Eden Bridgeman Sklenar is the Company Owner and CEO of EBONY Media, the company behind the iconic EBONY and JET brands. Under her ownership and vision, EBONY Media Group is focused on maintaining the company’s cherished legacy while building new divisions that will transform the brand in the current digital era.
In this episode, your host Sherry Peak sits down with Eden to talk about taking over the business, rebranding, and taking EBONY Media into the future.
The following #podcast is intended only for listeners who are intent on growing the business. Welcome to Innovate Marketing, where we are bringing you interviews with those that are making waves in the world of marketing, branding and business growth. We are brought to you by MyPodcast.Media. If you're wondering how podcasting can help you unleash your marketing strategy, visit MyPodcast.Media. And now I'd like to introduce you to your host for Innovate Marketing, Sherry Peak.
Sherry Peak (host) 0:41
Welcome to innovate Marketing. Today, our guest is Eden Bridgeman Sklenar, CEO of ebony Media Group.
John H Johnson founded EBONY Magazine in 1945 and Jet in 1951. According to Johnson's Publisher's Statement from 1975, EBONY was founded to provide positive images for blacks in a world of negative images and non-images. It was founded to project all dimensions of the black personality in a world saturated with sterotypes.
Sherry Peak (host) 1:21
Eden, welcome to the show today.
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 1:24
Hello, hello, thank you so much for having me.
Sherry Peak (host) 1:27
Oh, you're very welcome. We are so excited that you're able to join us today. And I am really looking forward to having this conversation. And I'm sure I'm gonna get many of my questions answered that have kind of just been looming over the years during our time together today. So Eden, let's get right into it. First of all, we're talking about the Ebony Media Group, which includes the Ebony and Jet brands, correct?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 1:52
They do. Yes.
Sherry Peak (host) 1:53
Okay. Now, I was just thinking as we were getting prepared for this interview, where does the thought of or even the notion come from, hey, you know, I am going to become the CEO of one or two of the most iconic brands, when it comes to magazine, media publications,
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 2:15
I would say one must be a crazy thought, because most people that's not what you're waking up say, you know what today I think I'd like to be CEO of two of the most iconic brands ever created. But nonetheless, I have the privilege of being able to be CEO, and I definitely don't take it lightly. The notion that my family, I think like most you would hope that maybe you could be a Jet beauty of the week or have your picture in the pages of Ebony in some fashion, but the idea to be at the helm stewarding this legacy into the future is something that I walk humbly with.
Sherry Peak (host) 3:01
So what was it about the brand Ebony, about the brand Jet that encouraged you or enticed you or inspired you to pursue these brands?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 3:15
Well, if first started with, like so many, you know, individuals like myself, who had to sit what felt like hours upon hours underneath the hairdryer at the beauty salon to get those, you know, cute pin curls for Easter, or whatever the occasion might have been. That was my first introduction to Ebony and Jet, being able to flip through those magazines. And what was sadly not reflected in other media or on TV was shown the beauty of individuals that look like me that I could see and be inspired by their stories and their triumphs and shared struggles of what it means to be an African American. And so that idea of what it did to inspire me to see my own beauty to see the possibilities that people were paving the way for me to hopefully have a easier rise to success based upon their hard work. That was what drew me to these brands and the the opportunity... I mean, you don't get these opportunities every day. And so, my family, we made the conscious decision, although our family background as far as business wasn't in media, but we felt that these brands could not be dormant and they couldn't just be in any hands to to tell our stories and continue the legacy and so we decided to pursue them when they suddenly went into bankruptcy in 2020. And we're fortunate enough to come out on top in January 2021. And take the idea of inspiration that these pages bestowed upon our family and reintroduce them into the marketplace to continue to inspire, and show upward mobility for people of color, not just here in the US, but around the world, and that we do everything as others do, but but being able to continue to show our excellence is something that I wanted to make sure was at our forefront now each and every day.
Sherry Peak (host) 5:31
That's awesome, because I remember growing up also, Eden, and these two magazine publications were a staple in our home, as well as like you said, the beauty shops or places that we would go and frequently visit. Coffee table conversations, many of those were around the content that we found in those magazines. So going back to 2020. I know, as a nation, we experienced a lot of things, I'll say that. And there's a need for unity for us to reunite as people, no matter the culture, no matter the demographics. And I believe, even as it was when I was growing up Ebony and Jet Set in a space where they could help bring people together. Is that still part of the mission of the rebrand and the republishing of these magazines today?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 6:21
Absolutely, we say that Ebony and Jet chronicled the American history kind of what was happening, what was moving, not just for people that were African American or from the diaspora. But the idea if you wanted to know what was happening, just everyday life with people, you could connect with the stories within Ebony and Jet. We all want to create generational wealth, we all want to be seen, we all want to live a full and fulfilled life. And that's not something that is only for a certain audience, but for everyone to be able to read and digest and learn and be inspired from. And so although we specifically speak to a certain audience, we also want to make sure that we are marketing ourselves for all to not only love our culture, but love us as well.
Sherry Peak (host) 7:22
You're a little over halfway through your first year as a CEO. Do you feel like you've settled into your new appointment?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 7:30
I think so. Yeah, I think I've been fortunate enough, although not necessarily in various CEO roles, but to have had to lead in various aspects of my family's business. And so because we have always adopted the idea of servant leadership, where the CEO or the senior leadership team is at the bottom, and our guests or customers at the top, that allows me to settle in much easier because I'm the least important person at Ebony and at Jet at this present moment, servicing our audience, making sure that people have that same connection that generations previously had to these brands are fulfilled each and every day is what I'm focused in on. So for me, yes, being at the the top from a decision-making standpoint, I think I've settled in quite nicely. But I humbly sit at the bottom within our organization.
Sherry Peak (host) 8:35
That's wonderful to hear, because I too, am a servant leader. And I've so value customer service. In what you're saying, going back to decisions, because you mentioned decisions, I can only imagine the undertaking that it has been for you to acquire these brands and to set a new path in a sense for them. What has been one of the most difficult decisions that you've had to make since taken on the reins as a CEO.
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 9:01
You know, I think the most difficult is allowing us to really be in "startup" mentality when we took over. I mean, most people when they are able to acquire a business aren't acquiring over 76 years of rich history that you can quickly go into this business and to do this and so for me, the hardest decision has just been to allow us to take each day as it comes and focus in there instead of trying to create you know, the Ebony Winery or the Ebony credit card which are all options that the minute the news broke that we acquired the brands people started calling and saying, we want to partner with you to do this. We want to partner with you to do that. Which gets really exciting because you know all of these items are possibilities if we have the right, the right employee base and the right teams and the right vision to see them come alive. But we had to start from ground zero, sadly, when we took over all previous employees had been furloughed, because of the pandemic. So we started day one with one employee, and then was able to get the second employee and build the workforce, truly as any starting business would be. Although we have one of the most recognizable brands around the world, that is having the duality of we are a complete startup, but a 76 year old startup. And so that's, I'd say, been the hardest decision, I think I've had the most fun being able to imagine the possibilities around these brands that I can go anywhere in the world and say Ebony or Jet, and people know that they have a connection to them in ways that I didn't even understand. And so that's the fun that I get to to dream about and put the right business plan around. But there's still the challenge of operating in the now with the resources that we have while we're in such an amazing growth moment for our company.
Sherry Peak (host) 11:22
Now given Ebony's 70 plus years of history, have you in your team approach reinvigorating the excitement of longtime fans like myself?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 11:33
Well, I would say, leaning into what has been part of the pillars and what people still recognize are recognizable aspects of Ebony. The idea that we were quickly able to get back into the marketplace by launching digital experiences around these covers. Ebony has had iconic covers through the decades showcasing some of the most recognizable African Americans to also challenging us with headlines on those covers, saying what was happening in today, the world and what you were going to be reading in the magazine. So coming off of our our February kind of love letter, essentially to our audience, showcasing the multitalented Jonathan Majors on our cover was again tapping into what made ebony Ebony previously, but doing it in a more future forward way, the motion covered that very much Ebony has been the leader on since we have been able to bring back the brands in the marketplace. And then being able to connect someone that individuals may have known but really didn't know who Jonathan Majors was. So we have the honor to be able to tell more of his story, especially at this present moment that he is one of the hottest tickets, you know, around but starring in the latest Marvel Ant Man to a number of other projects that we will be able to enjoy with him on the silver screen, that being able to connect someone that is relevant today for our younger audience, connect with them in a way that they enjoy more the video-first content, but also the storytelling of what makes Jonathan mangers more than just a talented actor, but as a human being and the challenges and the triumphs that he's been able to have in his short life thus-far. So those are some of the ways that we are looking to continue that storytelling, continue that dynamic imagery, and connecting individuals within our audience to those that they can be inspired by.
Sherry Peak (host) 14:01
That's awesome. And let me say I did see the February cover.
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 14:06
You're welcome. I will say you're welcome!
Sherry Peak (host) 14:09
I did see the February cover and it was truly iconic in itself. And I could see the brand continuing just with the cover. So I'm gonna leave it right there, Eden. So okay, so So let's talk a little bit more about your marketing strategy and the different generations because I'm of a particular generation, you know, and so I'm glad to hear that the younger generations, I'll say, are going to be considered and pulling them forward in the vision and the story of the rebrand of ebony. So when you think about that younger generation, what are some of the tools or what are some of the strategies that you'll be using to kind of help bring them along?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 14:58
Well number one, we have to continue our foundation building around having a digital technology-first company. The idea that we have to find ways to connect with our audience where they are, so whether that's on Tik Tok and other social media platforms, through our newsletters, especially around experiential- we know that the younger generation wants to go and tangibly experience what brands say that they are, this is how we show up and how do I feel about that. If you say you're environmentally friendly, but you're doing things from an experiential that don't align with that, generations coming up, are very vocal around that. So we are looking to make sure we're connecting with them authentically, where they want to be and allowing them to have a voice with us already. So many times, brands will wait until individuals either reach a certain level of influence, a level of financial influence especially ,to then begin to engage. And we want to meet the younger generation where they are because they are our future. They're the reason why ebony will continue for years and years to come. And we can't ignore their hopes and their desires and what moves them. But we also can't look at it as we're only speaking to them. We've had a brand that is cross generational. The fact that what made it great was that it showcased everyone in the sense of the idea, you could see families, you could see beautiful women, you could see beautiful men in all different aspects of their life. Whether they were vacationing and going to Martha's Vineyard. Whether they were moving up the corporate ladder. Those promotions, those are the things that matter, no matter the age that you are, everyone wants to be seen, they want to feel that their voice is heard. And Ebony has to find ways to allow those voices to not only rise, but but also to celebrate the diversity in those voices as well.
Sherry Peak (host) 17:17
So that speaks to the future growth and sustainability of the brand. And how you could foresee that moving forward. I want to move to talking about philanthropic efforts. So I know early on in our conversation, you mentioned servant leadership. And I know a lot of that is tied to philanthropy. So I want to ask you, how are you leveraging the brand to support his philanthropic efforts?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 17:47
Well, number one, I think it's the content showcasing what's happening, what are ways for individuals to create impact in their own communities and who's actually leading the charge. I'd say Ebony Power 100, which is our annual kind of tentpole moment where we celebrate the years class of individuals in various categories who we feel moved black forward and when we mean that is that individuals are able to make the table bigger, wider, and create more seats at this table that we're all trying to move closer to to have our opportunity to sit at the table. And within that we use our platform around activism and philanthropic; those that are ingrained in the communities around the world but I'll say specifically here in the US, that are making differences that are affecting individuals lives each and every day. And for Ebony, we can't just talk about celebrity and talk about entertainment. That very much is is a large part of but even with that so many entertainers and so many celebrities, do philanthropic work every single day. They have their own charities, their own foundations. Highlighting them and showcasing, they're more than just ... whether it's athletes on their kind of medium, whether it's on the basketball court or the football field to those that our modeling or whatever it is that we are celebrating more than their celebrity, that they do a lot of philanthropic work as well and how are ways for ebony to partner with them to move their agendas forward so that more individuals can have impact into their lives.
Sherry Peak (host) 19:51
And I absolutely love that because what that allows us to do is like you said, get past that person as a celebrity. Get past that person beyond the stardom and just kind of really tap in to who they are on a deeper level and what their concerns are, and where their heart really lies. So I love that also. And I think Ebony is going to be a great resource to help highlight the work of those that they serve and that they're interested in. Because I come from the nonprofit world Eden, and so I know that, you know, there's always a need for in the community. And there's always a need to have resources infused in the community. And this is a great way to help elevate those platforms as well, as you mentioned. So, Eden, let's talk a little bit about the future. What does the future hold for Eden?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 20:40
Hopefully, world domination through Ebony and Jet, that's goal Number One, I will say! But no, in seriousness, I would say that the future for where I hope to be in five years, 10, you know, is more living in this purpose that I have found myself now at which is amplifying voices of individuals that, for generations, have never had the the opportunities to really have their voices heard in a very authentic way. And so yes, having Ebony and Jet. But we know that these brands can't service everything; you can't go to them for everything. So it's on me and for my team to find more ways for more diversity of voices and more ways for us to amplify that so that everyone feels that they are heard. And not just heard, but understood as who they are in an individual. And authentically looked at as people not for "oh, well I just want to target you know, 18 to 40 and within the African American community" and kind of checking off the very high level demographics, but more so what's happening in Louisville, Kentucky, which is where I reside. Or what's happening in various parts of the country that may not get the same type of shine, because they're not in New York, or they're not in Los Angeles. But those individuals have voices that we should hear from. And so for me, living in that purpose of amplifying those voices, and doing it authentically, is what I hope the future for myself continues to be.
Sherry Peak (host) 22:34
I love that. I really love that. So Eden, let's tell people how they can connect with you beyond our time together here today.
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 22:45
Well, first, hopefully everyone goes to Ebony.com and subscribes for our newsletter, follows us on all social media platforms, and really makes ebony part of their every day. That's what our focus says moving forward is to create an ecosystem that allows you to respond to the brands in any moments of your day, whether you're listening to content via audio, whether it's reading articles, and going to experiential offerings, just really ingraining Ebony in your every day. But even for myself, and I tell people, I love to get messages from individuals of what they're liking, what they'd like to see more from. So reaching out to me whether it's on Instagram. LinkedIn, is one way. And also, we are looking to continue to build a diverse team of individuals that want to work on these brands and see them continue to rise to their prominence. So if you're looking for a new opportunity, we absolutely would love to engage with you and bring the best in as we're making these brands the best that they can be,
Sherry Peak (host) 24:01
What would be your final thoughts you would leave with our listening audience, just on a variety of things that we've talked about today?
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 24:11
I think that I can be a a representation of, if you have that dream, or if you think that "well, my background didn't necessarily have the typical way of what people see for getting into any industry," use my story as an example. Although I've had an amazing career in business, my career was not in media. But I sit now as CEO and owner of two of the most iconic brands and it can be something that is realized for you. It just comes down to that work ethic and also the guts to go after it and being able to take that leap and understand that you can't leap alone. So having that group of individuals that you can lean on and help you get to your next career path is something that I hope my story can continue to showcase for others that it's not just me, it can also be you.
Sherry Peak (host) 25:21
Eden, thank you so much for your time with us today. We really appreciate learning from you and having a chance to speak with you and learn more about the Ebony Media Group and the great work that you and your team are doing with that.
EDEN BRIDGEMAN SKLENAR 25:34
No, thank you so much. This was such an honor to speak with you.
Sherry Peak (host) 25:52
My take away from the conversation with Eden would be that when you serve others, you're better serving yourself. And then also, I thought she shared a lot of inspiring content. I love what she said - she wanted to leave people about the dream, you know, and that it is possible and that, you know, that wasn't her background, but it's something that she took on and she's doing it. And she's being very inclusive about it as well. And we have to. I know that in all the work that we do, we have a target market or we have a particular focus, but we can't forget to include others that are coming and surrounding us in this work. So I liked her message. It was it was pretty, it was pretty interesting. I really enjoyed it. Now friends, that's all that we have for you today. So we encourage you to go and subscribe to the newsletter as she's indicated the website above that, you can do that. And until next time, friends, please stay safe and be great.
That brings us to the close of this edition of Innovative Marketing. We're glad you tuned in. Innovate marketing is brought to you by MyPodcast.Media. MyPodcast.Media produces podcasts for brands, influencers and nonprofits. Find us online at https://MyPodcast.Media. Your producer for innovative marketing is Beth freed. Executive producer Shawn Neal, and your host is Sherry Peak. We'll see you next time. Be sure to tune in.