Mitchell must groom 'Details' ad base while keeping cool

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There was something about how Chris Mitchell failed that caught his new boss's eye.

Mr. Mitchell, the incoming publisher of Fairchild Publications' Details, "left a cushy job and launched One magazine," said Mary Berner, Fairchild's president-CEO, referring to the ill-fated chic-shelter title where Mr. Mitchell was publisher from 2000 through mid 2001. "I liked the fact he had done something hard."

In retrospect, One would qualify as that. The slick lifestyle glossy launched as part of an ambitious multimedia play with venture capital money in December of 2000, just as the contours of the tech and magazine implosion became visible on the far horizon. "A glorious sixteen months," said a wry Mr. Mitchell.

But Mr. Mitchell landed on his feet, winding up as associate publisher at Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker later in 2001.

"The beauty of The New Yorker is that it's a weekly publication that has no endemic ad base, and so we have to go out and create 2,200 ad pages a year," said Publisher David Carey. "He seemed more than up to what goes into all of that. ... The fact he was short-listed for new opportunities did not surprise me."

This spring, Ms. Berner tapped him to helm the business side of Details, which Fairchild resurrected from near-dead status into a glossy for the new young urban male. The job had opened up after Conde Nast snapped up Mr. Mitchell's predecessor, Bill Wackermann, to be publisher of Glamour.

track record

Under Mr. Wackermann-also plucked from an associate publisher position at Conde Nast, coming over from Conde Nast Traveler-Details claimed a place in the crowded men's market by limning next-generation urban cool. Its tone and content suggest a reader comfortable with grooming products, fashion smarts, modern design motifs and a certain kind of ambisexuality. This is, after all, a magazine that once featured the cover-line "How To Tell Your Girlfriend You're Gay." (This sometimes gets the magazine into trouble, as evidenced by the flap over its hamhanded "Gay or Asian?" photo-feature earlier this year, which prompted cries of racism from the Asian-American community.)

Four years after its 2000 relaunch, Details has a proven track record of attracting advertisers. Ad pages for the first five months of 2004 were up 7.8% to 397.2. Last year its ad pages rose 22.6% to 1,019, a performance that earned it a place on Advertising Age's A-List.

Perhaps more crucially, if less measurably, Details has-again-carved out an identity as a certain kind of magazine and a certain kind of reader.

"The challenge is how do you take this 400,000-circulation, 1,000-ad-page [per year] magazine and bring it to its logical next level of maturity," Mr. Mitchell said. "The magazine is incredibly strong in fashion and grooming" but Mr. Mitchell said a push towards winning more automotive ads and technical ads would occur, given that both categories are "underserved" by the magazine. To this end, Mr. Mitchell opened up a Detroit office on what he said was "day three" of his tenure. The tech department is familiar as well to Mr. Mitchell, given that his resume includes a stint at Wired.

Beyond those bona fides, Ms. Berner made one other key observation about the 34-year-old Mr. Mitchell: "He's a walking talking demographic" of the Details audience, she said.

Not exactly. Mr. Mitchell just moved to the stroller-friendly Park Slope section of Brooklyn with his wife and nine-month-old son Henry. Previously, they'd lived in the more Details-esque neighborhood of Chelsea.

"It's been a busy month," Mr. Mitchell said.

Résumé

Name: Chris Mitchell

Age: 34

Now: Publisher, Fairchild Publications' Details

Who: Low-key rising magazine executive who's spent stints as associate publisher of The New Yorker and in Conde Nast's corporate sales arm, with a notable detour for dot-com-day multimedia shelter launch One.

Challenge: Continue growth of surging title; make sure it doesn't become hostage to a very specific cultural time and place as previous version of Details did.

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