Women took center stage at Essence magazine’s fourth annual “Women Who Are Shaping the World” leadership summit on Friday at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, a daylong conference designed to empower women of color in their personal and professional lives. “They’re the stars of the day,” said Essence editor in chief Angela Burt-Murray. “We’re putting ‘her’ front and center.”
In a change from last year’s conference, which featured more keynote speeches and fewer breakout sessions, organizers wanted the more than 700 attendees to participate in a wider variety of events, including seminars, panel discussions with Q&A sessions, networking and one-on-one opportunities, and more breakout sessions on topics ranging from dressing for success and opportunities abroad to relationships and work-life balance.
Essence special projects director Candace Purdie Montgomery worked with Noelle-Elaine Media Inc. on the yearlong planning process. One important aspect was booking the dozens of speakers, including financial guru Suze Orman, CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien, actress Holly Robinson Peete, author and orator Michael Eric Dyson, and radio personality Wendy Williams.
Montgomery wanted the conference to have a stand-out-from-the-rest vibe, rather than the traditional conference feel. The magazine chose a white, Caribbean blue, and apple green color palette, which Mark Testa of Mark Stephen Enterprises interpreted throughout the space as well as in the conference materials, signage, and Web site. He also created an ultramod seating area for a Chevy sponsorship section, which added to the eye candy and was a cool place to chill out.
Sponsors were plentiful this year. In fact, so many companies were interested that space became a challenge. To make it work, planners moved the registration area to the third floor, freeing space on the sixth floor (where the main action took place) for new sponsors ING, American Airlines, and Amtrak. “It allowed the attendees to come in, take care of registration, and then come up and focus on the sponsor areas that were for them,” Montgomery said.
In addition, L’Oréal Paris provided mini-makeovers and photographed a never-ending line of loyal readers for a mock Essence cover shoot; Wachovia created a business center; and Dell provided a computer lounge so attendees could check email and have a cup of coffee.