On the eve of this year’s digital reincarnation of popular African-American woman’s magazines Honey and Sister 2 Sister, Elemental Interactive invested an undisclosed amount in Clutch Magazine in exchange for minority ownership. Details on the amount of money and equity exchanged have not been released. The deal looks more like a next step in the evolution of an existing partnership than anything else, a slow and steady approach both parties seem to want to apply to Clutch and other potential ventures in the future.
James Harris, head of Elemental Interactive, had served as mentor to Deanna “Dede” Sutton, Editor in Chief of Clutch, since meeting at a social media conference two years prior to the deal. It was a good match for Sutton, who wanted someone who understood the space, knew her business, and provide more than just money, but guidance as well.
“There’s nothing better than to actually have someone invest in you that knows everything that’s going on with the company beforehand,” says Sutton.
Harris says that while an existing relationship helped, it was Sutton’s experience, relationships in the digital media space, a lean business model, and low cost and overhead that made him pull the trigger. Aside from leading various iterations of Clutch since 2002, Sutton also worked in marketing, PR, and corporate communications for various corporations and ad agencies. But the key, says Harris, is Sutton’s everyday existence as member of the audience Clutch speaks to.
“Rarely is the entrepreneur actually the audience. That’s a really, really good thing,” says Harris. “It’s not a bunch of 70 year old guys in a back room trying to figure out how to create a hit magazine.”
Sutton says that, beyond her own instinct, she depends heavily on research and direct feedback from her audience. Sutton surveyed 1,500 of her readers and found that they were more interested in the magazine’s original content than the celebrity interviews that were originally its cornerstone, wanted more articles covering fashion and beauty, and rarely, if ever, used buzzworthy add-ons like Digg and Delicious.
Sutton responded by shifting her editorial focus from celebrities to original lifestyle, fashion, and beauty articles, launched a blog network that provided readers with more of the content they requested, and says that she doesn’t plan to add any technologies or content platforms that have yet to prove they are effective in creating a stronger sense of community among Clutch’s demographic. Sutton sites social networks in particular as something she wants to wait and learn more about, noting that despite the popularity of Essence’s print magazine and website, its social network only has about 4,000 members. She says that her findings have also helped her gain a clearer idea of the overall direction she wants to go wih the magazine.
“I want Clutch to be the home of the new and emerging, and people on the cusp. So many times you see the same people all the time,” says Sutton. “There’s so many people out there in acting, music, technology, and everything, every genre that never gets highlighted on other publications. We want to be the people that say, hey check them out.”
Harris says that Elemental Interactive that may look to work with Sutton to apply a successful Clutch business model to other genres in the interactive space. Harris believes that there is plenty of room to structure and influence e-commerce, ad networks, ad rep firms and all the other moving parts of the larger African-American digital media space overtime.
“A lot of the infrastructure needs to be built so that it becomes a real market place, not just a handful of sites that do well and lots and lots of sites that do it with love,” says Harris. “If Dede’s model play’s out well like we think it will, it may work with other genres as well.”
Elemental Interactive is a 13-year old interactive design and consulting firm based in Atlanta, GA. It’s clients include IBM, Coca Cola, and Avaya. WPP, the world’s second largest marketing services holding firm, owns a minority stake in the company.
Clutch launched as a regional print magazine in 2002, ceased publication shortly thereafter, and was relaunched as an online-only magazine in April 2007. It’s contributers include current and former staff and freelancers from BBC, Essence, Vibe Vixen, Black Planet, and Glam.Category: Digital Media, News, social media, Social Networking, Strategy, Trends, web 2.0 | Tags: Clutch magazine, Elemental Interactive, Investment, Sutton, Women