Socialites and tycoons
Out on the east end of Long Island, where the would-be leisure class of socialites, tycoons and their hangers-on prefers to summer, the 36-year-old Mr. Binn is the unofficial mayor, and Hamptons is their yearbook, Yellow Pages and Sears catalog rolled into one. His readers would never be defined as "cool" by its arbiters, but they are rich, status-obsessed and starving for old-school luxury of the Mercedes-Rolex-Veuve Clicquot vintage.
Since buying Hamptons in 1998, Mr. Binn has built a pocket publishing empire, Niche Media LLC, by collapsing the distance between his advertisers, his audience and his editorial. In his ultralux universe, all three elements mix liberally and intimately in the same social circles, and more than one role might be played by a single boldfaced name.
Living the lifestyle
No one understands this better than Mr. Binn, who tirelessly flogs the lifestyle (and thus his magazines) even as he lives it, producing a collage of party photographs as evidence, and which in time have become his magazines' signature feature.
It's 12:06 a.m., and after a consultation with his BlackBerry -- something he is wont to do in conversations, meetings or any moment he isn't actively selling -- Mr. Binn discovers he has an appointment with CNN's top sales brass in the morning. It seems they want to buy ads from him.
At 8:15, he's rolling up Eighth Avenue to Time Warner Center in his mobile headquarters, a black van outfitted with leather seats, a 19-inch flat screen TV and DVD player that's his method of
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Along the way, Mr. Binn sketches the backstory of this morning's meeting. During July's Democratic National Convention, he says he threw a party in Boston for the New York state delegation (parties being what Mr. Binn does best). He was approached at the event by a trio of CNN execs who wanted him to host a similar event with a similar chattering-class crowd during New York's Republican convention.
"They want to make CNN a conversation piece for an audience that is not typical for them," he says. "They want to take charge of New York. They want access."
Mr. Binn, all parties involved believe, is the gatekeeper to that audience. He plans to offer an ad pages-and-party integrated deal in exchange for that access. "They're ready to pony up," he says, striding into the lobby.
Upstairs, Mr. Binn and his senior team take seats around a conference table across from CNN Senior Vice President for Advertising Sales Jon Diament and Chief Operating Officer Greg D'Alba. Mr. D'Alba clears his throat. "We know we have a very exclusive audience and that we reach tastemakers ... but we're also looking for very exclusive niche opportunities."
This is Mr. Binn's cue, and in a nod to publishing proprieties, he begins by ticking off his quantitative selling points, emphasizing the extreme affluence of his titles' readership (average household incomes well above $200,000) and the
|Jason Binn and actress Jill Hennessy at a 'Gotham' magazine party.
The CNN execs nod along, but they're less interested in Hamptons' 35,000 weekly readers than Mr. Binn's ability to secure the right 350 readers for the convention.
"We should work in promotional opportunities," Mr. D'Alba says. Mr. Binn follows this chain of thought, promptly floating the idea of CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn hosting this proposed exclusive event. "Next thing you know, we're making them part of this community."
Although Mr. Binn will later downplay this conversation, the importance of parties, party photos (which comprise only 10% of each magazine) and even his personal attendance at these parties ("It's not about me anymore"), the fact remains that Mr. Binn's empire is built on a sort of alchemy -- the reduction of audiences numbering in the tens of thousands to a life-size "community."
He's one of them
And this community -- whether it be the rotating crowds between Manhattan and Bridgehampton or L.A. and Aspen -- trusts Mr. Binn because he's ultimately one of them.
They see themselves in his magazines, are invited to his parties (Hamptons throws an average of two events each weekend during the season), and mix with both the stars and advertisers -- whether the latter is Chanel, Estee Lauder, Tourneau or a host of others.
"It becomes this whole idea of taking content and bringing it to life," Mr. Binn tells the CNN execs. "Seeing it and touching it. If you want reach, buy a billboard."
No one in the room seems to register the apparent absurdity of Mr. Binn lecturing CNN execs on the flaws of mass media. But they already believe in his virtuous circle. "It doesn't add up to buy these pages," Mr. Diament muses, "unless you get past quantitative and get to qualitative."
"They make you feel like you're part of it, and if you're not a part of it already, you feel like you're in," Mr. Binn replies, and as the meeting ends, his hosts assure Mr. Binn that he's definitely in at CNN.
Though both Mr. Binn and Niche Media's editorial director, Jason Oliver Nixon, insist the company's magazines are read for their fun, frothy contents -- "the magazine is like a dinner party," Mr. Nixon says -- the greatest care has been spent on cultivating the guest list of the metaphorical party. Society fixtures such as heiress/model Amanda Hearst, her publicist R. Couri Hay and gossip overlord Richard Johnson are all contributors to Hamptons and/or Gotham.
A widening circle of influence
Other features in Mr. Binn's magazines seem designed to continually widen their circle of influence through glowing exposure. This Advertising Age article is a case is a point: In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Binn threw a party in June to celebrate Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive, the new book by Advertising Age Editor Scott Donaton, and a positive blurb of the book appeared in Hamptons in August. And the writer of this story (along with another Ad Age reporter) was once positively profiled in Gotham.
Mr. Binn didn't start out to be a publisher. Graduating from Boston University in 1989, he was determined to make a go of it in advertising. After landing at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles for a year, he moved to a marketing company before meeting Jerry Powers, a Miami-based publishing executive. Mr. Binn moved to Miami shortly thereafter to launch Ocean Drive in 1993, just as South Beach was beginning to take off.
Ocean Drive established the formula Mr. Binn would later apply at Niche Media -- a city magazine that was more upscale, frothy and boldface-name-obssessed than its peers following the Clay Felker model.
Mr. Binn remains a minority investor in Ocean Drive, but his empire is based in the Big Apple. Niche Media employs more than 80 staffers, most of them in New York. Mr. Binn says he's running out of U.S. cities and has no plans for another growth spurt. Nor is he interested in selling his company.
$40 million in ad revenue
As far as ad revenue, he says Niche Media and SoBe News, publisher of Ocean Drive, combined will top $40 million this year. "I've given these magazines 18 hours a day, seven days a week for 14 years," he says. "I don't know if anyone can say they give their magazines more. I love the art of publishing, but I haven't overextended myself."
Advertisers appreciate this kind of work ethic and vision.
"Jason is a magnet," says Jean Zimmerman, executive vice president of marketing and sales for Chanel's beauty business. Ms. Zimmerman has joined Mr. Binn and her husband at a banquette in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons for drinks the night after his CNN meeting. "Gotham and Hamptons are small enough to be intimate with the audience and intriguing to them. It's the right crowd -- hip, trendy people."
She turned to Mr. Binn when the time came for Chanel to launch its 20-something-targeted fragrance Chance in 2002. "He's built a pathway to them," she says.
After drinks, Mr. Binn bolts uptown to Bergdorf Goodman, where Hamptons is sponsoring the launch of Flirt, a cosmetics line developed by Estee Lauder's BeautyBank division destined to be a store brand for the big-box retailer Kohl's. He's been informed that three Lauders will be in attendance -- patriarch Leonard and daughters Aerin and Jane.
'Own reality show'
Mr. Binn is joined at the entrance of Bergdorf's by a pack of his sales team, including Nick Warnock, Donald Trump's passed-over "Apprentice." Mr. Warnock is clearly in awe of Mr. Binn. "He's a genius," Mr. Warnock says slowly, wide-eyed. "He should have his own reality show."
Upstairs in an impromptu Flirt mini-boutique, the party is jammed with the usual flock of socialites and actresses who will likely never set foot in a Kohl's, but who will, it is hoped, imbue the brand with some "heat." Mr. Binn wades right in, offering congratulations to Lauder execs, accepting compliments in turn for such a great party, and arranging tableaux for the photographers hovering behind him.
Leonard Lauder has already left, BeautyBank General Manager Jane Hudis tells Mr. Binn, but he had a good time.
"Did you hear that?" Mr. Binn says, grinning. "The old man liked it. And that's what's important."