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'Fast Company' looks to grow

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Mark Vamos, editor of Fast Company , recalls the reaction he got from media buyers when he went on some sales calls after Mansueto Ventures bought the magazine in June 2005 from Gruner+Jahr USA Publishing for $35 million.

"The negative I got was the vitality question about the magazine, but we don't get that anymore," said Vamos, who for several years was a senior editor at BusinessWeek before joining Fast Company in 2003 as executive editor; he was named editor in September 2005. "People are convinced we're here to stay."

Fast Company (725,000 circulation) was launched in 1995 and remained a media darling throughout the dot-com boom, with ad pages typically in the stratosphere. But the magazine's fortunes fell precipitously after the NASDAQ market collapsed in April 2000.

Gruner+Jahr USA paid $365 million for Fast Company just as Web stocks were tanking, and the magazine struggled in the years leading up to the company's decision to exit the U.S. market altogether. Many media observers say billionaire Joe Mansueto, chairman-CEO of investment research firm Morningstar Inc., saved the magazine from certain death when he acquired it, along with Inc.

In the past 15 months, Mansueto Ventures has taken several steps to reposition Fast Company with both readers and advertisers. For example, effective with the January/February 2006 issue, the magazine reduced its frequency to 10 times a year from 12 and improved its paper stock.

Gone were text-heavy covers, replaced by casual yet vibrant shots of business executives. Its editorial aim is to "uncover new ideas before they're safe and people before they're famous," Vamos said.

"We're for people who need to know where the next opportunity is coming from and where their next disruption is coming from," he said. "We amplify the faint signals. We're not a futurist magazine, nor are we going to tell what's happening right now. The faint signal has to be a little bit away into the future, but [also] has to have substantial impact on people and organizations."

Although Fast Company lost more than $10 million in 2005, Mansueto Ventures is committed to the publication, said John Koten, CEO and editor in chief of the company. "Things have stabilized, and we're showing some healthy signs of life and some positive movement for ads," he said.

Since Mansueto acquired the publication, 56 new advertisers have entered the fold, including AT&T: Small Business, Cingular Wireless, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle Corp.

A study this year of 97 magazines by Mendelsohn Media Research found that CMOs comprise 16.3% of Fast Company readership, which ranks No. 1 in that category among all titles measured.

Karen Walterson, director of advertising for Hilton Garden Inn, which is on Fast Company's ad schedule for this year and next, said the publication's recent evolution has put to rest any concerns she may have had about its vigor. "It's been quite the opposite," she said. "The editorial focus has been much stronger."

Through October, ad pages for Fast Company fell 19.1% compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Ad revenue declined 15.4%.

Despite the declines, Jayson Goldberg, publishing director of Fast Company and Inc., said Fast Company is headed in the right direction.

In an issue-by-issue comparison from July through December, every issue during this period showed an ad page gain compared with 2005, Goldberg said. "We expect this growth to continue in 2007," he said.

Bill Hebel, senior VP-media director at b-to-b ad agency Slack Barshinger, questioned whether Fast Company has turned the advertising corner. "They did not survive last year's buying season very well, as the PIB numbers indicate," he said. "In 2007, they have to stop the bleeding. They're in a very competitive category, and I'm not sure they're differentiating themselves enough."

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