For Michael Gibson and Willard Jackson everything they needed was in place.
Seven decades as a vanguard for the African American community? Check.
A media company equipped with the staff and management they wanted? Check.
Positioning to take advantage of emerging digital platforms for growth? Check.
So when their company, the Austin, Tex.-based Clear View Group LLC acquired EBONY Magazine, EBONY.com, and JETMag.com in May, the decision was a no-brainer.
“EBONY’s always been a part of our families, so it had always been an attraction,” said Gibson, 59, who serves as board chair of the new Ebony Media company. “But this opportunity was introduced to us…and it didn’t take us very long to make the decision that this was something unique, it’s the most iconic image in the African American community and it’s a platform that we think is really important for us and all of our community.”
Last week Johnson Publishing Company, which had published EBONY since 1945 and JET since 1951, announced the acquisition for an undisclosed amount by Clear View, a firm formed by Gibson and Jackson in 2015 that specializes in private equity acquisitions, according to its website. Ebony Media is its first foray into print and digital publishing. The two partners each hold a 50 percent stake in the company.
The acquisition of the EBONY properties by Clear View also keeps it in African American hands as it expects to add staffing companies, media and transportation to its portfolio Gibson said.
“It’s important to point out that we view our strength as raising capital and networking and really bringing other opportunities to the table for our portfolio company.”
The intention all along was to acquire a company with an existing management team that could move Clear View’s goals forward, the partners say.
“We are not the operators of these different companies,” said Gibson, who is managing partner of Advantis Certified Staffing Solutions. “They’ll continue to be operated by the management teams that run the companies.”
To begin with, Linda Johnson Rice, who served as Chairman of Johnson Publishing company will sit on the board of Ebony Media as Chairman Emeritus. Cheryl Mayberry McKissack serves as the CEO of the new company and Kyra Kyles, who led the company’s digital operation before, takes over as EBONY’s Editor-in-Chief and SVP Digital Editorial.
But Clear View is looking for the new company to transform into what they hope will be a “multimedia platform,” that includes the existing print and digital operations as well as the possibility of expanded digital space and even broadcast as well.
“We see bringing additional programs, activations, events, content…to further satisfy what we think is a need out there for African American content,” said Jackson, 52, Clear View’s vice-chairman and also board chairman and CEO of Offisol, a management consulting and staffing company which he founded. “Whether it’s healthcare or education related, we want to offer different ways to provide content to the existing readership. We see really expanding the digital platform.”
But that’s challenging in an age where competition for African American readership and content consumption is so fierce. For much of EBONY’s existence, the magazine was the only one in the marketplace targeted at Blacks. In 2016, the choices – print and digital — for readers are virtually endless.
Jackson, however says the company has one significant advantage.
“We’re the number one African American brand in the world,” he explained. “It’s the power of the brand that we think sets us apart from all those other sites and digital platforms. We also start off with a very loyal following, readership who has been following EBONY Magazine since its inception. With those two components, it sets us apart.”
The partners say that because the publications will remain in African American hands means that they can continue be an authentic voice for the Black community, but that also means an expansion of that voice.
Gibson said he and Jackson feel Ebony Media is in a good place to grow, despite any challenges.
“We have a reach of over 1.25 million subscribers a month, that’s more than any other (Black targeted) magazine that’s out there,” he said. He also said expanding on events like EBONY’s Power 100, strengthening both websites and adding more will help with profitability. “So it’s certainly something that’s already there that we can build on.”
Madison J. Gray is Managing Editor of EBONY.com and JETMag.com. Follow him on Twitter @madisonjgray.