As the ESSENCE brand approaches its 55th birthday, ESSENCE Ventures VP of communications Alex Ebanks talks with Doug Simon about the important historical role the brand has played.

"It's something that I remember on my grandmother's coffee table growing up, and it was really the first time that I saw a representation of me, in a physical way, outside of just family members and friends," Ebanks says. "I always knew that there's that trusted resource of the ESSENCE magazine that I could go to."

As time has moved on, ESSENCE has become much more than just a magazine. Its many activities include the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, which marks its 30th year in 2024, a legacy brand that "31 million black people call home" and “Time of Essence,” a five-part documentary series that aired on OWN in August of 2023 and is now streaming on Max. The documentary takes a decade-by-decade look at ESSENCE's history.

But Ebanks also takes a look toward the brand's future. The projects she is working on include ESSENCE Communications, Inc.; Afropunk, a global festival; Beautycon, a brand that ESSENCE revived last year, and ESSENCE Studios, the brand's production arm.

One of the most important issues Ebanks faces is how to increase diversity in the workplace. She outlines several solutions. One is to "pull someone else up" by expanding the pool of applicants and increasing opportunities. "The other way is, look around at how to pull together the best work. Just my personal experience has been the best work comes when you have the most diverse voices in the room."

For job candidates from diverse backgrounds, her top piece of advice is to network. "I think every job that I've gotten to this day has been based on a connection that I've made. Just stay in top of people's mindset. And I think the other one that I always tell people is make sure that wherever you meet someone, it could be at a networking event, it could be walking down the street is that they have the best, they leave that experience with the best experience they could possibly have had with you."

Ebanks stresses that diversity should also be a big consideration when clients are hunting for a potential agency. "When I really look at narrowing down a partner that I want to bring in, I really do look at not only just ethnicity, but also their backgrounds to see how that will then pull through in the work."

She also sresses letting people see all of who you are when you are trying to make those connections. "One of my favorite quotes, an anonymous person said it, but it's don't tell people your dreams, show them. And really, if you have something that you're really passionate about, show it. It really gives a sneak peek behind what you're interested in."

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