Exclusive: Pecker 'bets the farm' on glossy relaunch of 'Star'

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American Media, ramping up its marketing efforts in advance of its January relaunch of a fully Bonnie Fuller-ized Star, has begun showing a prototype version to advertisers.

The big bet on the business side is that the magazine will drop all its classified advertising and the vast majority of its direct-response ads, which together, said David Pecker, Chairman-CEO of American Media, reliably accounted for around 10 of the magazine's 24 ad pages each week.

"We really are betting the farm," he said.

The move, which Mr. Pecker has held dear as a key part of mainstreaming a company still heavily reliant on tabloids such as National Enquirer and the Globe, is all the bolder considering that one key indicator has not yet budged. Newsstand sales at the Star remain flat since Exec VP-Chief Editorial Director Bonnie Fuller came on, Mr. Pecker conceded, whereas executives have said that Us Weekly's newsstand sales took off more or less immediately after Ms. Fuller joined that title. (Ms. Fuller said the newsstand gains at Us were not immediate, and Mr. Pecker took comfort in newsstand sales holding steady even after the Star raised its cover price to $2.99 from $2.19.) There's also still no top editor at the magazine underneath Ms. Fuller.

A prototype Star has a reduced, trim size-although it's still larger than rival glossy celebrity weeklies, and eliminated the tabloid-like white strip that now borders the bottom of every page, including the cover. Its folio will bulk up to 116 pages from its current 80, and carry up to 40 ad pages, Mr. Pecker said.

`Star Bucks'

The new Star, which will make its debut in select markets Jan. 9 but hit full national saturation seven weeks later, will open with a photo spread on "Star Moment of the Week." Other new departments include "Star Bucks," which Ms. Fuller defines as stars engaging in "public acts of consumption," and "The Stars Are Out," a take on the who-wore-what-where celeb roundups of the past week that have become a staple in such magazines. A "Doctor to the Stars" column will appear, Ms. Fuller said, offering health and "body beautiful" tips to readers. Also in the new Star will be a "Reviews" section, a first for the magazine, Ms. Fuller said. And pages devoted to beauty and fashion-done up in the product-and-stars'-shots formula made famous by Time Inc.'s In Style-will increase from "a few to 12 to 14 a week," said Mr. Pecker, in a bid to boost advertising in those categories.

Also coming on board, as soon as his non-compete expires: Former Us Weekly News Director Michael Lewittes, who's currently parked at Mr. Pecker's lower-profile Auto World title.

To drum up support for the relaunch of the Star, Mr. Pecker said that his company will spend around $4 million on an outdoor advertising campaign-which will include ads on Times Square's Jumbotron screen between Dec. 29 and Jan. 15-and a TV campaign that will concentrate on New York and California markets. Advertising is handled in-house.

VP-Publisher Colleen Wyse has added 20 ad positions since she came on in late October, Mr. Pecker said. One big new advertiser that's signed on for the Star relaunch, per Ms. Wyse: watchmaker Movado. Clorox Co. will continue as an advertiser, and Colgate-Palmolive Co. has recently signed on.

"David and Bonnie are putting their money where their mouths are," said Melissa Pordy, independent media buying consultant. "They are willing to walk away from a guaranteed base of revenue. By cleaning it up and getting rid of this type of advertising, they are paving the way beautifully to make it an attractive choice and opportunity for consumer advertising."

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