Back to basics bid pumps ad hike

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Rodale executives should send American Media's Carolyn Bekkedahl a big bouquet of flowers. If it weren't for some "fierce competition" between sisters, Carolyn's younger sibling, MaryAnn, VP-publisher at Rodale's Men's Health, might have continued along the math and statistics path she set out on in college. Instead, MaryAnn Bekkedahl followed big sis into publishing and, since taking the helm at Men's Health in December 2001, has pulled 194 new advertisers into the magazine.

Men's Health finished 2002 with 874.8 ad pages, up 22.5% over 2001, according to Publishers Information Bureau. For the first three months of 2003, the magazine was up 18.7% in pages over the same period in 2002.

Ms. Bekkedahl, 34, has spent most of her magazine career at Rodale. Before ascending to publisher, she was in ad sales and, in 1999, was promoted to associate publisher of Men's Health International. In that position, she launched six foreign editions and managed a total of 22. "I call it my publishing MBA," says Ms. Bekkedahl. "You learn so much about how powerful the product is for readers around the world."

She put her experience to good use. Ms. Bekkedahl was promoted from publisher to VP in April, a move Rodale President-CEO Steve Murphy says is a "big step toward a big general management position."

As for her current mission at Men's Health, Ms. Bekkedahl is all about "back to basics ad selling" and extending the brand. She's determined to break 1,000 ad pages per year and is considering a diverse range of brand extensions including frozen dinners, a skincare line and personal trainer certification.

"She has a vision of what the property ought to achieve and where she wants to go," says Mr. Murphy. "Then she has an unassailable logic and frightens away anybody" who sees things differently. But Mr. Murphy adds Ms. Bekkedahl is "generous of spirit" so her drive to win isn't a problem.

Mr. Murphy says: "Let me just say that she's as successful winning over clients as she is winning [over] management. However, I've never been wrong by saying yes."

And when you're working with Ms. Bekkedahl, you'd better mean yes when you say yes. "If you hand her an idea, be careful," Mr. Murphy says. "It'll be done before you can change your mind."

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