Florio, Berner rivalry seen in launches

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The planned launch of men's shopping magazine Vitals from Fairchild Publications is the latest public expression of an internal sibling rivalry between the ambitious, competitive CEOs of two divisions of $5.4 billion Advance Publications.

Conde Nast Publications introduces its men's shopping magazine, Cargo, next March. But the men's shopping category is not the only one where the two divisions will compete directly. Some view that as one signal of the competition between Conde Nast President-CEO Steven T. Florio and Fairchild CEO Mary Berner, who is viewed by some as a potential eventual successor to Mr. Florio.

In August, Fairchild purchased Elegant Bride and positioned it as a top-shelf bridal book, going up against Conde Nast's Bride's and Modern Bride. In 2000, Fairchild relaunched onetime Conde Nast title Details, creating tension between that title and Conde Nast's GQ. And the newly energized GQ, under Editor in Chief Jim Nelson, takes notice of Details' younger skew and sensibility. In the fashion field, Conde Nast's Vogue is a longtime rival of Fairchild's W.

"Si doesn't mind" intramural competition, said a Conde Nast insider, referring to Advance's quirky chairman, Samuel I. "Si" Newhouse Jr. Like others inside Conde Nast's headquarters, the insider has taken notice of Ms. Berner's hard-charging style: "If there's ever a war, I want to be in the foxhole with that woman."

All of this plays out against the royal-court atmosphere of closely held Advance, where key moves are minutely analyzed by insiders for clues over who's up and who's down, and holiday seating charts are examined like artifacts of Kremlinology.

"I guess if you want to analyze it that way, you could," said Vitals Editor in Chief Joe Zee about the title fitting into intramural competitions. But, he added, "We look at it more like synergy than competition."

denials

Ms. Berner bristled at the notion that the magazine was being launched to tweak a sibling unit. "People can play it whatever way they want, but we've been talking about [Vitals] for a long time." Vitals first appeared as an insert in Details a year ago. "It starts with reader need. It's ass-backwards to think of what's out there, and how we can niche it," she said.

Mr. Florio said of Vitals, "I hope it's a great success. We'll sell it along with the rest of the men's titles." Conde Nast's corporate sales group packages Advance assets, including those of Fairchild and the Golf Digest Cos.

Still, it's a poorly kept secret in the halls of Conde Nast and Fairchild that there's little love lost between Mr. Florio and Mr. Berner, both of whom are known as aggressive competitors.

Fairchild positioned its newest title as a more upscale alternative to Conde Nast's, which publishes a stable of luxe glossies not often mistaken for supermarket tabloids. "We are going to be much more luxury and high-end" than Cargo, Mr. Zee said. The implicit assertion that Cargo is mass or downscale is regarded with bemusement by Conde Nast insiders.

Vitals will publish quarterly starting in September 2004. Its rate base at launch will be 150,000, half Cargo's.

Cargo Publisher Alan Katz was in Milan last week and could not be reached for comment. A call to Cargo Editor in Chief Ariel Foxman was not returned. Earlier in the week a Conde Nast spokeswoman would only say, "We are launching Cargo. It will run six times in 2004. We have no comment with regard to Vitals."

Meanwhile, marketers find themselves in the position of having more men's than women's shopping titles to choose from, at least briefly. Hearst Magazines plans a women's shopping title that will go up against Conde Nast's Lucky next year.

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