Greg Coleman, president of Reader's Digest Association's magazine unit; Bob Mate, VP-publishing director, Meredith Publishing Group, and Jack Kliger, senior VP, Parade, are on the short list of names currently making the rounds in publishing's gossip circles.
Executives inside Hachette insist no one has been contacted yet as a potential successor.
Mr. Pecker announced last week he would leave Hachette to take a new post as chairman-CEO of American Media. Mr. Pecker, who will have an equity stake in the company, was hired by Evercore Capital Partners.
Evercore, an investment group headed by former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, reached a deal to purchase the parent of the National Enquirer and Star for $300 million in cash and assumption of $467 million in debt.
Mr. Pecker will remain at Hachette through March. Chairman Daniel Filipacchi, along with three other managers, will assume day-to-day responsibilities until a successor is named.
Those managers are Exec VP-Chief Operating Officer John Fennell; Senior Exec VP-Editorial Director Jean Louis Ginibre; and Senior VP-Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer John T. O'Connor.
Of the three, Mr. Fennell appears to be the internal front-runner to succeed Mr. Pecker.
Other potential internal candidates include: James P. Docherty, president of new media; Nick Mattarazo, senior VP-advertising and marketing; and Arnaud Lagardere, son of Jean Luc Lagardere, founder of Lagardere Group, the parent company of Hachette. Mr. Lagardere once ran Hachette's book publishing unit, Grolier.
Mr. Pecker, whose long career at what is now Hachette stretches back to 1979 (when CBS Publishing's sign hung on the door), rose through the ranks from assistant controller. As head of Hachette since 1991, he developed strong relationships with advertisers and implemented brash marketing plans. He also cut costs to boost profits.
TALKS STARTED LAST JULY
Mr. Pecker's journey to his new position began in July, said Austin Beutner, Evercore principal and founder. The two met for a breakfast that stretched until nearly lunchtime at Mr. Beutner's Tuxedo Park, N.Y., home. The idea to acquire American Media grew from that meeting, and subsequent strategies were planned on weekends and during vacations.
"My wife says she's spent more vacations with David Pecker than anyone else this year," said Mr. Beutner, detailing that they spoke in Nantucket in July and Palm Beach in December.
The partners see great potential in the tabloid titles, including brand extensions in the Hispanic and teen markets. The papers, Mr. Pecker said, are undermarketed and underpromoted. Evercore plans to invest $50 million in marketing. The Brand Consultancy, New York, headed by Peter Arnell, is likely to handle the assignment.
Given Mr. Pecker's history of buying moribund titles and turning them around at Hachette, industry observers believe American Media will serve as a platform to build a bigger company.
"They will acquire," said Roland DeSilva, managing partner of investment firm DeSilva & Phillips.
Mr. Pecker's departure from Hachette raises questions about the future of some of its titles, such as George, an unprofitable joint venture with John. F. Kennedy Jr. that was a pet project of Mr. Pecker. Hachette, the third largest U.S. publisher by ad sales, is the parent of such titles as Elle, Road & Track,