Focus Groups Helped With the Early Success of Essence

Essence has been in circulation for over four decades and was under some controversy nine years ago when founder Edward Lewis sold the remaining shares of the company to Time Inc. In his new book, The Man from Essence: Creating a Magazine for Black Women, Lewis discusses how the magazine became one of the leading publications for black women. Lewis spoke with Mediabistro and discussed the early days of Essence and the state of black media today.

Lewis credits focus groups with contributing to the magazine’s early success — these voices helped with everything from what appeared in its pages to the name (Sapphire was quickly rejected). Several years later, Lewis turned to former editor-in-chief Susan Taylor to speak to its target audience face-to-face:

I said, ‘I want you to travel the country, listen to what black women have to say, bring that back and translate that into the magazine.’ Susan became an icon. People thought she started the magazine. She got so many ideas from traveling.

To read more about the history of Essence and how Lewis helped launch Latina magazine, read: So What Do You Do, Edward Lewis, Founder of Essence Magazine?