Bringing Ease to the Big Easy at Essence Festival

The first week of July, I had the opportunity to travel to the 25th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans. It was my first time visiting the South and I think (I hope) I did it right. Bourbon St.. Frenchman St.. Chargrilled oysters and alligator gumbo. Once I got the obligatory tourism out of the way, it was time to get down to business.

If you’re not familiar, Essence Magazine is a monthly magazine targeted for African-American women. It’s been around since the 1970s and focuses on lifestyle, fashion, and beauty. With the slogan, “Fierce, Fun, and Fabulous”, the ultimate goal is to empower African-American women and embrace the community.

Essence Festival began in 1994 and has been going strong ever since. I learned at one of the keynote speeches that the festival was almost abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. When the suggestion was brought to the president of Essence at the time, she responded with “Over my dead body”.

Since then, it has thrived and seen attendance numbers grow exponentially. It’s reported that the festival draws over 500,000 people to the city of New Orleans annually and in 25 years has stimulated over $4B in revenue for the city; all without a single act of violence or any safety violations. It’s truly a festival meant to celebrate and empower.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many different events and witness different communities of all shapes and sizes. The festival is touted by Essence Magazine as their “Party with a Purpose”. After attending the festival myself, I can tell you that purpose is loud and clear. Essence Festival is a celebration of black empowerment; especially for women.

As a white dude from Seattle visiting the South for the first time, I was, needless to say, a bit out of my element. However, the community that I was able to throw myself into was easily the strongest and most tightly knit community I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. This Instagram post from user @bossionaire pretty much sums it up:

It’s beautiful to see black culture come together and have fun . This isn’t an event but a movement #essencefestival

At the end of the day, this is exactly what Tagboard is all about — bringing communities together and empowering them through streamlined conversation and engagement.

The festival itself spread across two main areas. The convention center hosted hundreds of booths highlighting everything from Disney to local artisans, wellness stations, beauty products and more. Each of the major sponsors had a much larger footprint for their booth, attracting big name speakers and miniature events within the larger scope of Essence driving conversations and building a sense of community. The Superdome on the other hand, transformed into a concert venue to get the party started each night after the conference in celebration of the Essence community.

A major sponsor for the event was Walmart, which also happens to be one of the partners that I manage here at Tagboard. Working with Walmart the past 4+ years at Essence, it’s incredible to see how they have innovated year after year and used Tagboard to drive conversation and awareness around this event.

Another one of our partners over at My Black is Beautiful, or MBIB, created an interactive space promoting content creation and conversation around their brand. Their booth was located in the coined “Beauty Carnival” section of the convention center that was a special gated area at one end of the event space focused on beauty products for African-American women.

Throughout the convention space, TV’s and screens showcased festival goers engaging with each other and with the brands. By promoting this shared experience everywhere in the space, Essence was able to amplify their message beyond the event itself through social media.

Down the road at the Superdome, the home of the New Orleans Saints, completely transformed into a concert venue for upwards of 45,000 people each night listening to keynote speakers, music performances and more. Here the social conversation really exploded and the Essence team did an excellent job of capturing and promoting it.

All the screens you see, all the graphics, are powered by Tagboard. Essence was one of our first partners that took our ability to customize graphics to a whole new level. Our amazing design team built out displays used across all screens between concerts and speeches, which made the production process extremely simple for how complex it looks.

The festival, the team I worked with, all the way down to the very heart of the magazine encompassed the idea of community. The Essence Festival has been a gathering place for African-American women for the past 25 years, and we were honored this year to make the depth of the engagement even deeper.