Back to black: shea moisture co-founder acquires Essence magazine

Hair and body care entrepreneur, Richelieu Dennis announced the acquisition of Essence magazine.

With the business venture, Dennis turns the iconic publication that is one of a handful of black-focused print magazines, back to 100 percent black ownership.

Dennis, co-founder of popular brand, Shea Moisture, bought Essence magazine from Time, Inc. which recently sold itself to Meredith Corp. a media conglomerate backed by the Koch Brothers.

In November, Dennis sold Sundial Brands, the parent company of Shea Moisture to Unilever. As part of the deal, Unilever agreed to invest $50 million in New Voices Fund, an initiative funding women of color entrepreneurs.

Richelou released a statement saying:

“We remain committed to leveraging our resources to provide opportunities for other culturally-rooted entrepreneurs and businesses that further our culture and create economic opportunities for our communities,” Dennis says.

Currently, Michelle Ebanks is president of Essence. According to Okay Africa, Ebanks will remain in the leadership role, as well, the all-female executive team acquired equity in the company as part of the deal.

Power Moves

In 2005, Time Inc. bought Essence magazine from Essence Communications Partners (ECP) for an estimated $170 million, a move that concerned many in black publishing, as print publications centering African-Americans (and especially women) or black-owned dwindled in record numbers. As well, CEO’s like Earl Graves of Black Enterprise magazine voiced concern that ECP did not allow black entrepreneurs the options to explore a deal.

Founded by three men, Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth, and Jonathan Blount, Essence magazine became a stalwart in black media. At the height of distribution, Essence magazine grew to 7.5 million readers.

Added, and more successful than the magazine is the Essence Fest, an annual multi-day celebration fusing entertainment, lifestyle and travel around African-American women. Now there is an Essence Fest in Essence Communications owns the Essence Fest; however, it has been hosted by Time Inc for years and sponsored by Coca Cola.

To date, the Essence Fest has become an important event for black entrepreneurs and authors to launch products and ventures, as the big party brings in 450,000 to New Orleans.

After Time Warner’s acquisition, Essence became a shadow of its former self. Readers began to see a noticeable shift. The magazine shrunk and subscriptions decreased. For staff, full-time writers were replaced by a bevy of freelancers.

More over, the production of less stories and content reflected a larger issue in print media losing ad revenue to the fast-expanding online publications. To remain competitive and accommodate a growing millennial audience, Essence shifted much of its focus to online content. In the long run, Time hoped that revenue from online advertisement would offset its overhead costs of print. It did not.

Power of Black Media

Already, Dennis knows the power of black media.

Last year, Shea Moisture, a Liberian-American venture, fell under social media critique when it launched a campaign that some of the company’s faithful consumers thought to disregard its base. Dennis went on a public relations campaign to apologize for their faux pas.

In the latest acquisition of Essence, Dennis sees Essence grown. He says, “Our focus here will be on ensuring that Essence reaches its full potential via heightened capabilities, technology, products and touch points that super-serve the interests of Black women locally and globally. We look forward to helping generate new opportunities that create more value across the ESSENCE portfolio with unmatched content, commerce and international access for the millions of women it serves, as well as exceptional value for our advertising partners and content creators.”

Here is a video of Dennis, father to daughters, talks about spending time with this children.

Real Smooth Man: Richelieu Dennis from SheaMoisture on Vimeo.

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