By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
Since establishing itself in 2005, ColumbusBlack has put on live events geared toward Central Ohio’s Black community. Then COVID-19 threatened a decade and a half of momentum — until ColumbusBlack decided to make its events virtual.
“Everything was disrupted,” said Kevin Lloyd, ColumbusBlack founder/publisher. “We learned in 2020 that you don’t have an option but to adjust to the environment.”
Lloyd spent the first week of the pandemic plotting a new strategy for ColumbusBlack, which touts itself as the primary online source for news, events and entertainment for the Columbus-area Black community. Its content focuses largely on activities and lifestyle interests that increase community engagement, typically from in-person events, as well as one-on-one discussions with prominent community leaders.
“We’ve never been a major journalism platform, and a lot of people seem untouchable,” Lloyd said. “Our community just didn’t know much about them, so we decided to have them on to tell their story.”
ColumbusBlack is taking much of its pre-COVID-19 programming into virtual events that could help drive new revenue for the company.
“I believe this new lineup has the potential to create a new community-based resource for people to be engaged and actually enjoy themselves,” Lloyd said.
Here is the new lineup and a rundown of the new video-focused offerings:
A relationship coach and author with a great following will help people with dating advice and matchmaking services. “The goal is to try to help people,” Lloyd said.
The new series is actually a twist on a segment that ColumbusBlack has done previously as part of “Ambiance” in-person events it used to host. Within that event, which included a variety of activities, there was typically a relationship expert hosting a robust conversation based on audience participation.
“We already know that’s a big hot-button topic for our audience, so we’re bringing it back virtually,” he said.
What started as an email blast featuring different jobs from the ColumbusBlack job board has evolved to become its own routine event. Participating companies can showcase their culture and career opportunities, Lloyd said. More than a virtual job fair, each company has the opportunity to show its commitment to diversity.
“Let’s just be frank about it: there are some companies that are serious about diversity, and those will be the companies that come show us what they’re doing differently,” Lloyd said. “Don’t just talk about it, now you have a platform where you can have your company and your culture on screen and have a conversation with me and our audience.”
Given the economic conditions during COVID-19, Lloyd said he expects this segment to draw some of the biggest crowds all week.
Separate from Talent Tuesday, ColumbusBlack is also hosting a late-night segment each Tuesday called “In the Midnight Hour,” which features spiritual coaching for those who might be struggling late at night. The concept was created by Lloyd’s wife and ColumbusBlack co-owner Sherry Lloyd.
“We’re not talking from a traditional church standpoint, either. We’re taking a different spin on it,” Lloyd said. “The goal is to help people when they really need it, ‘In The Midnight Hour.’”
The mid-week segment invites experts from health-based organizations to address health disparities in the Black community. The event will host a variety of health, fitness and mental health experts.
The segment represents new programming for ColumbusBlack, Lloyd said, but one that is needed most right now.
“Within our community there has been a lot of trauma, whether it be from COVID, police brutality, lost jobs or racism,” he said. “We want to be able to showcase those things in a virtual event that people can participate in the discussion and learn.”
Additionally, each Wednesday and Thursday, ColumbusBlack will spotlight a local artist as part of a new segment, Artist Voice, which is sponsored by ColumbusMakesArt. It’s a series showcasing Columbus’ artists who create and share their voice through various forms of art.
Similar to existing ColumbusBlack programming, this segment focuses on Black-owned businesses, encouraging support within the Black community.
“We used to do a really great job of supporting Black-owned businesses,” Lloyd said, citing the once-flourishing Black Wall Street in Tulsa as one example. “This should be natural — people shouldn’t be forced to do it.”
This new showcase is actually a post-pandemic spinoff from ColumbusBlack’s “Support Black Business” series, which highlighted different Black businesses doing important work in the community. Once COVID-19 hit, Lloyd said he recognized the importance of continuing that series virtually.
“We recognized that Black-owned businesses were going to struggle disproportionately,” he said.
Ohio Small Business Development Centers at Columbus Community State College, which provides free advisory services to new small businesses looking to grow during COVID-19, has already agreed to sponsor this segment.
“They said, ‘We want to be a part of this and help get the word out about how to help small businesses,’” Lloyd said.
ColumbusBlack will host a local renowned chef as part of this food-focused series, which takes place at 7 p.m. Eastern time each Friday. Lloyd said the goal is to offer recipes based on the chef’s favorite meals from their restaurant and offer at-home cooking tips.
“Think about how date night can change with this experience,” he said.
Other new programming
In addition to the new weekday lineup of new series, ColumbusBlack is also launching additional initiatives geared toward its audience. That includes The Becosystem, a Black and Brown-focused tech event that Lloyd hopes to establish for minority startups that struggle to get access to bank loans and venture capitalists. The monthly event is co-hosted by founders of the BLK & BRWN Ecosystem and sponsored by several tech groups.
“We’re not currently part of a very robust tech ecosystem, so we’re creating our own ecosystem,” Lloyd said. “For those things you’d normally have to go somewhere else to get, we’re bringing that here to Columbus, Ohio.”
There is also a new music segment titled Kim C.’s and Dommy Styles Music Picks, hosted by music enthusiast Kim Campbell aka Kim C., whose musical tastes make her a local expert, Lloyd said, and popular DJ/entertainer Dommy “Huge Deal” Styles.
“She’s the person you may find in the hole-in-the-wall spot listening to the band from who knows where,” he said.
Kim C. will be joined by Dommy Huge Deal Styles to talk about their music picks and interview different artists about their work.
Making the business case
The goal is to find business support for this programming beyond the one sponsor already booked for Throwback Thursdays.
Long-term, Lloyd predicts ColumbusBlack events will take on a hybrid model of in-person and virtual audiences to accommodate a larger market. The dual opportunity helps expand the potential market being served, he said.
To that end, he is expanding the operation by mid-year with a new concept called OhioBlack as part of their participation in Local Media Association’s newly formed Amplify Ohio coalition.
That expansion and statewide collaboration will help ColumbusBlack elevate the quality of its content to include more statewide reporting and bigger events, he said. That new content will provide additional business opportunities for advertisers that are adamant about reaching Black audiences.
“If people want to reach out and engage the Black community, this is the way for them to do it intentionally,” Lloyd said. “That’s when you utilize our services.”