No one is accusing the fashionista of making quid pro quo editorial-for-advertising demands. But senior executives at three different magazines felt Mr. Lauren's representatives used unusual pressure to try to gain editorial coverage for the brand's 35th anniversary.
Coverage of the anniversary was widespread. Lauren appears on the cover of the November issue of Conde Nast Publications' GQ as one of its Men of the Year-the first designer and GQ advertiser to garner such a placement-as well as on the cover of the November issue of Conde Nast's Architectural Digest. He also landed the cover of Hearst Magazines' October Town & Country, just three months after his daughter Dylan secured the same spot. Conde Nast's Vogue dedicated 30 pages to Lauren, while Hearst's O, The Oprah Magazine, offered readers an eight-page interview. Fashion's blue-eyed boy also merited eight pages in Wenner Media's Men's Journal and six in Fairchild Publications' August W.
Such coverage is hardly unwarranted, as Mr. Lauren embodies a far-reaching brand-encompassing fashion, fragrance and home-like no one else this side of Martha Stewart. But a range of editorial and publishing executives felt they were put under pressure by Lauren's son David, senior VP-marketing, advertising and communications, and Jeff Morgan, president of Ralph Lauren Media, to cover the anniversary.
In part, that pressure is unspoken and derives from both David Lauren and Mr. Morgan overseeing marketing budgets as well as editorial relationships, and from the inherently close and complex relationships between fashion advertisers and their favored magazines.
The coziness between the two is nothing new, but even veterans of the haggling that goes on over "credits," or the number of times an advertiser's product are featured in photo spreads, expressed surprise and anger over the approach taken by Mr. Lauren's company this time around.
"We have a very healthy category in fashion that's likely to be rather pissed off when they see" what could be considered preferential treatment for Mr. Lauren, worried one magazine executive. The company wanted, the executive continued, "significant coverage that shows support for Ralph, with a very clear implication that it will potentially lead to more ad pages."
Another magazine executive characterized the impression gained from one conversation in blunt terms. "They want you to [perform an intimate act] before they give you ad pages."
A Polo Ralph Lauren spokeswoman strenuously objected to such assertions: "They wanted to do some articles. It was as simple as that."
Other magazine executives agreed.
"They shared their vision with me, and they said, `This has nothing to do with ad pages.' They even said that," said Alyce Alston, VP-publisher of W.
Reflecting the immense clout Mr. Lauren exerts in the magazine world-his brands spent $52.8 million in magazines in 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR-no executives would criticize the company on the record.
The editors and publishers of each of the titles that devoted prominent coverage to the 35th anniversary insisted theirs were editorial decisions.
"We broke precedent in putting a designer on the cover," acknowledged GQ Editor in Chief Art Cooper. But in terms of pressure, he added, "I felt none of that."
Said John Mather, fashion director of Men's Journal, "They have a PR machine [but] I don't find them aggressive as much as helpful. Pressure is the wrong word."
David Lauren and Mr. Morgan declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokeswoman attributed the following statement to Mr. Morgan: "Have we discussed the 35th anniversary with magazines? Of course we have. That's my job. But magazines make their own decisions, and they choose what stories they think are of interest to their readers. They aren't going to put Ralph Lauren on a cover if it doesn't sell magazines."