This progress must be traceable at least in part to Essence, a magazine created for and focused on the multi-faceted African-American woman.
Essence Communications, Inc., (ECI) launched its flagship magazine Essence in May 1970 with a US circulation around 50,000. Sharing newsstand space with Ebony, Jet and Sepia (a photojournalist magazine that is no longer in circulation), Essence aimed to stand out as glossy, definitive, original and bold.
Thirty-five years later, Essence boasts a monthly circulation of 1.6 million and a readership of 7 million in the US. The magazine was groomed under the helm of editor-in-chief, Susan L. Taylor, who became almost as synonymous with the Essence brand as the company insignia was. In 2003, the publication was recognized for "magazine excellence" and ranked seventh on Advertising Age's A-List, the first time an African-American publication had ever received the honor.
ECI (co-founded by Clarence O. Smith and Edward Lewis in 1968) has managed to create a forceful brand through many other highly successful companies and licensing ventures besides Essence magazine. ECI became so attractive that Time Inc., (a subsidiary of Time Warner) purchased 49 percent of it in 2000. But it was only in March of 2005 that Time Warner became the majority owner of the ECI venture, buying up the remainder 51 percent in a deal reported to be worth US$ 170 million.
The firm's brand power includes ancillary businesses such as a music festival in association with Coca-Cola, the website and the Essence Awards, which honor the exceptional achievements of African-American men and women. The ECI Licensing division includes Essence Hosiery, Essence Eyewear, Essence by Mail apparel catalogue, and Essence Books.
Although some long-time readers of the magazine are reported to have mixed feelings about the Time Inc. buyout, what is clear is that Essence is a brand of tremendous potential. It has both the history and the credibility to "own" the market on black focused product and entertainment.
Of course with a major buyout, internal changes have evolved: Clarence O. Smith, the co-founder of the enterprise, is stepping aside to allow Michelle Ebanks to become the new president of ECI. (Smith has the new title of "Co-founder and President Emeritus" on the publication masthead.) Also, Diane Weathers, the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine resigned in late March of this year, stating that she wanted to "spend more time with her family."
ECI meanwhile launched a fashion and beauty magazine in September 2004 called, Suede, claiming that it was inspired by "young, multicultural, urban fashionistas." For vague reasons, this magazine is currently on hiatus.
Like any successful venture, ECI has taken risks with the Essence brand but has clearly had more hits than misses. The magazine has outlasted some of its contemporary competitors including Vanguarde Media titles, Savoy, Honey and Heart and Soul. However, competition for the coveted 8 to 34 year old female African-American reader is still strong with challengers like Today's Black Woman, Upscale and Hype Hair, and even among the overall women's magazine market where Essence competes with titles like Elle, Jane, Self, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.
Essence's approach to the fulfillment of the African-American woman through publications, entertainment festivals, even hosiery and eyewear have achieved new heights for an exclusive brand. As one of the first ventures to recognize black women as mainstay consumers with enormous power, it can now reap the rewards.