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Since I posted the request for marketing advice for Essence Magazine’s new editor-in-chief, there were some interesting responses.  But before I get to those, some further thoughts.

First, Essence has to take a page not just from New York Magazine or Fast Company, but from The Atlantic.  As chronicled on PaidContent, the changes made at The Atlantic under Justin Smith [former president of Atlantic Media] were not just to editorial, but to the idea of “what a media company is and how it should be run.”

In the last few years, Smith has turned on money taps not just for digital news but anywhere he could find them — a growing events business, ebooks, consulting and so on. Now, according to President Scott Havens, the company is also planning to leverage the Atlantic brand for e-commerce and education. . .

And this is what Smith understands so well about building a media company today: the challenge is not print vs digital or about paywalls, but about using brand power to grab revenue wherever you can.

What’s required is a big vision for what Essence can be.  While most of the people who responded followed the direction of the New York Times article and focused on the brand’s identity problem, that seems to be only one piece of the puzzle, especially in the wake of reading Paid Content article.  Here’s what the marketers had to say:

On appealing to younger readers, Renee Foster of Renegade PR suggested: “The Essence brand could really use an array of grassroots-style marketing to young women of color in major markets to jumpstart an exciting word of mouth campaign. Not the Essence festival model, but a real integration of trends, topical issues, fashion & beauty that is accessible to young black women.”

The corollary about relevant content came up multiple times.  As Brad Horowitz, SVP, Elite Marketing Group suggested: “They need to associate themselves with content, brands and celebrities that are relevant to millennials.” R. Jerome China, CEO of The Anarchy Group, echoed that by saying, “I would suggest paying attention, listening to your customer base and giving them the relevant content they desire.”

Improving the experiential feel of the site could help immensely.  Jon Cropper, Global Media & Brand Advisor, offered the following: “In a video age, ALL interviews conducted must have a video camera in the room to capture truly USEFUL, more diverse and global, aspirational content for viral distribution and populating social media networks. Create a simple training program for all editors to learn how to shoot a professional looking video, preferably with their phone. Essence video J-Schools on college campuses could fuel a user generated, AA woman themed, Essence-branded video blog network. This strategy could create more viewers that the magazine’s overall circulation at low cost.”  (Side note: One of the my favorite online destinations is AleimCheck out how they leverage both text and video.  Dope, right?)

What’s the new story Essence is going to tell?  Indy Neogy, Chief Scanner at UK innovation shop KILN, submitted this: “To rebuild the Essence brand, they need to find a new vision for Essence, a new story of what purpose Essence serves.  (Story in the sense of my colleague Kate Hammer’s great StoryFORMS tool).  Essence used to be a voice for and a voice of African-American women in a white dominated media market. That was a reason and purpose in itself. In the modern age of identity fragmentation, this doesn’t have the same critical mass of meaning or readers that it used to.  Admit that your old story doesn’t have the same relevance now and find a new one.  Create a story that connects to, and brings value to, the younger as well as older audience.”

New business opportunities abound, as suggested by Kevin Brockenbrough, VP/Associate Director, Account Planning at Burrell Advertising: “Do a joint venture with Black Enterprise to develop a publication that targets Black businesswomen. That’s a market that’s growing but woefully under-served. And both pubs (BE and Essence) would benefit from the other’s strengths.”

So two things at play here: The first is content.  From some early moves (outreach to readers, Google hangouts, etc.) Vanessa seems to be heading in the right direction on this front.  The second, and in some ways more exciting area, is an expanded business model that positions Essence as a 21st century B2B resource (events, consulting, consumer intelligence, etc.)

Now that’s a conversation I’d love to be part of.  Reach out to me, Vanessa, and let’s talk!

Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.

  • Vanessa Bush

    Hello Rob,
    First of all, thank you for asking the question! We are willing and open to hearing new ideas. I appreciate the comments above, and will take them to heart as we work to reinvent the brand.
    Thanks again,
    Vanessa K. Bush