Harriette Cole has magnetic appeal. Hers is a soothing, authentic presence that puts people at ease. If she's on a morning show's panel of experts, she won't be the expert clamoring for screen time, but will be the one whose advice resonates deeply with viewers.
Speaking to Cole by phone recently seemed like chatting with a trusted friend. Cole telephoned the South Florida Times from her New York office, and the conversation flowed easily as she talked divinity, a life-defining dream she had 20 years ago, and what it means to be a member of the Ebony family.
The author, life coach and editor-in-chief/creative director of the nation's oldest African-American publication will share some of her secrets to success as the keynote speaker on Friday, May 21. The Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce's Business Empowerment Networking Series, Marketing and Brand Development, will take place at Jungle Island in Miami.
“Ms. Cole is one of the nation’s leading authorities in brand and image development,” said Bill Diggs, president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to enhance opportunities for black-owned businesses. “She has practical experience in the field and we are honored that she would come and spend a half day with the small businesses in Miami.”
Brought on as creative director of Ebony magazine three years ago, Cole was elevated last year to acting editor-in-chief of the nearly 65-year-old magazine that is owned and operated by the legendary Johnson Publishing family.
Founder John Johnson died in 2005; his wife Eunice died earlier this year. Daughter Linda Johnson Rice is now at the helm of the Chicago-based empire, which also includes Jet magazine, Fashion Fair cosmetics and the fashion show of the same name. The Ebony Fashion Fair continued for 50 years until it was canceled last year due to a lack of corporate sponsorship attributed to the recession, according to news reports.
Working with the esteemed family is “quite an honor,” Cole said. “It’s wonderful to be able to be part of a product that has consistently celebrated African Americans and told our stories…We work very hard with a small team to be as conscientious as possible to hold on to our legacy and to make sure at the same time we’re pushing the ball forward.”
Moving forward while also maintaining the magazine’s legacy in an uncertain economy has been a challenge, and Ebony has been working hard to rise to it.
Early last year, Johnson Publishing Co. initiated a major reorganization. Bryan Monroe, the former editorial director who oversaw both Ebony and its sister publication, Jet, saw his job eliminated. He and others were told they could reapply for jobs at the company, according to Journal-Isms, an online column published by the Maynard Institute, which provides mentorship and training to black people in the media.
Cole was named Ebony’s acting editor-in-chief, and Mira Lowe, a former Newsday associate editor, was named editor-in-chief of Jet, according to Journal-Isms.
Adding to the intrigue, Newsweek magazine last September reported that Johnson Publishing was seeking a buyer or investor for Ebony. The news followed reports that Ebony’s advertising revenues had been on the decline for several years, consistent with a trend affecting many print publications.
The current status of the reported sale of Ebony is unclear.
Asked whether the magazine is now up for sale, Cole said, “I’m not in a position to answer that.”
It is clear, however, that Ebony is transforming itself into a more contemporary magazine, with timely coverage of issues relevant to the black community, while maintaining its celebrity-driven style.
While Cole serves as Ebony’s acting editor-in-chief, she also continues in her role as the magazine’s creative director, where she is the head of the magazine’s art department, and is responsible for leading the overall design, look and feel of its re-design.
“We freshened the logo, we changed some of the departments, we’ve attempted to be more incisive in our story telling both editorially and visually.”
An example of the magazine’s incisive coverage happened two days after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
“We had Dudley Brooks, who is our photo editor and an award-winning photojournalist, to go to Haiti for two weeks to document what was happening in Haiti through a brown-skinned lens,” she said.
Brooks’ images of Haitian people traumatized by the quake convey their desperation, but also their hope and resilience.
“When you watched CNN, and they did a great job, but they weren’t necessarily looking at the crisis in the way that we would,” explained the wife and mother of a six-year-old daughter, whom she describes as an “amazing, brilliant, ball of light.”
Cole’s spirituality informs all aspects of her life.
“I believe that the divinity that I know as God and people call all kinds of things lives within each of us. And when we honor that divinity, when we pay attention to the blessings in our lives, you know that little voice inside…I think that’s God talking to us.”
That she would enjoy a life-long love affair with magazines was spelled out for her in a dream she had two decades ago.
“In this literal dream, all details of this business were included. One was that I was going to continue my work in magazines, launching magazines, leading magazines. I was going to write a column for a newspaper, I was going to write books, I was going to host a television show, host a radio show,” Cole shared.
And as a testament to the power of dreams, Cole added, “I’ve accomplished all of those things.”
While dreaming (whether asleep or awake) is important, Cole advises people to take action as well.
“I’m a believer in dreaming and then in figuring out goals to make your dreams manifest. Because if you just dream, well, that’s going to take you but so far. I encourage people to write down the details of their ideas, of their dreams and to figure out how to get from point A to point B.”
Cole, who has practiced meditation for 20 years, said the best advice that she has received came from her meditation teacher.
“Whenever you have a choice to make, choose what will bring you closer to God. And if the choices before you are pretty much equal, go with the practical.”
In addition to solid business advice on the subjects of marketing and branding, entrepreneurs and business people can also expect a dose of spirituality from Cole on May 21.
“I believe that the best thing that one can do is to look for the highest in each other, to recognize the divinity within each other.
It’s a tough thing to do sometimes, when you’re frustrated, when you feel like you have less than you need, when you’re tired…it can be really difficult to look at someone else and see the highest. It’s a challenge for all of us and it’s a challenge that I accept with great vigor on a daily basis, on a moment-by-moment basis.”
File Photo: Harriette Cole
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce presents its Business Empowerment Networking Series: Marketing and Branding.
WHEN: Friday, May 21, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami
COST: Chamber members, $20; non-members $30
CONTACT: Please call 305-751-8648 or visit www.m-dcc.org