Before the year is out, an hour-long special (currently in production) on the making of the calendar will air on TV One, a cable channel that targets African-American households. The effort is an example of how 63-year-old Johnson Publishing Co., which publishes Jet and Ebony magazines, is aiming to better connect not only with readers, but also with advertisers.
What advertisers want
"No advertiser wants to advertise in print only anymore. Advertisers want opportunities that are customized for them," said Gail Porter, director of the Ebony/Jet Entertainment Group. "It's about finding out what their needs are and who they are trying to reach and adding new entertainment and content components. They want multiplatform proposals -- print and online, webisodes and TV specials."
The branded-entertainment deals are put together by Ms. Porter, who heads the newly-created group, and Kenard Gibbs, who left his position as president of Vibe Magazine and joined Johnson Publishing as publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines eight months ago. When Mr. Gibbs came on board, he noted the "untapped potential" for branded-entertainment deals with the two iconic print brands.
After eight months on the job, Mr. Gibbs said his challenges are the "digital landscape" and the need to find a readership beyond the print world.
"The print world is shrinking," Mr. Gibbs said. "Our younger readers are more apt to be online or watching TV. We have to maneuver and to position our brands to be where those eyeballs are."
Content and distribution
"There is a transformation afoot in the way consumers are consuming our product," he added. "We have to transform ourselves into truly being more of a content provider. We're going to have to aggregate content. We are going to have to devote more resources to original content and we're going to have to leverage that content into solid distribution partnerships."
Although both Ms. Porter and Mr. Gibbs admit they are just at the beginning of where they want to take the venerable print brands, several recent projects serve as signposts to where they want to go.
"This is all just the beginning," Ms. Porter said. "We haven't even been around for a year. We wanted to get things under our belt, so we could go to advertisers and say instead of just doing a special, let's do a reality show."
This month, Ebony kicked off its first content partnership with TV One, which is backed by Comcast and urban radio network Radio One.
On Feb. 17, the channel aired an hour-long documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world's largest traveling fashion show that visits venues in African-American communities 200 days a year and has raised $50 million for charity since its inception. The show will also air several more times before the end of the month. American Airlines is the main sponsor behind the special.
Another effort is "Soul Influencers," a campaign with VH1 Soul that runs through February and is part of a number of Black History Month efforts at the cable music channel. The one-minute segments -- featuring archival footage of interviews with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Tina Turner --– serve as promos to drive viewers to the combined websites of the print publications.
"Part of the way we need to reintroduce people to what we do know is to reach out to them in places where they are," said Ms. Porter. "We can only do so much in print."
Ms. Porter said other projects are in development, including a possible film festival that would aim to support young African-American filmmakers.