HOWATSON EXITS PLAYBOY PUBLISHING: SPINOFF OF NEW-MEDIA OPERATION PROMPTS DEPARTURE

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After just nine months as president of Playboy Enterprises' Publishing Group, Marianne Howatson is leaving the company in the wake of a restructuring.

Her departure comes as the company spins off its new-media operations, which had been part of the publishing unit, into a separate division. New media accounted for estimated revenue of $5 million last year for Playboy, but company Chairman-CEO Christie Hefner said she sees new media as a strong growth area for the Chicago-based media company.

REDUCED ROLE

Ms. Hefner said Ms. Howatson had been interested in keeping a hand in new media and is leaving because the restructuring would have reduced her role. Ms. Howatson, a publishing industry veteran who joined Playboy in April 1997, will stay on for two more months.

"The most important contribution I've made to the company was identifying the possibilities that new media holds for Playboy. I don't think I could do anything bigger than that," said Ms. Howatson.

But there have been rumors for several months that Ms. Howatson, a former group publisher at Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing and Cardinal Business Media, was not adjusting well to Playboy's corporate culture.

CULTURE CLASH?

Ms. Hefner said she was unaware of any such problems, although she acknowledged that Playboy "is not the easiest culture to get accepted into."

Ms. Howatson also dismissed the rumors as untrue.

Playboy is beginning an external search for Ms. Howatson's successor, as well as for a president of the new-media group.

Eileen Kent, VP-new media, is also leaving the company this month, although Ms. Kent announced those plans several months ago.

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