Month of the Man: Uptown Publisher Talks Black Buying Power and Brand-Building Boss Moves

Leonard Burnett leads movement to show other side of diversity coin

Leonard Burnett Jr., Co-CEO and group publisher, Uptown Media Group (Image: File)

This month, BlackEnterprise.com presents Month of the Man, where we bring you career features tailored for male leaders of color all over the world.

Leonard E. Burnett Jr., co-CEO and group publisher at Uptown Media Group and VIBE Lifestyle Network, did what many innovators do: He spotted a void in the market and decided to fill it. Uptown, as a lifestyle brand, caters to the affluent, professional of color, often one who works to earn and enjoy the best out of life—one of many in the African American community with a buying power set to reach more than $1.1 trillion by 2015.

But what’s unique is that he’s been able to lead the expansion of publications into brands and help change the perception of urban communities of color in terms of socioeconomic and cultural influence. In a world where being black can be defined by a plethora of experiences, yet blanket stereotypes oftentimes prevail, Burnett seeks to continue showcasing a different side of the coin.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Burnett to talk career success, the global perception of urban culture and his advice for other young publishing bosses in the making.

BlackEnterprise.com: You’ve been in the business for more than 20 years. What led you to venture into publishing?

Burnett: Out of college, my partners and I both decided to be entrepreneurs and moved to New York together. We looked at several different ventures, but only one we could afford to get into at the time— 1988—was publishing because of the [accessibility and price of the] technology. We were concerned that the media didn’t portray or address needs of a particular segment of people of color and urban communities.

It’s important from a media perspective because far too often the views that advertisers and agencies have is one-dimensional and are from perceptions that don’t apply across our entire community. Our goal is to provide a platform that allows them to peer inside and participate with our audience and a brand that our audience trusts and has an emotional connection with.

Talk a bit about transforming the view of the urban market and community? Why is this important and what steps are you taking to continue to do that?

Back in the day, it was important because what was portrayed in the news was oftentimes a monolithic portrayal. So, that really drove our passion to show all facets of our communities. We’re not just one group… We’re diverse in ethnicities, ideologies, likes and dislikes. We’ve been able to work with various brands and companies to help shape the perception and the views for advertisers, to help them understand we’re diverse. We actually drive cultural trends and consumption of goods worldwide. People of color have a popular and valuable say when it comes to being trendsetters, and more often than not, there are more people who look like us around the world who are creators and innovators of culture and entertainment, which can drive buying and consumption.

What’s the coolest part of your job that motivates you to keep doing what you do every day?

It’s really working with great people. They’re considered more like friends and family. Also, the idea of knowing that you’re making a difference in chronicling and portraying our culture is amazing. It’s gratifying to know that we have an influence in how we’re portrayed. I enjoy being an entrepreneur and working for myself—just being able to create a business from scratch and give young men and women of color the opportunity to be involved in media professionally.

With the advent of blogging and digital accessibility, there are many young bosses becoming publishers. What advice would you have for them?

You want to be in the business of providing content to a specific audience across all platforms of media. Clearly define and know who’s your target audience. [Having a] niche and being focused is [important.] And lastly, love what you do and aspire to be the best at what you do. You have to have an extreme passion for it.

Check out more from our special Month of the Man features, tailored just for male leaders of color, here.

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