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Essence has become an events powerhouse with the success of its annual Essence Awards and Essence Music Festival, and now Essence Communications is poised to expand further.

The company is contemplating a similar awards program for Latina, a magazine it launched two years ago targeting young Hispanic women, said Essence Communications Chairman-CEO Ed Lewis.

"We'd like to do the same thing in the Hispanic community eventually -- it's something we are considering," Mr. Lewis said.

This year's 12th annual Essence Awards show airs June 2 on Fox; the fifth annual Essence Music Festival is expected to break attendance records July 2-4 in New Orleans.

6O% WOMEN, 40% MEN

Although Essence targets women, the awards and music festival events capture an upscale-trending audience of 60% women and 40% men, say the magazine's publishers. That's a highly sought mix for sponsors.

Beyond merely showing good will to the African-American community, sponsors of the Essence Awards say the event is a potent way to reach an audience of increasingly successful, affluent young black women and men who have grown up with Essence.

"Young African-Americans between 25 and 34 who are just starting out with jobs and families are one of the most important, growing audiences for us, and we work hard at reaching out to them beyond the walls of our stores. The chance to be part of an event, and to advertise directly to this group, is very valuable to us," said Wynn Watkins, director of public relations for J.C. Penney Co., which has been a major sponsor of the Essence Awards since 1992.


Launched as small-scale event in Los Angeles in 1987, the Essence Awards were televised for the first time in 1992. Major sponsors now also include American Express Co., AT&T Corp., DaimlerChrysler, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Pepsi-Cola Co., Revlon and Toyota Motor Sales USA. Each is represented on-site at the awards show, taped before an audience of more than 7,000 in New York in April; sponsorship packages also include advertising on the broadcast and in the magazine. The key to the event is its role in reinforcing success and helping young African-Americans network with one another, Mr. Lewis said.

"Everyone is interested in young, successful African-Americans, whose influence is increasingly being felt in the mainstream culture in music like hip-hop and apparel, with new designers actually influencing mainstream styles," Mr. Lewis said.

Honorees at this year's awards include the founders of hip-hop apparel company Fubu, comedian Chris Rock, Grammy-winning singer Lauryn Hill, and a 14-year-old AIDS sufferer and activist.

"Success takes more than a couple of generations to begin reinforcing itself, and we're starting to see the children of very successful African-Americans as they grow up and take a bigger role in the business world, in sports, entertainment and in community service -- Essence has been part of that," said Clarence Smith, president of Essence Communications.


In addition to the awards show, several sponsors participated in "Essence Week" during the days leading up to the actual awards presentation in April. AT&T hosted "Online Is Ontime," a panel discussion among 150 African-American college students. MSNBC Internet analyst Omar Wassow served as emcee of that event, which featured several other black leaders in the online world.

For the sixth consecutive year, Pepsi sponsored the Pepsi-Essence Youth Award prior to the awards event, inviting African-American students to compete in a talent show that awarded $500 prizes in four categories.


"We've been inspired by the spirit of Essence's awards recognizing people who are making a difference to do our own awards, giving kids an incentive to compete in vocal, musical, oratory and community service categories," said Kenetta Bailey, a Pepsi senior marketing manager concentrating in urban and ethnic marketing.

Pepsi plans to expand its Pepsi-Essence awards to other cities beyond New York as early as next year.

Johnson & Johnson, another longtime Essence Awards sponsor, said the magazine has become an important element in African-American culture. Although the publication targets women, "a number of men read it and its influence is felt throughout the community in areas from self-esteem to spirituality," said Nancy Lane, a Johnson & Johnson VP.

Essence also is drawing marketers to its annual Essence Music Festival, where Coca-Cola Co. is a sponsor, along with Anheuser-Busch, General Mills and several others. Essence is still in negotiations with potential sponsors in additional categories and this year expects to add a sponsor in the financial services and cosmetics arenas, said Barbara Britton, VP-advertising director of the magazine.


The festival, offering music across a broad spectrum from mainstream to rock 'n' roll, blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz, includes headline performers Lauryn Hill, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin and Art Kelly, among dozens of others. Three main stage acts each night will be accompanied simultaneously by entertainment in four other venues called "Super Lounges," each with a capacity for 2,000 audience members.

"We've found that people want to be able to rove around and choose the kind of music they want to hear and mingle and sample different things -- giving them a chance to create their own experience within the event," Ms. Britton said.

More than 200,000 are expected to attend, each paying admission prices ranging

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