Essence of the Deal

What does time inc.'s takeover mean forthe popular black women's magazine?

and a corporate giant. In fact,

Lewis had said that Essence would benefit from a reduction in production costs, increased exposure, and access to myriad divisions under the Time Warner umbrella, which includes titles such as Money, Fortune, People, and InStyle.

But within two years, the alliance created internal strife within the corridors of ECP. A number of Essence employees, in areas such as sales, marketing and research, were replaced with Time Inc. employees in what had been characterized as housecleaning after the 2001 Essence Music Festival. Clearly, the most damaging rift, inside sources told BE, was the one between the two founders on strategic and management issues. Smith, who had served as a CEO of Essence Entertainment and oversaw the music festival, awards show and website, had become increasingly resistant to the influence of Time Warner. In 2002, Smith resigned, but sources said that he was removed as part of “the slow takeover of Essence” that would take place within three years. Smith’s departure brought to a close one of the longest-running entrepreneurial partnerships in black business. (See “Essence of a Breakup” in the archives.) Smith declined to comment for this article.

Under the new structure, Lewis will serve as nonexecutive chairman. Group Publisher Michelle Ebanks, a Time Inc. veteran, will take the helm of ECP as its president. Editorial Director Susan Taylor, the face of Essence, will continue in her role as chief visionary for the magazine. While both Lewis and Ebanks declined to comment for this article, an Essence spokesperson told BE that “African American women should maintain their confidence that Essence will remain true to them because there will be no change in the editorial voice of the magazine. Essence will remain focused on our mission to inspire and empower African American women.”

Despite the top management changes at Essence, Time Inc.’s McAniff says all parties will basically continue to perform the same duties. “[Ebanks, who came to Essence from Time Warner in 2001], really was running the day-to-day as it was,” she maintains. “So we’re just making it more official. [Lewis] couldn’t have the title of executive CEO anymore because Time Inc. has a CEO. But he’s very much going to be a presence at the [Essence Music Festival].” In his capacity, McAniff, says Lewis will continue to promote the Essence brand to advertisers and professional organizations at industry and marketing events.

While concerns abound about the shift in the editorial vision, McAniff assures that Essence and Suede magazine readers as well as participants of Essence events won’t notice any differences, insisting that “all of our magazines have to maintain [their] staffs to do their own thing.”

Some longtime readers of Essence, however, remain skeptical. “I think it matters in the sense that Essence is no longer black-owned, which is one of the appeals of it,” says Angela Polk, a 32-year-old attorney from Bowie, Maryland, and Essence subscriber. “I won’t know until new issues come out whether the direction of the magazine has changed.”

One area where

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