Publishing Executive of the Year: Mary Berner

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It's been said of Fairchild Publications President-CEO Mary Berner that if she doesn't run Conde Nast someday, she'll simply build her own magazine-publishing powerhouse. Having overseen Fairchild for the last five years, Mr. Berner appears ready to begin creating in earnest that publishing empire.

Ms. Berner arrived at Fairchild in November 1999, just as Advance Publications, parent of Conde Nast Publications, was completing its $650 million purchase of Fairchild from Walt Disney Co. Within a month, Ms. Berner had split the company into three divisions and boldly predicted that Fairchild would double its operating profit in five years.

Ms. Berner, 45, laughs at that prediction now. She recalls that the first two years on the job ended up being "about getting the house in order." She created an executive committee and shuffled publishers to "get the right people on the bus, and get the wrong ones out."

But it hasn't all been executive rejiggering. Ms. Berner has more than doubled the number of titles Fairchild publishes, and has created or taken on new franchises like the Fairchild Bridal Group and the Vitals Network. The latter is transforming Vitals into the first magazine to alternate between men's and women's fashion with each issue.


"We've done the heavy lifting," Ms. Berner says, adding, "I would argue that we are perceived as a player now." Leading the transformation of Fairchild into a player has elevated Ms. Berner to Advertising Age's Publishing Executive of the Year.

Upon getting the house in order, Ms. Berner and her team chose to focus on rehabilitating Fairchild's core franchises first, like company flagship Women's Wear Daily and profitable trades like DNR, Home Furnishings News and Supermarket News.

Growth came through iterations and spinoffs. WWD soon begat WWD: The Magazine, today one of more than 20 titles or special editions under the WWD banner. Fairchild's B2B division has mushroomed in a similar manner, and even W, now second only to Conde Nast's Vogue in ad pages among high fashion titles, has spun off W Jewelry.

Fairchild's other conduit of growth until now has been the reclamation of Conde Nast projects. Details was relaunched at Fairchild in 2000 after failing in all its incarnations at Conde Nast. A Fairchild executive says the magazine broke even last year and is now firmly in the black.

In May, the solidly profitable, though relatively unglamorous, Conde Nast Bridal Group was transferred to Fairchild and joined with another Berner project, the recently acquired and relaunched Elegant Bride.

While Fairchild, like all units of the closely held Advance, doesn't disclose top- or bottom-line figures, executives there are happy to reveal that ad revenue (not counting the recently arrived bridal titles) has risen 54% since 1999 to a projected $400 million in 2004. The Bridal Group is expected to generate $290 million in ads in '04.

This year, however, has been bumpier; ad pages at stalwarts W and Jane have been flat and down, respectively; the B2B division is flat after growing even during the ad recession, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR; while WWD's revenue is growing steadily once again, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

At this point, "We're done with the iterations," Ms. Berner says. "Otherwise, eventually you'll have a sock magazine: WWD Socks. We're building brands now."

The Vitals Network is an early example of that evolution, creating a brand that is simultaneously niche and upscale.

Vitals began life in August as a men's shopping book and competitor to Conde Nast's Cargo, but is set to evolve next year into a hybrid of men's and women's fashion, alternating the focus every issue.

The thinking behind the shift is typical of the entrepreneurial spirit that has infused Fairchild during Ms. Berner's tenure: Vitals Editor Joe Zee had been the fashion director of W, so why not tap into that expertise and his reputation?

More launches are ahead. Fairchild is currently incubating an upscale parenting magazine and travel title, both of which are the fruits of another Berner invention-Fairchild's "Idea" day, in which employees are encouraged to pitch concepts to the executive committee. Four different groups came up with a parenting idea, she says, a clear signal of its potential.


The advertising community loves Ms. Berner's forthright style, her focus on operating as much as selling, and her commitment to delivering products that stick to, and define, their niches.

"She delivers one thing advertisers prize-an extremely considerable product," says David Verklin, CEO of Aegis Group's Carat Americas, New York. "You really feel there is a steady hand on the tiller at Fairchild, and you see it in the product."

These days, Ms. Berner's style is in vogue at Advance, where the similarly operations-obsessed Charles Townsend assumed the president-CEO spot at Conde Nast in February. Ms. Berner succeeded Mr. Townsend as publisher of Glamour when he rose to exec VP, later becoming chief operating officer at Conde Nast. Mr. Townsend describes their working relationship today as "extraordinarily close."

Adds Advance Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr.: "We appreciate the close working relationship she has fostered with other divisions within the Advance Magazine Group."

Mr. Townsend's handover of the Bridal Group to Fairchild last spring was accordingly interpreted as a possible step in Ms. Berner being groomed for CEO of Conde Nast someday.

"Has Conde Nast learned from Fairchild?" Mr. Townsend asks rhetorically. "The answer is absolutely. ... These two divisions of Advance have never been closer than they are now."

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