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Trendsetters at Work: Essence Magazine

Trendsetters, ESSENCE Magazine Jennifer Cooper, E!

Long before she graced Elle and Vanity Fair, Kerry Washington was a regular cover star for Essence magazine.

So it's no surprise the actress is once again gracing the November issue, a publication that recognized her talent long before Scandal became must-watch TV.

But promoting black celebrities is just one part of the magazine, which has been a beacon of fashion, beauty and lifestyle advice for African American women since 1970. And while A-listers such as Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama appear on the glossy front it is the folks behind the scenes that make the trend-setting publication what it is today.

Two of those essential employees? Editor-at-Large Emil Wilbekin and Communications Director Dana Baxter. From their office décor to their crazy schedules, we asked them to dish on what it's really like to work at the mag. Here's what they shared with us:

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Trendsetters, ESSENCE Magazine Jennifer Cooper, E!

Emil Wilbekin, Editor-at-Large

How did you get started in your career?
I always loved magazines growing up. So I started the old-fashioned way as an assistant and worked my way up the ladder.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me is filled with meetings, lots of emails, and phone calls. I have to go out to industry events, business dinners and galas almost every night of the week, so my days are long.

Describe your work environment.
The environment at work is very professional, busy and family-oriented. We work hard, always push the envelope, and support each other along the way.

Tell us about your office décor.
My office is simple and organized—I'm there to work. I have photos that inspire me and a few objects that keep me balanced and make me smile during the day like my yellow Buddha head or the Essence mug full of colorful packs of Orbits gum."

Describe your office style. What do you typically wear to work?
I would describe my office style a modern gentleman. I'm a creative executive so I wear blazers with jeans. I have a lot of meetings during the day and then often go out at night and I like to feel comfortable, so jeans, dress shirts, blazers and dress shoes are key. It's very day-to-evening.

Where do you shop for work clothes?
J. Crew and Ralph Lauren are great for my style – classic, clean, masculine and modern.

My favorite thing in my on my desk is...
My blue Amos gorilla! He reminds me to be focused, confident and fearless during the day.

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The best part of my job is…
I get to go to movie premieres, concerts and parties for work. Hanging out with celebrities every night is not the worst thing in the world!

I never leave home without…
My eye glasses, lip balm and my headphones.

What is your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure is a Kind Bar in the middle of the morning. Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt is my favorite.

What are your travel must-haves?
My laptop, a Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin candle and my Louis Vuitton duffle bag.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
The best piece of professional advice I ever received was to never be afraid to ask for help.

Trendsetters, ESSENCE Magazine Jennifer Cooper, E!

Dana Baxter, Communications Director

How did you get started in your career?
Right out of college, I was interested in the entertainment industry and landed a spot in MTV Networks' management associate program, which gave me the opportunity to rotate through several different departments over the course of a year and gain experience. I am grateful I was able to start my career at a company that's so incredibly media driven—what better place to learn the ins and outs of publicity!

What is a typical day like for you?
Generally, my day includes a mix of internal strategy meetings and connecting externally with journalists and producers to promote key initiatives and heighten the brand's profile. The Communications team balances editorial and corporate endeavors—from launching the latest celebrity cover or mounting a red carpet event to preparing presentations for a major advertiser meeting.  However, whatever my calendar may reflect on an average day can easily get turned upside down by any breaking news warranting an Essence response. 

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Trendsetters, ESSENCE Magazine Jennifer Cooper, E!

Tell us about what inspires you during the day.
Music—from classical to jazz to pop—is my inspiration. My office tunes keep me going on challenging days.

Describe your office style. What do you typically wear to work?
I haven't exactly settled on how to characterize my office style. I've been told it's sophisticated chic! I wear a lot of dresses, which makes a easy-to-pull-together look. I absolutely love jeans and own way too many pairs, so I tend to wear them to the office on Fridays with a nice blouse, sweater or blazer.

Where do you shop for work clothes?
I indulge in massive outlet shopping two or three times a year for the seasonal basics. However, I'll allow myself to splurge for special work events. I've had a long-time love affair with the Catherine Malandrino boutique in the Meatpacking district. As for accessories, I'm a minimalist but I do have a fantastic pair of custom sunglasses that were given to me by my sister as a birthday gift.

My favorite thing in my office/on my desk is:
I have a framed picture of my daughter as a baby on my desk. She's growing up so fast and having her present reminds me of how far we've come.

I never leave home without…
My flats!  New York City streets are hard on my feet and my shoes.

What is your guilty pleasure?
I make it a priority to catch Fashion Police every week. Joan Rivers is still as funny as ever— I'm a proud "Joan Ranger!"

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
My grandmother taught me the importance of a firm handshake, and always said "look them in the eye."  As a woman, it's an important habit.

Can you share some advice for aspiring career girls?
Don't underestimate the power of the informational interview. You'll be surprised how many people you reach out to will make time to speak with you about their professional journey and offer advice and then refer you to others to do the same. 

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