THE MARKETING 100: 'THIS OLD HOUSE': ERIC THORKILSEN

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Eric thorkilsen used to plan many a weekend around "This Old House," the popular home renovation program. Now he's not just a fan, but the driving force behind the expansion of a 20-year-old PBS program into a mini-media conglomerate, with arms in magazine publishing, syndicated TV, books, video and the Internet.

A pioneer of aggressive multimedia branding from his days as publisher of Martha Stewart Living, the 47-year-old executive rose up the ranks of Time Inc. after arriving in the circulation division in 1973. He immediately saw "This Old House" as a group of products that could capture the male flipside of Martha Stewart's upscale boomer audience when Boston-based WBGH first wrote Time Inc. about licensing the show.

Time Publishing Ventures launched This Old House in May 1995, a magazine Publisher Tom Ott says is on the "cusp of profitability," its circulation up from an initial 200,000 to 525,000 this year. This Old House Sourcebook, rolled out at the end of 1996, has sold 70,000 units, and the company plans three to four more titles for later this year. Expectations are also high for a video line of repurposed content from the show (e.g., "Great Bathroom Renovations") and a Web site to be launched in the near future.

Meanwhile, the show, reaching PBS, cable's Home & Garden Television and 92% of the syndicated market, garners 28 million monthly viewers who see a tag at the end of the every episode about the magazine. This cross-promotion has attracted 500 new subscriptions a week.

Mr. Thorkilsen's tactic is to make the brand itself, not any one of the products, the core of the business. This way, no one egg can weigh the basket down if it doesn't perform well. The difficulty is not in thinking up new applications for "This Old House," he says, but getting the creative talent to maintain the spirit of the brand and create a unique product at the same time.

"You have to sort of discipline your editors to believe they're not in the business of re-creating or creating anew the brand," he says. "It can't be a transcript, and it can't be strictly a companion. It's got to be something that the consumer feels comes from the same sort of soul or heart. And it's a tricky thing to do."

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