Lenora Howze, executive director of The AFRO of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., was named Sales Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association for creating innovative revenue opportunities by embracing and involving business and community leaders in The AFRO’s deep, rich history and future.
With responses to six questions, Howze shares insights about her highly successful sponsorships, what makes her proud to be at The AFRO for 10 years, and how she sees the future of the media business.
Editor’s note: Lenora will be speaking on a panel hosted by LMA at Borrell Miami in March. Register to attend using the LMA discount code: LMA2023. Rates increase on Feb. 1.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry
My undergraduate degree from Temple University is a bachelor’s in communications, and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that. Right out of college, I got an opportunity to work as an entry-level supervisor at The Philadelphia Inquirer. That was over 30 years ago, and I have not left the industry since. I have been in nearly every department that a newspaper or publishing company could have. Advertising, sales, and marketing is by far my most enjoyable and rewarding.
What makes you excited about the local media industry?
I like being a part of an organization that nourishes the need for information and for stories about communities. We have mass media that talk about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the nation and all of that is necessary, but very few that highlight what’s going on in the local community.
I like being a part of a publication where somebody might see their grandmother, their mother, or even their child featured in our pages. And I like marrying that content and that audience with businesses who want to reach them.
What keeps you up at night about the local media industry?
I’m always concerned about the economy with fluctuating interest rates and inflation and the impact that will have on all of the audiences we serve, specifically our local businesses. Because the first thing that they typically cut from their budget is any marketing or advertising – not realizing that it’s all necessary to keep them in survival mode, let alone to thrive.
Where do you see The AFRO being in the next 5-10 years?
What makes me most proud to be a part of The AFRO is that under the direction of our leadership Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, we’re not afraid to try new things and do things that are unproven. I expect that in the next 5-10 years we will continue to customize and create opportunities for our clients and readers that they may not have with other media. The AFRO has always been a trailblazer and one of the leading publications in the Black press. I love being a part of an organization that doesn’t mind being the first.
We will continue to evolve with our digital platforms. … I really see us catering even more to audiences who are getting news and information in non-traditional ways.
What makes what you are doing at The AFRO special or unique?
We have an annual editorial theme, “We’re Still Here.” … We created a beautiful and emotional marketing video … that told the story of the survival of the community, of the business community and of The AFRO — and we’re still here. We have taken that theme, and once a month we do a special publication that’s entirely devoted to a sub-theme of “We’re Still Here.”…
We got a group of clients in a virtual setting. We sent them breakfast gift cards. We rolled out the calendar along with the video, and, I mean – people were in tears. …
We started that in 2020 and we continue going strong. It’s full of branded content and sponsor support that I don’t believe we would have had if we had not developed this series.
What are you most proud of that you or The AFRO has done?
In 2020, we hosted a Black Business Matters Expo, all virtual. We had not done one before. There was no template for one that had been done on a local media level, and it was hugely successful. We had sponsors who had the opportunity to present workshops and be on panels. We had nationally renowned speakers and presenters that, had it been a physical, in-person event, we probably wouldn’t have been able to have their participation.
We used the opportunity that the pandemic gave us to do business in the virtual world, and we turned that into this expo, which now is going to be in its third year. We are still going to do it virtually. We may have a little hybrid post-expo event. We usually have two tracks: an accelerator track, and a track for new entrepreneurs or those who want to be. It appeals to small businesses and businesses that have been around for a long time.
That’s one of the many unique things that I’m really proud of that The AFRO has done that has not been presented, at least in this market, by a local media company.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
The Local Media Digital Innovation Awards contest is now open! Submit entries by Feb. 15, 2023, for work and projects completed in 2022.