The Event Professor is in.


New Orleans is a special place with a rich and unique culture, world-famous for its Creole food, Mardi Gras parades and innovative music scene. The annual Essence Music Festival is the largest celebration of African-American culture in the US and it’s held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. With headliners like John Legend, Mary J. Blige and Diana Ross, Enigma researchers were more than a little excited to be on site this summer!


Essence Magazine was the first major publication to focus on black women as a target audience. From its 1970 debut it was an immediate success and achieved a circulation peak of 1.6 million.

Flash-forward to 1995: it’s the magazine’s 25th anniversary party in the Big Easy, complete with performances by Aretha Franklin and B.B. King. Over 100,000 people gather to celebrate, making the event so successful it evolves into an annual music festival that A-listers like Prince and Beyonce will go on to headline.

Believe it or not, music is only part of the festival. Head to the nearby convention center for a free three-day trade show with hundreds of interactive exhibits. If you’re hungry, visit the vendors at Essence Eats for some tasty fare. The Essence Empowerment Experience is another highlight, featuring dozens of motivational speakers ranging from prominent black politicians to superstars like Halle Berry and Oprah.


The Ford Block Party is a chart-topping experiential exhibit, featuring its own village with a stage, test rides and even a hair salon! Did I mention there’s an entire hall dedicated to hair products? It’s hard to leave without looking more fabulous than when you arrived.

Event Professor note: In recent years, many traditional media companies have responded to shrinking advertising dollars by getting into the music festival business. But the pioneering minds at Essence made this move 22 years ago. Brilliant!


Ever seen Walmart do experiential? There were three distinct mega-booths: one for beauty products, another with a celebrity stage, plus the Supplier Inclusion Marketplace showcasing minority-owned products sold in stores.

It doesn’t get much bigger than Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Disney, especially when they bring premium swag and gorgeous motivational branding specific to the black community.


Essence Festival exhibitors take selfie culture to a new level of tech innovation. Both the Ford and Walmart exhibits featured touch-screen mirrors that not only reflect your image but also take your picture with a built-in camera and display flattering messages! Do you model?

Smirnoff joined the ranks at this year’s festival, hosting multiple VIP experiences and giving out thousands of full-size Moscow Mules in branded copper mugs. Enigma team lead Ariel couldn’t resist posing for a few shots in front of the gorgeous product display.

How great do those graphic logos look as backdrops? The vibrant signage drew guests in for beautiful group photos with their favorite mega-brands.

Big celebrities, international brands, and authentic culture always result in the best events. But the extra magic of Essence Fest is brought by festival-goers themselves. Instead of the usual, casual style worn at summer events, women of all ages show up dressed to kill, rocking their best jewelry, nails and hair. Ariel, who hails from Detroit, put it quite simply: “I’ve never seen so many beautiful black people in one place!”

I have researched 800+ events worldwide and love to share stories. Please contact me if you want to discuss anything from visitor surveys to economic impact to sponsorship ROI measurement.

Want to know more about life as an Enigma researcher? Visit us on Linkedin and Facebook.

Y’all come back now.

Michael, The Event Professor

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Some Events we’ve surveyed:

Miami Auto Show
Lone Star Rally
Vancouver Film Festival
Canadian Music Week
International Plowing Match
Indianapolis 500
New York Auto Show
Red Bull Flugtag
San Diego County Fair
Electric Zoo
Anime Boston
Shanghai Storm EDM Festival
Honens International Piano Competition
NASC Symposium
Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction
Edmonton Fringe Festival
Dublin Irish Festival
2012 Final Presidential Debate
US Open of Surfing
Toronto Jazz Festival
Nickelodeon SlimeFest
Event Marketing Summit
Red Bull Air Race
Orange Bowl
Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival
Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival
Calgary Stampede
Walt Disney World Florida Classic
Detroit NAIAS
Montreal Just for Laughs
Pride Toronto
WWE Summer Slam
Boots and Hearts Music Festival
State Fair of Texas
LA X-Games
Comedy Central Clusterfest
Daytona 500
NFL Pro Bowl
ACL Music Festival
Governor’s Ball Music Festival
Pacific National Exhibition
Orlando Bowl Week
Beyond Wonderland
EDC Las Vegas
Chicago Auto Show
MTV SnowGlobe Music Festival