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Desiree Rogers, CEO Of Johnson Publishing, Honors Her Company’s History While Ushering It Into The Future
Sitting on the stage in a shock of neon green, Desiree Rogers spent her time on the “Power of Networking Panel” during Friday’s National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) 2013 National Networking Conference talking about the topic at hand (social media) as well as the company she leads (Johnson Publishing Co). Home to iconic African-American brands Ebony, Jet, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the company is just as much a part of the present and future as it is the past.
“We’re repositioning as a company that informs through the African-American experience,” Rogers said at one point.
For many people, these brands are closely associated with mothers and grandmothers, who never let their subscriptions lapse or their lipstick tube go empty. But, in a sit-down interview with MadameNoire after the panel discussion, Johnson made it clear that these are not dusty brands that should be put out to pasture. Instead, they’re evolving labels that are casting a wider net. While staying true to the audience that never forgets its African-American roots, these brands welcome everyone across the board; a bigger audiences that “wants to learn about different cultures,” Rogers added.
“We know we’re the curator of the African-American experience,” she told us. “We wouldn’t walk away from creating an authentic experience for the community. They talk to us, we listen.”
Still, a company like Fashion Fair, which started in order to accommodate models color who couldn’t find makeup shades for them, has always been about individuality and inclusion.
“We want women to be able to come to our counters and walk away with the right color. Every woman has undertones; it’s more complicated for women of color. We’re experienced with true color on every pigment,” Rogers said. And, making a little news, Rogers told us that Fashion Fair Cosmetics will have its first in-store specialty shop at Macy’s coming soon. We’ll definitely be there for that.
In addition to talk about business, we, of course, had to ask Rogers about her career. Prior to becoming CEO at Johnson Publishing, she was the White House Social Secretary during President Obama’s first term. (We had to get a little fan girl about this… Obama!!)
According to her bio in the NAPW press kit, Rogers “produced 350 events in 14 months, turning the White House into a showcase for American art and culture” while showcasing “Obama’s nontraditional vision of the White House as the ‘People’s House.’”
When asked how she made her way to the top of business — and to the White House — she echoed Russell Simmons a bit.
“The difference these days is people are doing things they’re really passionate about. You can’t fake it,” she told us.
She also gave us a three tips for transitioning from one job to the other:
-”Take your time. Don’t just jump from one job to the other. What do you want out of that next jump?”
-”Be flexible on the salary. You want a job that trains you for where you’re going.”
-”A lot of people say they want to be X without really know what that is. Sometimes you find out and you back off.”
During the panel, Rogers talked about balancing being a business leader, a mom, and having it all. The key is focusing on your personal “all,” not what you think others or society dictates that you should aspire to. And don’t be afraid to take short cuts. When her 22-year-old daughter was small, she used to lament the fact that the cookies she brought to class weren’t baked at home. “I’d say, ‘Look at all the cookies I bought!’” Rogers said to the audience. “You’ve got so many flavors.”
That room full of women executives laughed, clapped, and nodded in agreement.
ICYMI: Check out our Twitter feed for coverage from the NAPW conference.
Johnson Publishing, the company behind Ebony and Jet magazines, is making 2,000 photos in its extensive archive available to purchase. The publishing company has one million photos in its arsenal.
According to ChicagoBusiness.com, chairman Linda Johnson Rice cherry-picked the for sale photos. The images have been collected over the course of 70 years and include Diana Ross, Muhammed Ali, Sammy Davis Jr, and more.
Images start as low at $34.99 and they’re offering a 15 percent discount through this Thursday. Covers and other snapshots are also available. Could make a nice holiday gift, no?
ChicagoBusiness.com reports that Johnson Publishing is seeking new revenue streams to add to its magazines and Fashion Fair cosmetics.
We may not need more black people on TV or in magazines to validate our worth but that doesn’t mean we still wouldn’t like to see a lot more color a little bit of everywhere. Finally, a new coalition of leaders in black media is putting their money where their mouth and not just talking about the need for more images of us in television advertising, but trying to force advertisers to do so.
The New York Times reports:
BET Networks, Black Enterprise, Johnson Publishing (the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines), the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and others will join with media-buying agencies to introduce a campaign intended to educate advertisers about the importance of black media and its increasingly deep-pocketed audience.
Called #InTheBlack (using the Twitter hash tag), the campaign will begin with print advertisements in major newspapers (including The New York Times) and trade magazines like Broadcasting & Cable and Adweek. It will expand to a long-term joint effort that includes social media and direct outreach to marketers.
The Times points out the irony of so many outlets these days pushing to create Spanish-language channels, radio, TV, and print promotions due to the population shift, while simultaneously overlooking the $1.2 trillion projected buying power the black community is expected to have by 2015.
Pointing out that most advertisers figure black people will get the message anyway without being specifically targeted, Debra L. Lee, chief executive at BET Networks, said:
“Any well-developed media plan should include both [generic and targeted advertising]. Black media has a special connection to black audiences.”
Hopefully this #InTheBlack effort will penetrate the masses. It’s great to see us doing more than complaining about this well known problem. What do you think?
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While many saw Desiree Rogers’ short stint at the White House as a blemish on her career in light of the party-crashing incident, Rogers saw her leave as an opportunity to do something she really wanted to do. Since then, the former social secretary has become CEO of Johnson Publishing, working to rebuild two iconic black brands, Ebony and Jet.
In a recent interview with Businessweek, Rogers discussed the new strategy behind the publications: I wanted to make Ebony prettier and more relevant. With Jet, people would say, ‘What are you going to do to my Jet?’ We’re being very careful not to fall into a vacuum where we assume all black people want to read the same thing. That said, there are broad issues that impact the community. My daughter is 21, and she doesn’t see the world in white and black. But she wants to read about our history. She helped me think about things in a different way.”
Rogers is off to a strong start. I haven’t seen so much buzz surround Ebony in years. The redesign of the mag has caught the attention of a younger generation who had written the publication off, and new website is expected in January. Rogers also seems secure in her choice to enter the publishing world.
“Washington is like playing the Super Bowl, only there are no timeouts, no potty breaks, and the arena is filled with the media. In government, you have to learn to put yourself second in a big way. But I am a business person at heart. I like to be in charge.”
How do you think Desiree Rogers is doing so far with revitalizing Ebony and Jet?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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Ebony and Jet have been major mouthpieces for the African-American community for over 60 years. As an integral part of the black landscape, the magazines have often been seen peppered among barber shops, churches and other central institutions since the ’40s. But when John H. Johnson and his wife Eunice founded Johnson Publishing in 1945, they wanted to create “a movement” through their magazines according to Desiree Rogers, it’s current CEO. The former White House social secretary — who took the helm of Johnson Publishing in 2010 — was brought on to take that movement into the 21st century. She is already creating a new wave of success.
In the first half of this year, Ebony has seen an increase in readership of 11%, while Jet’s reach has expanded by 8%. This stellar growth is due to efforts made by Johnson Publishing management to address circulation by hiring outside consultants to increase subscriptions, and revamping the editorial staff. Both moves aim to help the brands appeal to a much younger demographic with greater spending power. But to make these expansions, the black-owned stalwart chose to accept a minority investment from JP Morgan Chase to fund these opportunities. NPR.org has more on this critical business decision:
This summer, Johnson Publishing took a crucial step—selling an equity stake to banker JP Morgan Chase. Speaking on NPR’s Tell Me More, Johnson Publishing chairwoman Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of the company’s founders, said that it was not a decision taken lightly.
“I really wanted this business to grow, and I really stopped and I thought, if we really want to expand and we want to expand Ebony and Jet and Fashion Fair Cosmetics as brands, right now we just can’t do this alone,” Rice said. “It’s too challenging of an environment.”
Rice added that the investment allows the company, which remains black-owned, to accelerate its plans. For more than a year, Johnson Publishing has been setting up a new management and editorial team, recently hiring a new editor-in-chief for Jet magazine and a new director for Ebony‘s digital operations. Additionally, there’s a new president of Fashion Fair Cosmetics, and celebrity make-up artist Sam Fine will lead efforts to create new products. Next year the company even plans to consider reviving some form of the Ebony Fashion Fair style show.
Ebony and Jet have seen a remarkable increase in their circulation over the first six months of 2011. Ebony’s readership has increased 10.9% to 1,235,865, while Jet magazine saw a 7.6% rate of growth to 820,557. This improvement comes after Johnson Publishing had decreased its promised circulation numbers to advertisers for Jet and missed previous quotas for reader guarantees for about two years for both tomes. Leaders in the advertising and publishing industry see this growth as a big win for Johnson Publishing and its CEO Desiree Rogers, who took the helm of the company about a year ago. Rogers is challenged to grow the magazine business at a time when the industry in general faces declines in advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. These 8-11% increases in circulation mark a stunning coup.
How did she do it? For Ebony magazine, Rogers employed a creative combination of input from outside circulation experts and a regenerating redesign. Ad Age reports on Rogers’ ability to grow the iconic Johnson Publishing title despite the harsh magazine business environment:
[Johnson Publishing ] 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 and prices that were occasionally more aggressive than other magazines.
“If you’re not constantly reaching out and asking people to come back on, they fall off,” said Rodrigo Sierra, senior VP-chief marketing officer at Johnson Publishing, which owns Ebony and Jet.
Last August Johnson Publishing named Desiree Rogers, the former White House social secretary, to take over as CEO, just one of several personnel changes that might play a role in Ebony’s effort to rebound.
Ebony’s latest step is the redesign from Amy DuBois Barnett, who was named editor in chief last June, and Darhil Crooks, who joined in January as creative director from Esquire, where he had been art director.
Ebony revamped every aspect of the magazine from the logo to the layout. In addition an effort was made to shift the editorial focus of the book to reflect the desires of the modern African-American audience for self-improvement and inspiration. Jet also benefited from the outsourcing of circulation management, and saw its numbers increase.
By comparison, other black magazines like XXL and Essence have seen readership declines of 22% and 2% respectively, according to Richard Prince’s Journal-isms™.
From purely casual observation, it is clear that Ebony and Jet are both featuring younger stars, and are more on the pulse of trends in African-American lifestyle and entertainment. This month’s cover features hot actress Zoe Saldana, for instance — a celebrity who is not strictly African-American — who discusses the implication of her more complicated black identity for her cover story. It’s hard to imagine the Ebony magazine of two years ago placing someone who is neither strictly “black,” nor an old-guard African-American luminary on the cover.
Clearly these risks — using hot stars and stirring a little controversy — are working out for Ebony magazine. The numbers prove it. Jet is making similar moves to remain relevant to an Internet-trained audience that craves conflict to fuel Facebook discussions, mixed with a sense of immediacy. If Johnson Publishing can continue to take editorial risks and modernize its approach to information delivery, their well-known black brands will flourish for another half-century.
This kind of longevity is sorely needed in a world where most black media is owned and controlled by mainstream companies without a direct interest in serving black audiences as part of a heart-felt service to our community.
The end of an almost 70-year legacy is upon us as the last bastion of black-owned media space known as the Johnson Publishing Company, owner of Ebony and Jet magazines, will now only be partly black-owned.
Johnson Publishing announced last week that JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s special investments group has acquired a “substantial” minority stake in the company. It is the first time in the company’s history that it will not be fully family-owned. No one should really be too surprised by the announcement considering that Johnson Publishing has been struggling in recent years with declining circulation and advertising sales. At one time Ebony and Jet averaged respectively, 1,294,824 and 900,000 in circulation. But by the end of 2010 the circulation numbers dropped to 997,173 and 703,944. Moreover, Johnson has seen a substantial revenue-drop from more than $472 million to $120 million.
The black-owned publishing company has been trying to turn itself around with structural changes such as a workforce reduction, the sale of the building that served as the company’s headquarters for four decades and the hiring of Desiree Rogers, former White House social secretary, as its CEO. And according to Richard Prince’s Journal-ism, while it has yet to be revealed how much stake JPMorgan will gain in the acquisition, Johnson is citing that it is enough to “[give] us the capital to move forward with the plans we’ve been working on.” Those plans include “rebranding” Ebony and Jet, remaking a digital platform for both publications and marketing Fashion Fair cosmetics more effectively.
It may feel like a half-mast day for some in the media world, however perhaps this investment will give Johnson Publishing the financial boost needed to navigate through the ever-changing and evolving black aesthetic. The internet has become a black hole, gobbling up what’s left of print publications. Likewise, most black readers who continue to subscribe, do so out of loyalty or some sort of romanticized sentiment of what they believed the publications stands for. Seriously, when was the last time you quoted or referenced an article in Ebony? Matter of fact, when was the last time, you actually read Jet? The reality is that the modern day black family hasn’t been supporting either publications they way that we should. And there is a reason behind that.
(Black Enterprise) — After nearly 70 years as a family-owned independent publishing firm, Johnson Publishing Co. Inc. (No. 30 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE list with $120 million in sales) announced that it sold an equity stake in the company to JPMorgan Chase’s Special Investments Group (SIG). And while the undisclosed, but certainly multi-million dollar, infusion provides the company with much-needed capital to refocus the brand, it also marks the first time the family business has taken outside investment. In an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Chairman Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of founderJohn H. and Eunice Walker Johnson, says there was no trepidation about selling a portion of the company’s equity and giving another firm a voice in the business. “We have the management control and the operational control of the business,” asserts Rice. “I believe that not only are they [JPMorgan Chase] savvy investors but I think they will be strategic partners for us.” She also stated adamantly that there are no plans to sell a controlling interest in the company.
By Alexis Garrett Stodghill
JP Morgan Chase has made a minority investment in Johnson Publishing Co., one of the last black-owned media companies in America. The publisher of the iconic magazines Ebony and Jet has decided to accept outside capital for the first time in its history to meet aggressive expansion goals. Declines in circulation, coupled with the necessity of building the company’s online presence, have made growth through a large infusion of dollars critical for the firm’s future. The Chicago Sun Times reports:
Johnson Publishing Co., publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, said JPMorgan Chase’s Special Investments Group will become an investor in the company, the first outside investor at the family-owned business. The investment “positions Johnson Publishing for continued growth,” by “providing financial resources to take our iconic Ebony and Jet magazines to the next level and accelerate our growth strategy for Fashion Fair Cosmetics,” Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of the company and daughter of its founder, said in a statement.
The Johnson Publishing Co. has an impressive 69 year history. Started in 1942 by the late founder John H. Johnson and his wife, Eunice, it remains the largest black-owned publishing house in the world. With a robust books division, the well-loved Ebony Fashion Fair showcase (that raises money for charities), and its international cosmetics brand, it makes sense that JP Morgan Chase would find this stable company worthy of receiving more capital. It is also confusing that such a well-positioned entity has not received mainstream funding sooner.
When Cathy Hughes bought her first radio station, she used everything she owned as collateral for a $1 million loan needed to make the purchase. This mogul managed her primary investment well, and grew her company to include dozens of radio stations, creating the Radio One empire. Now her corporate interests include the cable station TV One, her Internet play Interactive one, and other related media brands. To expand to this level, Hughes needed more money than she could possible have raised through any means except corporate financing. And that is she the route she went. Today, Cathy Hughes is the chairperson of her holding company, which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
It’s pretty amazing that one woman created a powerful media company with a market capitalization of almost $100 million in just a couple of decades, while Johnson Publishing Co. is just dipping its toe in the pool of outside investment after almost 80 years. This shows the importance of integrating with the larger business community. More important black companies need to take advantage of these capital markets — while retaining ultimate control. Hughes and her son, Alfred C. Liggins, III, still lead Radio One as the primary officers, ultimately making key decisions that affect how their media brands portray black America.
It’s wonderful that Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing and daughter of the founders, retains similar control. If Johnson CEO Desiree Rogers is able to use the monies provided by JP Morgan Chase well, there might still be time for this aging black conglomerate to grow its brand reach and appeal. Johnson Publishing Co. might be late to the corporate finance market, but it is still possible for the company to catch up.
(NOLA.com) — One year after leaving her job as White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers is back on the party-hosting circuit, this time with a new agenda. Rogers in August was named chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Co., owner of Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair cosmetics. As the new public face of the brands, the New Orleans native has been hosting cocktail receptions, dinner parties and events in New York, Chicago and, this week, here, clinking glasses and creating buzz for the magazines and for a new Ebony Fashion Fair retrospective clothing exhibit at Macy’s stores.
“Who knew my time at the White House would prepare me to take on this role?” said Rogers, who left Washington last February with a track record filled with both successes (the much-praised White House music series) and scandals (wannabe reality TV stars crashing a state dinner). On the phone one recent afternoon from Johnson headquarters in snowed-in Chicago, Rogers called her new position a “perfect fit.” “I enjoy business and the creative process involved in the magazines and, of course, the social aspect. And I’m getting to do it with my best friend.” Johnson Publishing, the nation’s largest African-American-owned media company, was founded by John Johnson in 1942. His daughter and Rogers’ friend, Linda Johnson Rice, is chairwoman.