world needs you to be.”