Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Resident Housewife


“She” is a fairly common word at ESSENCE magazine. So is “Her.” Spend one day in our boardroom, and I guarantee that you will hear at least one editor talk about this elusive female figure: what She wants, how She feels, what problems are plaguing Her.

Ok, so when I put it like that, it sounds like we have an in-house, whiny housewife. But She isn’t. Everything that the editors do at ESSENCE, they do for Her. She is our reader.

I’m not going to lie, when I first got to ESSENCE, I thought it was a little odd to speak as if our audience was one single woman. Weren’t we a national business with millions of readers? How could we condense our aforementioned millions of readers into one person?

(Ha. Silly Taylor. You have so much to learn about the magazine industry.)

One of the main things that ESSENCE prides itself on is its ability to connect with its readers. As an African-American publication, we have a very specific niche that we write for. For that reason, I’ve found, readers feel a deep sense of connection with the brand.

Case in point: On one of my first days of work, I was opening reader mail. Most were story pitches, but I stumbled across one letter that almost brought me to tears (which is really saying something. I mean, I barely cried at The Notebook. I’m basically heartless). A woman was writing to share her struggle with self-acceptance. She said that she had always thought that she was ugly, and she listed everything about herself that she didn’t like. She went on to say that her 85-year-old mother now was having those same inner struggles. She asked that ESSENCE help she and her mother feel beautiful.

It was almost as if she was writing to a friend. On the day that she sat down and typed that letter, she wasn’t writing to a national publication. Shoot, the letter wasn’t even written to one editor in particular. The envelope was addressed to ESSENCE, as if the magazine was a trusted girlfriend.

It was in that moment that I understood what distinguished a good publication from a great one. I guess, as a magazine aficionado, I had always understood it, but I could never really put my finger on it. And that differentiation is a magazine’s ability to connect with its readers.

Sure, you can write the most captivating, entertaining pieces in the world. You can have the hottest starlet on the cover of a magazine. But what does any of that matter if you’re missing that personal aspect? That message that sticks with your readers long after they’ve finished reading the latest issue?

So yeah, hearing my editors talk about “She” and “Her” took some getting used to (and a conscious grammatical effort on my part), but in the end, I’ve concluded that it really isn’t that weird. I mean, when She is coming to us with Her most personal problems, it’s only fair that we reciprocate that friendship, right?

—Taylor Lewis, ESSENCE Magazine, University of Kansas

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