Ebony Pins Hopes on Redesign

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EbonymagEbony magazine, sustaining circulation and advertising losses despite injections of new blood and a new look launched in 2009, unveiled what it called a “cover-to-cover, page by page” redesign for its April issue and promised to meet the circulation figure it has guaranteed advertisers by the June issue.

Rodrigo A. Sierra, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the parent Johnson Publishing Co., also told Journal-isms that the company was close to hiring a new editor for Jet magazine, had requested proposals Friday to redesign its online presence and was hoping to revive the fabled Ebony Fashion Fair show, “though it won’t be in 2011. There is too much work to do and [we want to] do it the right way.”

In addition to helping local community groups and charities, the Ebony Fashion Fair boosted the circulation of Ebony and Jet. Those who bought a ticket received a subscription to one of the magazines, though that won’t necessarily be the case if the fair is revived.

The company suspended its fall 2009 production “in light of the overall economic challenges,” then canceled its spring 2010 show, citing the January death of the show’s 93-year-old creator, Eunice W. Johnson. However, the show was revived for a 10-city tour last month in conjunction with Macy’s department stores.

About the magazine, an announcement Friday said, “EBONY magazine has evolved for a new generation. With the goal of reaching a new generation of readers, the brand that represents the absolute best of Black America has taken it to a new level, beginning with its April 2011 issue . . .

“The top-to-bottom redesign introduces a stylish evolution of EBONY’s classic logo, four distinct and exciting new editorial departments, and a new design. The redesigned EBONY promises to entertain, inspire and inform its more than 11 million monthly readers as it highlights issues in a way that will ignite conversation and empower communities.”

‘Elevate’ section is ‘An important new pillar for the EBONY brand: Wellness and Spirituality.’

Declining circulation and advertising pages, however, suggest that many of Ebony’s problems have been on the business side.

“Ebony missed its guaranteed rate base of 1.25 million by an average of 6.5% in the second half of 2009, 10.8% in the first half of 2010 and 20.2% in the second half of 2010, according to its statements with the Audit Bureau of Circulations,” Nat Ives reported Friday for Advertising Age. The rate base is the circulation guaranteed advertisers.

“It places most of the blame on its prior circulation management, which it says it has improved by outsourcing it to circulation veterans last October. Their diagnosis found insufficient direct-mail campaigns” that failed to reach out to readers to extend their subscriptions, Ives wrote.

“If you’re not constantly reaching out and asking people to come back on, they fall off,” Sierra said in the piece.

Last year saw advertising dollars for Ebony and Jet decline more steeply than for other magazines targeting African Americans or Hispanics that are tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau. The decline was 11.2 percent for Ebony and 20.8 percent for Jet.

However, Sierra said, “We’re starting to see the turnaround” and added that when readers and advertisers “take note of the change in the look and feel” of the publication, they’ll see “that we have a real powerful story to tell advertisers.”

The redesign was chiefly the work of Amy DuBois Barnett, hired as Ebony editor-in-chief in June. Darhil Crooks, art director at Esquire, joined in January as creative director.

“This is everything from introducing an evolution of our 65-year-old logo to really taking apart every single page in the magazine and putting it back together with an eye to the brand pillars that we now think best reflect our target demographic,” Barnett told AdAge.

On the business side, Stephen Gregory Barr, the former publisher of OK magazine, is in his second week as senior vice president and group publisher. He is based in Johnson Publishing Co. offices at Radio City in Manhattan to be closer to the advertising industry.

Both report to CEO Desiree Rogers, former White House social secretary and friend of Chairman Linda Johnson Rice. Rice “is involved every step of the way” in the redesign, Sierra said.

He also said the company is making progress on its digital and social media efforts.

“It has been a progression, just like the social media outlets … but the biggest leap for ebony.com has been just in the last month,” he said.

“Through a focused effort at ensuring fresh content on the site and by tweeting and posting on [Facebook] links and messages back to the site, we went from about 150,000 weekly page views to more than 225,000 weekly page views in February.

“Similarly, we were at less than 1000 Twitter followers in August 2010 for @ebonymag. We steadily increased that month-by-month to just over 4,000 in early January. Today we crossed the 6000 followers threshold,” he said by e-mail.

Sierra said he envisions the websites as repositories for Johnson’s historic photo archives, which might provide a lucrative advertising environment.

Asked whether all the activity might mean additional jobs for journalists, he said, “Someone’s got to provide content for the website,” though he said employees would create most of it.

    •    Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune: Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers trying to breathe new life into Ebony, Jet magazines (March 6)