Advance furthers Berner ascension

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The shuffling of executives and properties within Advance Magazine Group, which encompasses Conde Nast Publications, Fairchild Publications and Golf Digest Cos., can be read two ways.

The main text is that, in the words of new Conde Nast President-CEO Charles H. "Chuck" Townsend-who also carries the title of chief operating officer at AMG-"we are taking the walls down" between the company's units. The subtext is the continued ascendancy of Fairchild President-CEO Mary Berner.

Some observers believe Advance Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. is grooming Ms. Berner, 45, for a larger role in his privately held media empire.

Last week, the company joined its Conde Nast Bridal Group, which publishes Bride's, Modern Bride and a host of regional titles, with Fairchild's Elegant Bride to form the Fairchild Bridal Group.

The unit will be based in Fairchild's headquarters and report to Ms. Berner.

Mr. Townsend, 60, in an interview, dismissed notions that this positioned Ms. Berner as a successor: "Any logical business view would say that [Fairchild] is where you've got the management talent with the time to pay attention to something as complex as putting a huge bridal group together." But he did say that Ms. Berner's responsibilities being broadened was "not insignificant."

Before last week's move, Conde Nast published 18 consumer titles (not including the regional bridal titles), while Fairchild published four, as well as a host of business-to-business titles.

"I expect us to act more and more as Advance Magazine Group," Mr. Townsend said. But, he added, "Do I have more of these shifts up my sleeve? No."


Still, the corridors of Conde Nast and Advance are notoriously chatty, and insiders reported concerns about additional shifts within the company-be it naming a new layer of group publishers, or charging key executives with overseeing all men's or women's titles.

There's also the question of who ultimately succeeds Mr. Townsend. Obvious contenders besides Ms. Berner include Chief Marketing Officer Richard Beckman and Golf Digest Cos. CEO Mitch Fox.

Ms. Berner refused to comment on questions about her future role.

Regarding the recent series of interdivisional shifts of property and personnel, Ms. Berner said, "What you're seeing is Chuck and I working very hard together" to make moves that will enable "people and businesses to thrive the best."

That attitude among top Advance executives is fairly new. Early on in Ms. Berner's tenure at Fairchild, one could detect discontent from Conde Nast executives over the number of its employees she hired away. Glamour, where she formerly worked, lost at least 15 staffers to Ms. Berner's division.

doubled portfolio

One executive close to the situation then spoke of fears that Ms. Berner's successor at Glamour, Debi Fine, "was going to choke [Ms. Berner]." Ms. Berner, in turn, told Ad Age in 2000, "My response is, `Stop whining.' ... Let Conde Nast come over here and recruit our people."

Under Ms. Berner's tenure, which began 1999, Fairchild doubled its consumer portfolio, starting with a remake of Conde Nast's men's title Details and the acquisition of Elegant Bride in 2003. A company insider put the revenue base of the Conde Nast Bridal Group at more than $75 million.

The creation of the Fairchild Bridal Group came one day after Advance shuffled publishers across all its divisions. Self VP-Publisher Beth Brenner moved over to helm the upcoming home-themed launch of Lucky, which is due out next year. Golf for Women VP-Publisher Kimberly Kelleher went to Conde Nast from Golf Digest Cos. to replace Ms. Brenner. Ms. Kelleher was replaced by Lee Slattery, formerly associate publisher, Glamour.

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