G&J explores title to replace 'Rosie'

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Gruner & Jahr USA publishing could be ready to launch a women's magazine off the bones of Rosie as early as February.

After namesake Rosie O'Donnell pulled out of the joint venture last week-prompting strong talk of imminent legal action from G&J-the publishing house said December would be its last issue. Staffers at Rosie, however, have been told to continue working on articles slated for later issues, said one of them. While a final greenlight won't come for some time, some preliminary internal decisions could come as early as this week, Ad Age has learned.

G&J filed for a trademark for the name Voice in late July, reserving its use as a "general-interest women's magazine," in part, according to someone familiar with the situation, as a potential replacement for Rosie should that venture implode. G&J previously trademarked the names Tempo and Friday as potential women's magazine titles; the company did a direct-mail test of a potential Friday magazine in late 2000 before abandoning the idea.

Insiders stress no decision's been made-"it has to be thought through," said one. Still, a hotly worded e-mail from G&J Chief Marketing Officer Cindy Spengler, which hit staffers' in-boxes minutes before Ms. O'Donnell's Sept. 18 press conference, in which she severed ties with G&J, said "we are committing to serving this audience-the 30- to 45-year-old woman seeking a contemporary magazine-regardless of Ms. O'Donnell's decision."

There's also a strong possibility that any magazine launched off Rosie's subscription file would carry a lower rate base than Rosie's 3.5 million, according to one insider, who added, "anything that comes next will be headed" by Editor in Chief Susan Toepfer and Publisher Joan Sheridan LaBarge.

`too early to say'

A company spokeswoman said "it was too early to say anything other than we are considering options" for the magazine and its staff. But she said Ms. Toepfer and Ms. Sheridan "can be assured of a role with this company." During Ms. O'Donnell's press conference, she singled out Ms. LaBarge for praise-and pointedly did not refer to Ms. Toepfer, with whom she clashed. (For more on the press conference: AdAge.com QwikFIND aan98x)

G&J's strategy appears to be supported by its European parent. In a statement, Axel Ganz, president of G&J's international division and to whom Dan Brewster, President-CEO of G&J USA reports, said, "If our colleagues at G&J USA would find it useful to use the existing assets to build up something new and successful, we would be the last ones to hinder them from doing so. We also support whatever they need to do to recover losses from Rosie O'Donnell." Mr. Brewster declined to comment.

At the press conference, Ms. O'Donnell's attorney, Mary Jo White, said her client "encouraged G&J to continue to publish the magazine under a new name."

G&J had been so eager to be free of the situation it had offered Ms. O'Donnell the magazine for $1, someone familiar with the situation said, which Ms. O'Donnell's spokeswoman dismissed without confirming or denying.

The day Ms. O'Donnell exited the magazine, which launched in May 2001, several staffers received $10,000 checks and a letter from Ms. O'Donnell. But they noted the checks were dated Sept. 12-the day Ms. O'Donnell had cancelled a planned lunch with staffers, one of them said, and one day before articles in which Ms. O'Donnell's spokeswoman dismissed talk of the star's upcoming exit.

The title's November issue will carry around 100 pages of advertising, said a G&J staffer, but December's ad total remained uncertain-which didn't surprise one print buyer. "If I had a client in there, I would try to cancel," said Pam McNeely, senior VP, Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, citing "negative rub-off" and dryly pointing out "this isn't like the last issue of Life."

Other print buyers, though, were non-committal on the notion of a new title. "How many times can you relaunch the same book?" asked Robin Steinberg, VP-director of print at Aegis Group's Carat North America, New York, referring to how Rosie launched off McCall's circulation file. The key issue, she said, was whatever title that may come next was "such a question mark."

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