Taking its cue from the television industry’s media upfronts, Essence Communications, Inc. has transformed its annual sponsor summit into a platform to pitch year-long marketing opportunities.

The communications company uses the meeting to educate current and prospective sponsors about new programming opportunities beyond its two major assets: Essence magazine and Essence.com.

Essence in 2013 repositioned the sponsor summit for the Essence Festival presented by Coca-Coca into the Essence Upfront.  

“We wanted to use the sizzle of what broadcast networks do with their season upfronts to create a larger experience,” said Staci Hallmon-Bazzani, Essence’s national sponsorship sales director.

Essence—which hosted the upfront for the 2015 season on Wednesday—uses the event to promote year-long experiential marketing platforms including Black Women in Music (January), Black Women in Hollywood (February), the Essence Festival (July), Street Style Awards (September), Essence College Tour (fall) and a Toast to Primetime (October).

Essence also uses the event to facilitate cross-promotions and business-building opportunities among sponsors. For example, consumer products companies can discuss marketing opportunities with Walmart Stores, Inc., a longtime Essence marketing partner.  

“We reach out to clients who have expressed an interest in certain platforms. We want to make sure the event isn’t just Essence presenting to our clients. We want to give sponsors a chance to connect.”

Essence hosted the 2015 upfront at the Liberty Theater in Times Square. The event kicked off at 4 pm with a sponsor awards ceremony followed by the upfront presentations. Essence wrapped up the evening with a cocktail party.  

Essence facilitated one-on-one sponsor meetings the following day.

The upfront has helped Essence secure new sponsors. The company last year secured Colgate as a sponsor of two events: the Essence Festival and Black Women in Hollywood. Colgate also sponsored the Road to Essence Festival, a multi-city tour that is hosted in Walmart parking lots.

“Colgate was one of the biggest success stories from last year’s upfront. They saw how they could use our brand and assets to engage their audience.”