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PEOPLE;PLAYER OF THE WEEK;PLAYBOY TAPS CK EXEC TO BROADEN ITS BRAND;ROBERT PERKINS BRINGS EXPERTISE IN LAUNCHING PRODUCTS TO NEW MARKETING POST

By Published on .

Playboy enterprises, long a sleeper in the eyes of most Wall Street analysts, has raided Calvin Klein Inc. to hire Robert Perkins as exec VP-marketing and corporate development.

Mr. Perkins, a specialist at new-product introductions and global marketing, joins the Chicago-based media company with a background that includes ad agency and marketer experience, as well as a decade in politics.

MARKETING A BRAND NAME

"This is exactly the kind of background you'd want to see at Playboy," said Stewart Halpern, an analyst who follows the company's stock for Furman Selz. "He's someone who is familiar with marketing a brand name and creating a strong identity."

Mr. Perkins, 49, has for the past two years been VP-licensing and marketing at Calvin Klein, where he marketed everything from jeans and underwear to eyewear and fragrances. His title at Playboy upgrades a post vacant since earlier this year.

"Playboy Enterprises, because of the scope of its brands, has a lot of potential," Mr. Perkins said. "The challenge is to sort through them all and then pursue the best options with manic intensity."

Playboy, the cash cow that helped launch the sexual revolution with its introduction more than 41 years ago, has settled into slow growth. More robust revenue gains are expected to come from TV, new media, brand extensions and overseas expansion.

At Calvin Klein, Mr. Perkins was instrumental in introducing the designer's jeans to Europe and Asia. He also worked on licensing the CK One and CK Be fragrance lines on a global basis.

REPUBLICAN POLITICO

Early in his career, Mr. Perkins spent 10 years working in Republican politics, including fund-raising for Ronald Reagan. After that, he said, "I decided it was time to get a real job."

He met and was hired by agency founder Jay Chiat in 1985, beginning his career in marketing.

After rising to manager of the New York office at the former Chiat/

Day/Mojo, Mr. Per-kins took a top marketing job at Pizza Hut, helping to launch new brands such as the Big Foot pizza.

At Playboy, Mr. Perkins hopes to continue extending the core brand globally-the company recently introduced a Playboy cigar-carrying on a program put in place by Chairman-CEO Christie Hefner over the past decade. During that time, she has extracted the company from unprofitable businesses such as the old Playboy Clubs and an ill-fated attempt to cash in on Atlantic City casinos.

Plans to launch additional publishing properties in the U.S. stalled in the early '90s, but the company did push aggressively into entertainment and pay-per-view TV. It also operates a popular Web site.

`JUST REALIZING POTENTIAL'

"I think they are just starting to realize their potential," Mr. Perkins said.

While the monthly Playboy remains the company flagship, its role has diminished. In the fiscal year ended June 30, the magazine accounted for $105.3 million in revenue and just under $3.6 million in operating income. That means it kicked in 38% of the company's total revenue of $276.6 million. As recently as 1990, the magazine was contributing nearly 60% of the total. Net income for fiscal '96 was $4.25 million, up from $629,000 the previous year.

The domestic edition of Playboy has seen its circulation tumble for years. In January, it lowered its rate base 7.4% to 3.15 million and its paid circulation dipped 4.9% to 3.23 million. Ad pages through August were 368.4, down 2.4% compared to the same period last year.

Years ago, the magazine's lackluster performance would have been cause for concern on Wall Street. Now some think the company has become sufficiently insulated to withstand the vagaries of the publishing world.

JAPAN, U.K. CHANNELS

In addition to its premium cable channel in the U.S., the company now operates channels in Japan and the U.K.

"I think the stock is on the cusp of a major breakthrough," said Mr. Halpern, the analyst.

Mr. Perkins said that whatever problems Playboy may have had, it remains one of the world's most identifiable brands.

"In some places in the world, the brand stands for more than just adult entertainment," he said. "It stands for freedom of expression and a certain type of affluent American lifestyle."

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