So What Do You Do, Harriette Cole, Editor, Author and Media Coach?

Harriette-Cole-ArticleWords to Harriette Cole are the canvas of expression. She wants to see them used beautifully, sparingly and, probably just a smidge above all, responsibly. “I tell every one of my clients: show me rather than tell me. Whether you’re talking to the media or your staff or your boss,” she coaches, “when you can bring an image to life through your words, people listen.” Twenty years as a writer and editor — starting with a stint on Capitol Hill — and an A-list roster for her business baby, Harriette Cole Media, which includes media coaching services, symbolize her knowledge. But the accumulation of the knowledge itself is her greatest achievement.

When she was younger, modeling changed her world. Tall and slender with braids and glasses, Cole discovered the blessing of being sample size. But the marriage of her two passions (writing and fashion) ushered her into a world of editorial privilege at two of the most iconic brands in African-American media. Her professional purpose now, says Cole — former fashion editor at Essence and editor-in-chief of Ebony — is to inspire folks to step into their greatness and be their best, similar to that thunderbolt of confidence she got from her seasons of strolling the runway. “I have figured out lots of different ways to do that, from telling stories to helping people with the way they present themselves,” she says.

Here, she talks reinvention and grooming public figures to be media-ready.


Name: Harriette Cole
Position: Writer, author, advice columnist and media trainer
Resume: Immediately out of college, worked on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Barbara Boxer. Hired by Essence magazine as assistant editor in the home department and eventually promoted to editor of section. Transitioned to a fashion editor position. Contacted by book publishers Henry Holt and Company and invited to write a book on African-inspired weddings, leading to the bestseller, Jumping the Broom; author of seven books in total. Left Essence in 1995 to launch a media company, now called Harriette Cole Media. Served as founding editorial director for Uptown magazine. Led the redesign of Ebony magazine as creative director and, later, editor-in-chief for the new iteration. Host of The Root Live series. Writer of “Sense and Sensitivity” column for 15 years and frequent on-air contributor to the Today show.
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Education: Graduated with a BA in English from Howard University
Marital status: Married to fashion photographer George Chinsee for 21 years
Media mentor: Susan Taylor, former editor of Essence
Best career advice received: “Hire people who are at least as smart or smarter than you. If you don’t, you’ll only get to be as good as the weakest link on your team,” told to her by John Beck, a financial entrepreneur, when Cole was starting her business in 1995.
Last book read: Firebird, by Misty Copeland, who is Cole’s friend.
Guilty pleasure: Fashion and shopping
Twitter handle: @harriettecole


How did you land the job at Essence?
In college, I was a model. Howard [University] did these huge fashion shows, so I was scouted to go to Europe when I graduated. I didn’t have the same level of comfort in modeling as I did in writing. I had written about fashion for the Hilltop, the school newspaper, and the only thing I knew enough about was fashion. There were no internships in liberal arts, so I created them at two free papers in Washington, D.C. I convinced them to let me write about fashion and gave myself a year to collect a body of clips. When that milestone got close, I reached out to two women I’d stayed in touch with from school who worked at magazines and asked if they knew of any job openings. They both did, one position at Fairchild Publications [now Fairchild Fashion Media] and another at Essence. I was offered both, but I took the job at Essence.