Their achievements did not go unnoticed by the publishing bigwigs. Having birthed an idea about an urban music publication with Quincy Jones, Time Inc. called on Clinkscales and Burnett to helm the launch of Vibe magazine in 1993. The subsequent years proved remarkable for the two as they led Vibe on a momentous run and established its unique presence in the media market. Vibe’s success illuminated the potential for other African-American focused publications and in 1999, they leveraged their expertise and brands to launch Vanguarde Media, which managed the magazines Savoy, Heart & Soul, Honey, and Impact.
Vanguarde went out of business in 2003, because the company, as Burnett puts it, “ran out of runway.” The blow didn’t slow him down. In 2004, he and Brett Wright started Uptown, a lifestyle magazine targeting affluent African-Americans. Although Burnett had gone back and forth with Vibe in those years, he left it completely in 2007 to focus on Uptown.
While Burnett was exploring with Uptown, things were looking more indefinite for Vibe. In the second half of 2008, it reported a circulation of 818,000 but by February of 2009, it announced that it would “cut its guaranteed rate base 25 percent in July to 600,000 copies” according to Folio Magazine. When Vibe executives made the announcement of its folding last fall, many reporters and industry insiders naturally turned to Burnett for insight on what happened. “It’s easy for folks to say what went wrong,” he said. “The magazine became much more narrow in its editorial focus on rap music. And with that, the audience became more narrow. Although newstands had a bump [in sales] when the magazine put certain rappers on the cover, it also narrowed the editorial perspective to the dismay of a lot of readers, who then went elsewhere for their editorial product.”
At the helm again, Burnett’s mission is to ressurect the allure of the brand and to better align the business model with
its commitment to editorial vision.”What was always precious about Vibe was the layout of the book, when budgets got cut, it was hard to maintain that certain quality,” he said, adding that its financial woes were unfortunate but “was also a blessing in that it allowed us to purchase the brand.”
Along with the new Vibe project, Burnett is making strides with Uptown; expansion to the Philadelphia and Detroit markets was recently announced. He’s also recently published a book with Andrea Hoffman called “Black Is the New Green: Marketing to Affluent African Americans.” The book, which targets niche marketing efforts to African-Americans, is a suiting venture for Burnett. After 17 years in the game and experiencing the highs and lows of the ever evolving media industry, the timing is right for this pioneer to disseminate his expertise and vision.