Lesley Pinckney on bringing ‘Essence’ into new terrain

The SVP-executive strategy director of Omnicom's GMR Marketing reflects on taking the iconic magazine to the digital realm

Published On
Feb 05, 2021

Editor's Pick

As our Black History Month program celebrating creative excellence in the community continues, Lesley Pinckney, who currently serves as SVP-executive strategy director at Omnicom’s global experiential agency GMR Marketing, reflects back on her days as Lesley headshotgeneral manager at “Essence,” when she helped take the iconic magazine brand into the digital realm.

This week’s guest editor, Walton Isaacson CEO and co-founder Aaron Walton says, “Digital brilliance often means speaking a language few can understand, but Lesley is a born communicator. The ability to make creative impact by transforming data into insights and metrics into meaning is just one of her superpowers. Fearless, fun and focused on growth, Lesley is a disruptor in the best sense of the word.”

In the crazy days when magazines still ruled, I had the opportunity to take one of the most beloved brands in the Black community into the digital space. After a consultancy with the magazine I was made the general manager of a joint venture and tasked with bringing the iconic "Essence" brand digital. The brief was simple—how do we empower, excite, and entertain black women, with an eye on capturing a younger audience?

My job was to lead the vision, architecture, user experience, digital development and revenue strategy. We had an innovative and passionate team of "Essence" staff and Warner Brothers Television group support to execute the vision.
The hardest part of the job was convincing magazine people that although digital feels like print, the creation and consumption on digital platforms is very different. Change is always hard and at that moment everyone was screaming the death of magazines which made the stakes seem even higher for people who had grown up dreaming to write for magazines.
But the challenges of this project paled in comparison to the pride, joy and feelings of accomplishment that I still have when I go to Essence.com. I learned that sometimes it’s less about what you know, but how people experience your knowledge. I learned how to build a business and a brand, the role definitely opened a lot of doors and introduced me to an incredible network of Black executives.
As a Black woman in advertising, rarely do you get briefs where the goal is to make Black women happy so I still feel lucky that I had the opportunity to spend five years of my career with that as my mandate.


Feb 05, 2021
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