Kevin O'Malley

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For the better part of the 1990s, Esquire looked backward to its literary legacy of Hemingway, Updike and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while the lad magazines were busy landing on these shores. But when the lights went on earlier this month at the Esquire House in Beverly Hills, on a cliff above Los Angeles, the magazine and its advertisers toasted its turnaround with a party straight out of "The Great Gatsby."

Presiding over it all-though he's certainly no doomed, brooding figure like Gatsby-was the laughing visage of Esquire VP-Publisher Kevin O'Malley.

In the year-and-a-half since arriving at Hearst Magazines' Esquire, Mr. O'Malley has overseen what looks to be two years of double-digit ad page growth. He's also helped reposition Esquire as the refined and, it is hoped, still cool elder statesman of men's magazines. Last year was a record-breaking and profitable one.

Meanwhile, the lad titles like Dennis Publishing's Maxim are losing steam, while at Conde Nast Publications, archrival GQ has steered dramatically younger. Ad pages for Esquire climbed 9.5% through July 2004, according to Publishers Information Bureau, while pages for key rivals dropped-GQ by 14.9%; Maxim, 14.1%; and Stuff, 11.1%.

"It's interesting," Mr. O'Malley says, "that, by abdication, we have the opportunity to be the last man standing. Everybody's racing to be the laddie, cool, metrosexual, whatever nom du jour they want to use."

But to his credit, Mr. O'Malley, 48, has refused to pitch Editor in Chief David Granger's magazine, which led all titles at the National Magazine Awards this year with four victories, as the preferred read of middle-age men alone.

"Media people are supposed to put you in a box," Mr. O'Malley says during lunch in his office. "And my gut instinct is to resist boxes. That's just the way I've been trained."

Mr. O'Malley is currently serving his second stint at Esquire. His first ended more than a decade ago, when he bolted as advertising director there for an associate publisher's post at Wenner Media's Rolling Stone. It was his time there, Mr. O'Malley says, "that taught me the real power of a brand."

His tour of duty in the youth culture trenches is paying off today in the form of renewed conversations with brands like Diesel, Adidas and Nike that once thought it unthinkable to advertise in a magazine skewing so old.

"The phenomenon of modern dressing" is how Mr. O'Malley describes the high-low look that has Diesel founder Renzo Rosso listening intently to his pitch. Mr. Rosso "has a luxury denim brand," Mr. O'Malley says. "He has to merge the `low' with modern upscale clothing."

But perhaps Mr. O'Malley's greatest contribution to the men's magazine so far is the budding Esquire Apartment/House franchise, a concept borrowed from the idea houses sponsored by shelter titles and underwritten with delirious effects by Esquire's luxury advertisers.

Last year's Esquire Apartment, perched in a Donald Trump building 90 stories above Manhattan, attracted vertical luxury brands like Armani, Calvin Klein, Nautica and Joseph Abboud. The property, which isn't owned by Esquire, was used to host charity events for several months.

"Armani Casa was one of the first brands that Kevin brought into the Esquire Apartment in New York, and we worked closely with his entire team on our involvement with the project," says Caroline Brown, VP-marketing, USA, at Giorgio Armani. "We were thrilled to be a part of this program, which allowed us to bring our brand to life in such a unique environment and take advantage of a great opportunity to segue into the home category for their reader."

This year's model, the Esquire House-which is valued at $11 million-has upped the stakes with rooms sponsored by blue-chip luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Burberry and Hugo Boss.

Esquire's first foray into real estate last year, combined with its 70th anniversary special issues in the fall, goosed ad pages 10%, Mr. O'Malley says. He says if he can simply match that number, "it would be a huge win for me, and Hearst senior management would be very pleased."

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