The rules of publishing for African-Americans have changed, and those changes have affected the relationship between advertisers and magazines, says Samir A. Husni, a professor of journalism at University of Mississippi and author of "Samir Husni's Guide to New Consumer Magazines 2000."
Mr. Husni points to the recent joint venture between Essence Communications and Time Inc. and says it was made to solidify relations between Essence and its corporate advertisers.
While Essence and Time Inc. won't discuss specifics, Barbara Britton, VP-national advertising sales director for Essence, says the company's goal is to create initiatives involving new media, magazine launches and entertainment targeting people of African descent from "around the globe."
"Magazine publishers have learned that they can't exist in just one medium anymore," Mr. Husni says. "A magazine, especially for a niche publication like Essence or [Vanguarde Media's] Honey . . . has to travel to campuses, appear on television, go out to nightclubs and have a general omnipresent aura about it."
SEEN AS UNTAPPED MARKET
At the same time, an increasing number of advertisers are seeking unconventional ways to reach African-American women because of their growing spending power and the view that they make many of a household's spending decisions, Mr. Husni says.
"African-American women still represent an untapped market," he says. "In terms of thinking of the 10 best black women's magazine, strictly speaking, it's hard to name more than three. Look, it took 30 years for Honey to challenge Essence. There's not much more out there."
Essence has been expanding its marketing menu beyond the traditional beauty and haircare products -- the foundation of its advertising support -- to include financial services, pharmaceutical companies and carmakers. According to Publisher's Information Bureau, Essence ad pages through September were 883.77, up 8.6% over '99. The publication has a circulation of 1,009,263 for the period ending June 30, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Essence has been expanding its offerings to include a direct-mail catalog that can be accessed from its Web site; a travel club; CD compilations. In addition, it runs print ads inviting readers to call a toll-free number to learn more about its line of Essence Eyewear available via Creative Optics.
Two of the publication's top franchises include "The Essence Music Festival," an annual event in July and "Essence Awards," an annual TV awards show that airs on Fox TV. American Express Corp., AT&T Corp., L'Oreal's Soft Sheen, Ford Motor Co. sponsor both events.
The music festival attracts title sponsor, Coca-Cola Co., along with Nokia and General Motors Corp. Essence executives hope to sign Microsoft Corp., already an awards show sponsor. A print and outdoor campaign breaks in February for the festival.
Essence also conducts a tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities with advertisers such as Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical and Unilever's Dove soap.
"Since we have these different arms -- we have the magazine, the television show, the tours, the events -- we look for the marketing program that's going to tie the advertiser into that," Ms. Britton says.
Johnson Publishing Co., which publishes Ebony and Jet, offers a 700,000 rate base, and its readers include men as well as women. In March, Ebony's special woman's issue brings in additional advertising from household products marketer Procter & Gamble Co. In general sampling at specific conferences allows advertisers to reach specific groups of readers, says Dennis Boston, senior VP and Midwest advertising director.
Monthly Sister 2 Sister also sponsors high-profile events, but its sponsors don't necessarily run ads in the publication.
"When we first started going after corporate sponsors the last few years, all the agencies were saying that big companies want more creative ways of reaching our audience than just appearing in the pages of the magazines," says Randy Brown, advertising director for Sister. He's not complaining.
The publication's "Divas Without Attitude" event attracts major advertisers including Fannie Mae Foundation and Blockbuster Entertainment Group. Ford corporate and Prudential Insurance Co. of America underwrite Sister's "Intergenerational Celebration," an event that brings together professional women in Maryland.
"More and more in multicultural marketing we are finding that events are very attractive in both the African-American and Hispanic community," says Sandra Nicholls, corporate advertising supervisor at Ford Motor Co. Ford corporate and Ford division "are tending to sponsor more events and [sometimes] incorporate workshops. We are going into the communities. That is a very effective way to advertise, even though we also use print and broadcast."
High-profile advertiser status conveys a considerable degree of brand legitimacy for a magazine that reaches only 120,806 paid subscribers, says Mr. Husni. At the same time, by sponsoring a high-profile event that caters to a select group of the magazine's audience, these companies get to tap a difficult to reach market without a major realignment of its ad budget.
Vanguarde Media Inc.'s Honey counts about 325 ad pages this year, but doesn't host major concert events. It works with advertisers to stage impromptu sampling programs at nightclubs and colleges, says Leonard E. Burnett Jr., publisher of Honey. It relaunched at the beginning of the year with an increased frequency from quarterly to nine times a year. It will publish 10 times in 2001 with a rate base of 250,000. It has applied for Audit Bureau of Circulation verification.
Advertisers tends to favor Honey because it has its ear closer to the ground on the trends for young black women, age 18 to 34, says Jarard Harris, VP at Prism Marketing & Communications, New York.
"Honey is newer, hungrier, scrappier," Mr. Harris says.
"Someone at Vanguarde will call up and say that we're doing a record release party and ask if we can use some of the product samples we've allocated to them," says Erica Edwards, brand manager for Posner Cosmetics. "You can call it guerrilla marketing in a sense, but we have a media partner who understands our audience, has a fresh attitude and allows us to reach young women of color more effectively."
In May, Vanguarde bought Heart & Soul from Black Entertainment Holdings. Its frequency increases from six times a year to 10 in 2001. It has a 300,000 rate base and also has applied for ABC verification.
"The reason Heart & Soul was a good buy for us is that it allows us to capture a complete spectrum of black women, and therefore it serves to complement Honey," Mr. Burnett says. Heart & Soul skews slightly older, 25 to 54, than Honey.
"Nobody beats a path to anybody's door in this business," says Ms. Britton. "What you try to do is find the right ad mixture that will reflect the reader's life."