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When the patriarch of a family business passes on, all hell can break loose among the kids left in charge. Not so at Forbes.

Since the death of flamboyant media tycoon Malcolm Forbes in 1990, Forbes has prospered, thanks to the zeal of Malcolm's four far-less flashy sons.

The every-other-week business title surpassed the 4,000 advertising page mark last year, becoming the first magazine to do so since Business Week in 1990. It also copped the Publishers' Information Bureau ad page crown for the third consecutive year.

Aggressive selling and a do-or-die corporate spirit certainly helped. But so did a bold, yet careful expansion of the core franchise by Forbes President and Editor in Chief Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. and his brothers, Christopher, Timothy and Robert.

With an eye toward revenue growth and increased reader loyalty, they intro-duced two supplements during the past five years: Forbes FYI, a quarterly, irreverent executive-lifestyle guide, and Forbes ASAP, a six-times-a-year technology journal. Three new foreign-language editions were also created and the Forbes MediaCritic, a jaunty journalism review, made its debut.

The advent of these spinoffs is no surprise to some.

"You can't discount the brothers' desire to grow this company," says Jeffrey Cunningham, Forbes' publisher.

The mission is to build on the continuing strength of Forbes, says Steve Forbes.

That may not be too tough. Under Editor Jim Michaels, the flagship magazine is as smart and sassy as ever. Its corporate profiles still cut like a sharp knife and its coverage of executive deeds-and misdeeds-are often fodder for B-school classrooms.

The magazine isn't resting on its laurels. Forbes has extended its no-sacred-cows philosophy to new ar-eas, like the emerging multimedia industry, and was one of first publications to flag readers about the roadblocks on the information superhighway.

Mr. Forbes believes Forbes' singular personality keeps it ahead of the pack.

"We're written with the entrepreneurial spirit in mind, not the pot-bellied executive on the golf course-and people know that," he says.

Perhaps that's why Forbes readers are so loyal. Its second-half 1994 total paid circulation was 777,353, up a meager 0.9% from the same period in 1994, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. But the magazine fared better than its competitors, Fortune and Business Week, which saw 4.5% and 0.4% declines in second-half circulation, respectively.

Forbes expects 1995 circulation to hold steady, says Mr. Cunningham.

"The circulation picture is very strong and we will keep the gates closed until we get a better feel for the economy as well as the demographics we're able to bring in," he says. "It's pointless to grow for the sake of growth."

On the ad page side, Mr. Cunningham predicts Forbes will see full-year ad page growth in the "mid-single digits." For the end of the first quarter, Forbes is up 20%.

Meanwhile, Mr. Forbes has his own goal-to be No.*1 in ad pages again.

"If we don't strive to be No.*1, then we're going to miss a lot of business out there," he says. "Why should we let someone else take our business?"

Critics have long contended that the ad page race is meaningless since Forbes offers advertisers heavy page discounts and lumps FYI and ASAP into its total numbers.

However, for all that carping, no one can deny that Forbes has turned its supplements from unpopular and costly decisions into popular and cost-effective properties.

Few advertisers thought there was a market for FYI and ASAP, especially since such books as Inc. and Business Week had failed to attract readers or marketers with their own supplements.

But Forbes Inc. pressed ahead, hired separate staffs independent of Forbes and invested millions of dollars in the books. They won't say how much.

"You have to hand it to them," says Michael Lotito, exec VP-chief media officer, Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York. "No one was in the marketplace with either of these concepts, but they made a commitment to them and refined the editorial and today they are very good niche products."

Indeed, if you've ever tried to wade through a piece on microchips in any computer magazine, it's clear why Forbes ASAP offers a real alternative. It deals with technology issues but is written for the general reader, not the technophile.

"Our goal is to inform readers about the information age and its consequences so they can be ahead of the wave, not behind it," says ASAP Editor Rich Karlgaard.

It's also allowed Forbes to win over a wave of technology advertisers. It has attracted new clients who never advertised in Forbes, including client-server software company SAP America and AT&T Global Information Solutions, and has brought in additional pages from regulars in the main book, like IBM Corp.

Not to be outdone is Forbes FYI, which has carved the lifestyle niche for the company. It posted 338 ad pages last year, up 2% from the year before, says Robert Forbes, Forbes FYI's president.

With its lush design and lively mix of leisure stories, it reads like an Esquire for the chief executive set. Recent stories in FYI include a look at "The Sportsman's Hawaii," a piece on bringing kids to Las Vegas and a humorous story on how to eat the executive meal of a steak, wine, etc., with finesse. And it attracts such luxury goods marketers as Bulgari Corp. of America and Donna Karan Co., companies that rarely bought space in Forbes in the past.

Now that they've cornered the executive lifestyle and high-tech markets, the Forbes brothers have other plans. They hope to move into CD-ROMs and an online service, and there's talk of starting a title for executives and their families, something akin to Family Life for CEOs.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if they continue" inventing new titles, says Valerie Muller, exec VP-media director at DeWitt Media, a New York-based media-buying service. "This is a company that has proven it has the patience and fortitude to try new things and really make them work."

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