Felicia Hale, the Chief of Staff for the North America operating unit at the Coca Cola Company, poses for photographs during Day Two of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture™ at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Saturday, July 1, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

NEW ORLEANS – Coca-Cola was the title sponsor for this year’s Essence Festival of Culture. Throughout the week, they had conversations featuring ESSENCE CEO Caroline A. Wanga, performances by Rico Nasty, Ginuwine and many others. In this conversation with Chief of Staff for North America, Felicia Hale, she says the partnership with ESSENCE allows the brand to amplify the culture while reaching key consumers. For example, ESSENCE and Coca-Cola will present Season Five of “If Not For My Girls,” featuring an all new cast, Muni Long, Bia and Pretty Vee which creates a stage for conversation led by Black women regarding leadership within a chosen career path, love and relationships, plus how to effectively deal with life’s victories and defeats.

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“This for us is really a moment to celebrate Black women and Black culture,” said Hale.  “We are here to uplift, celebrate her voice. Some of the activations that we have are really focused around wellness. The SmartWater activation is focused around living well and we’re having fun. The energy in the room, I think it’s just incredible. Women’s empowerment is a really important pillar for The Coca-Cola company. And it’s what ESSENCE really stands for and why it’s become a really important partner for us.”

In 2022, Coca-Cola committed to doubling its spend with Black-owned media companies. Hale says it was important to Coke to reinforce their commitment to Black-owned media outlets, such as ESSENCE in order to maintain a consistent and meaningful presence in the Black community.

Rico Nasty performs on the Coca-Cola stage during Day Two of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture™ at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Saturday, July 1, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

“It is incredibly important to us and it was reflected in our commitment to doubling our media spend with minority owned media companies,” explained Hale. “We are on track to meeting our goal to get into a percent of our total media span with Black owned media companies. And if you think about things like ESSENCE and events that really celebrate the Black community, it’s an important pillar in our marketing campaigns as well as how we show up for the Black community.”

During the festival, the United States Supreme Court struck down the race-based portion of Affirmative Action. Between June 20 and July 3, at least five executives at top entertainment and media companies leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives have stepped down or been pushed out of their roles. LaTondra Newton at Disney, Vernā Myers with Netflix, and Janelle English formerly of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars) were notable departures. When asked if there would be any upcoming changes to Coca-Cola’s DEI initiatives, Hale says nothing will change. 

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a really important part of that strategy at The Coca-Cola company,” explained Hale. “Our goal is to reflect the communities that we serve through not only our associates and our leadership, but also through our recruiting pipelines. And so for us, it’s really an important pillar. And in light of the recent ruling from the Supreme Court, it really doesn’t impact what we’re going to continue to do and the way we’re going to show up for minorities in so for us, it really is a moment in history, obviously. But certainly, we’re going to continue to focus on making advancements around representation within our company.”

Ginuwine performs on the Coca-Cola stage during Day Three of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture™ at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Sunday, July 2, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Lastly, Coca-Cola is ubiquitous in Atlanta’s history, as omnipresent like the Georgia red clay, and has appeared in every single major pop culture event beginning with the commercial which featured Mean Joe Greene in 1979 that made everyone smile. How does a company this large and well-known continue to innovate and find new ways to reach consumers not only in Atlanta, but around the world?

“We want to make sure that we are speaking to our consumers in a way that is relevant to their lifestyles,” Hale explained. “Through our beverage portfolio, we are offering a wide range of choices and options for our consumers. Whether it be through our brands or through our packaging. 

So, marketing to consumers and making sure that we have a product fit for their needs at any moment across all occasions is an important part of our strategy and will continue to be as we think about our media spend and how we diversify showing up across various moments and touchpoints.”

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...