Preparing for a meeting last week with Sears marketing czar John Costello, Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black went out and bought a new suit--at Sears.
Aware that her predecessor was criticized in some circles for a reluctance to meet often with advertisers, Ms. Black has been striving to build a higher profile on Madison Avenue.
And while the Sears purchase shows how far she's willing to go to clinch a sale, just how successful Ms. Black's been at revitalizing the privately held division of Hearst Corp. since her arrival 15 months ago remains to be seen.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
"She comes to it with a different perspective than" predecessor Claeys Bahrenburg, said Mitch Burg, exec VP-media, Media Edge, New York. "While he was more of an inside guy, she tends to be more public, which has helped. But she still has to mend a lot of rifts."
Ms. Black sees her role as "an ambassador to the ad community," adding, "Rarely is there a day when I'm not with an advertiser, talking to them on some level."
In an extensive interview with Advertising Age last week, Ms. Black said Hearst Magazines is on track to post its highest profit ever this year, though she declined to divulge figures. The magazine unit's annual revenues are well more than $1 billion.
UP 53.5% IN 1ST QUARTER
First-quarter revenues for the division rose 53.5% compared to the same quarter last year, according to a Hearst spokesman, though he declined to release figures. Still, full recovery from Hearst's controversial and poorly executed rate base strategy, implemented in late 1995, has yet to come.
Ms. Black boasted of strong ad page gains so far this year for such titles as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Town & Country. And she said Harper's Bazaar posted a profit last year for the first time in eight years.
Comparisons to last year don't reveal the full picture, however. Good Housekeeping saw ad pages climb 3.8% to 263 in the first quarter compared to the same period in 1996. But the '96 figure was down 26.5% from 1995's first quarter, when the flagship monthly carried 341 ad pages. Figures for other Hearst titles, including Redbook and House Beautiful, tell the same tale. Still, some Hearst titles have real reason to celebrate.
GAINS AT `COSMO'
At Cosmopolitan, first quarter ad pages numbered 405 in '95. Last year, that figure dipped to 372. But special packages tied to the changing of the editorial guard--the February issue was Helen Gurley Brown's last, the March issue Bonnie Fuller's first as editor in chief--paid off as the monthly carried 482 ad pages for the quarter.
Town & Country is another strong contender, up 29% in ad pages this year to 234. That comes on the heels of a vibrant showing last year.
On the circulation front, total circulation for every Hearst title--with the exception of relative newcomers SmartMoney and Marie Claire--was down for the second half of '96, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures. Despite that, several are delivering large bonuses over their guaranteed rate bases; Ms. Black said there are no decisions yet on raising the guarantees for some titles.
Victoria consistently delivers 100,000 copies over its 850,000 rate base; Good Housekeeping has a rate base of 4.5 million but delivers an average 5.3 million copies.
When she arrived at Hearst, Ms. Black said she wouldn't make changes for the sake of making changes--a promise she's mostly kept. While she has named new publishers at Good Housekeeping, Victoria, House Beautiful and Esquire, the shifts haven't been nearly as dramatic, or frequent, as some expected.
And Ms. Black said Hearst-watchers should expect more of the same this year. She continued to voice support, for example, for Ed Kosner, the embattled editor in chief of Esquire, insisting he has not been given a deadline for fixing the men's monthly.
And Ms. Black said Esquire is not intimidated by a spate of new men's magazines hitting the market.
"We'll let the others duke it out for the young men's market," she said. "We want the 35-to-45-year-old who is affluent, has achieved a certain status and appreciates fine writing."
Hopes for the start of a turnaround are being pinned to the June issue, the first full issue produced since the return of Art Director Robert Priest and the appointment of Randall Rothenberg as executive editor.
On the magazine development front, Ms. Black has overseen the launches or tests of Bob Vila's American Home, Mr. Food's Easy Cooking and Healthy Living, which grew out of Country Living.
Another launch under "very preliminary" discussions is a title based on restaurateur Beatrice Smith, owner of B. Smith restaurants in Washington and New York. A syndicated TV show is launching in the fall; if the show is successful, a magazine test is likely next year.
Ms. Black said she would rather grow the business through launches than acquisitions, although she'd consider buying certain properties if they came on the block. Other growth areas she is targeting include brand extensions, product licensing and international joint ventures.
Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.