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Essence Eyes Festival to Forge More Subscribers

Time Inc.'s Essence magazine hopes next year to leverage its ticket sales efforts for the annual “Coca-Cola Presents the Essence Music Festival” to generate more subscriptions from its audience of African-American women.

The three-day festival includes cultural celebrations, seminars and performances by African-American artists. The aim is to offer an Essence subscription to consumers who call in to buy tickets for the festival.

“The idea is that it's just another point of contact for subscription sales with our target audience,” said Michelle Ebanks, president of Time Inc.-owned Essence Communications Inc., New York.

A 35-year-old lifestyle magazine that Time Inc. fully acquired in March, Essence publishes monthly with a guaranteed rate base of 1,050,000. The magazine claims 6.8 percent of the nation's 14.2 million African-American women buy it. But like every publisher, Essence would prefer its readers commit to a subscription, alleviating pressure to meet its rate base.

Bundling subscriptions with the festival ticket sales may work. For example, tickets fluctuate from $40 to $300, depending on the events. By contrast, the majority of Essence magazine acquisition subscription offers are a year's issues for $18.96 or 18 issues for $18. The deeper discount is for the longer reader commitment.

The bundled offer is still being worked out, but the subscription will be included in the price of the festival ticket.

Ticketmaster handles both inbound calls and online sales for the festival. Online accounts for 30 percent of ticket sales, the ticket window 33 percent, and the rest is from telephone and outlet sales.

The festival celebrated its 11th appearance this July, held as always in New Orleans, a venue that will change because of the recent hurricanes. About 122,000 tickets were sold, with 232,000 people attending the free and paid events.

“This is such a rich pool of our audience to draw from,” Ebanks said.

The July festival included trade shows with sponsors like Kraft Foods, McDonald's Corp., General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, Coca-Cola and HBO displaying new products, services or models. There were book signings by the academic Cornel West and former NBA superstar Magic Johnson, and speakers and ministers participated. Artists performed in the evenings.

The festival is one of many assets under the Essence brand. The magazine has a site at www.essence.com and a licensing division for eyewear and books. It has a Woman Who Are Shaping the World Leadership Summit, with the second event held Oct. 21 in New York.

Most recently, Essence made public findings from a study called “Window on Our Women II: How African-American Women Define Success.” This tool educates advertising, marketing and media decision makers as well as researchers and educators on African-American women.

And then there is Essence's first designer showhouse in a brownstone in Harlem. Called Homecoming, the house opened to the public Oct. 9. The property comprises two single-floor apartments and one duplex that were restored to Essence's taste and style.

“It enabled us to deepen our relationship with our core advertisers like Wal-Mart, General Mills, Colgate, Verizon Wireless and McDonald's, but then to reach out to those who would not be traditional advertisers — HGTV and Hunter-Douglas,” Ebanks said.

Such initiatives persuaded not just HGTV and Hunter-Douglas, but also Wachovia, Kmart, Victoria's Secret, Mazda, AARP and Sprint to begin advertising this year in Essence magazine.

The bottom line is to ensure readers continue their attachment to a brand. For that, Essence must market continually to its base. The magazine is promoted in the Black Voices Channel on AOL, a media property in the Time Warner Inc. family. Consumers can subscribe through that venue. Essence.com and a monthly online Essence newsletter to 85,000 opted-in subscribers also plug subscription offers.

Newsstand is equally important for Essence, with sell-through in the first half at more than 43 percent. Inserts with different offers are included in newsstand copies.

But direct mail remains the workhorse for subscription acquisitions and renewals. There are four drops a year, each about 800,000 pieces. Essence also leverages the lists of the National Association of Black MBAs, NAACP, Urban League and the National Baptist Convention. The mail pieces include mailers as well as vouchers, segmented by the source of the mailing effort.

“Direct mail is popular for us and insert cards also do very well for us, both in our subscription copies and newsstand,” Ebanks said.

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