Vanessa De Luca, the Editor in Chief of the most successful 100% black-owned media publication, Essence Magazine is one of the most influential black women in the journalism industry, not to mention she’s also a wife and a mum.
Speaking to When To Jump podcast last week, the editor shared her story of how she got where she is today, her vision for the future of Essence magazine and lets us into the culinary side to her that we never knew before. Delving deeper into the inspirational and powerful business woman, we wanted to get her advice on when to take tactful risks and how to gain power from failure.
Establishing a career
To begin, Vanessa never thought she was going to be an Editor-in-Chief of any magazine. Born in Alabama, young De Luca grew up in East Orange New Jersey, and other than her studies, she has stayed there ever since. Her first career was in retail, starting as a sales manager at Macy’s, she eventually realised that she didn’t belong in the fashion world. The first major risk she took was quitting her job in Macy’s to move back in with her parents, taking a pay cut and started work as an editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine at the age of 30.
Knowing she wanted to write about more than just fashion, Vanessa went back to university to do a Master’s. The key to her success was knowing that nothing is permanent and it’s always okay to start all over again or start from scratch. Having to “make it” by 30 or putting a time limit on anything such as children or a career doesn’t enhance happiness or get you what you want. You’re more likely to settle for less if you put an age limit on realising your dreams.
Since then, she co-authored a book called Tyra Banks Beauty Inside and Out and has appeared on television networks such as NBC’s Today Show, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, CNN, Huffington Post Life, just to name a few. She received her BA in English and American Literature from Harvard University, and her Master of Science in Magazine Concentration from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also prides herself on being on the board of ColorComm; a networking organization for women of colour working in communications.
When to jump
“When the company I was working for decided that they were going to relocate, I took it as an opportunity to think about what else I might do,” Vanessa tells Mike Lewis from the When to Jump podcast. “I knew I didn’t want to move and I’ve always loved magazines. I thought, Well, I’m not married, I don’t have kids. I can still do this. I can give this a shot. So I did.”
This teaches that leaping with empowerment and authority will carry you further. Do work with yourself first to figure out what you want, then think strategically how you can make the pieces come together. As you work and you learn, you get to see possibilities for yourself that are beyond what you originally thought. When you see something, and think “that could be me,” then you’re ready to take the next step.
The power of failure
De Luca applied to the Editor-in-Chief position at Essence twice before she got it. Instead of accepting the failure and moving on, persistence was the key to her success. She was inquisitive and determined and asked for feedback from her peers and executives. After being told that she needed to be “more visible” she started sharing her opinions more in meetings and speaking her mind. There’s nothing more valuable than “recognising that setbacks can be seen as the perfect opportunity to “watch the person who is in the number one role” and learn from them.”
In 2013, it was announced that Vanessa had been appointed Editor-in-Chief of Essence. It was a publication everybody had been waiting for and was founded by four black men in 1968, after they realised that there wasn’t anything in the marketplace for their mothers, daughters and sisters with content that related to them. Forty-eight years later, it’s a much-loved magazine, a place that black women are championed, loved and understood.
Every month African-American women rely on ESSENCE for editorial content designed to help them move their lives forward personally, professionally, intellectually and spiritually. Sections such as Work & Wealth, Healthy Living, and Looks We Love cover topics that focus on career and finance, health and lifestyle, and fashion and beauty and share an intimate connection with readers. In 2000, the magazine formed a partnership with Time Inc and last month, was acquired by Essence Communications, a black-owned corporation that also shares its founder with Shea Moisture.
The lifestyle, fashion and beauty magazine for African-American women uplifts its readers with motivating messages in an intimate sisterhood that loves its readers.
Vanessa’s passion for the magazine is because: “Everyone who works for the brand is passionate about the vision. It’s a critical time – there’s so much going on in 2018. Everyone is feeling that we need to pay more attention to the issues concerning our communities and we need to support one another. Our audience is so tuned into what we do and so are we.”
In the end, any successful figure, including Vanessa will tell you that working hard comes with playing (or relaxing) hard too. In her down time, Vanessa’s other passion is cooking. After taking night time classes to get a culinary degree, she loves practising new recipes on a Sunday afternoon. “If I could ever do something else, it would be cooking. I find it so soothing and therapeutic and I make a mean seven cheese macaroni.”