JFK Jr. keeps options open for 'George'

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In the glare of lights from TV crews crowded into New York's posh Le Cirque 2000, George founder John F. Kennedy Jr. last week introduced his magazine's newest advice columnist, former New York Sen. Al D'Amato.

But away from the spotlight, Mr. Kennedy is maneuvering to ensure his political monthly will survive the departure of its chief advocate, outgoing Hachette Filipacchi Magazines President David Pecker. George is a joint venture between the Kennedy scion and the publishing giant.


In mid-February, Mr. Kennedy was seen having lunch at another New York restaurant, San Domenico, with Steven T. Florio. Mr. Florio is president-CEO of Conde Nast Publications, a Hachette rival in the glossy, high-stakes publishing world.

The two have been spotted together in public in the past and insisted they were just two friends sharing a meal. But Mr. Kennedy, in an interview with Advertising Age last week, acknowledged he is keeping his options open in case support from Hachette wavers.

"We have an acquaintance now through our lunches. One way or another, George has to be able to compete. And to do that I need resources for advertising, for marketing, for production, for paying our writers, Mr. Kennedy said. "I've been assured that I will get those resources at Hachette. But, believe me, George will be competitive one way or another, he said. "If I have to pursue that acquaintance, I will.

Mr. Florio was not available for comment last week.

Hachette, which expects to hire Mr. Pecker's successor by the end of the month, insists it remains committed to George. At a board meeting in February, Paris-based Hachette Filipacchi Media CEO Gerard Roquemaurel and Jean-Luc Lagardere, general partner-CEO of Hachette parent Lagardere Group, approved continued investment in George. Mr. Pecker said the magazine spent just about half of Hachette's original $22 million investment in George through December 1998.

"If George needs more money for some marketing and promotion ideas that John has, Hachette will invest more, Mr. Pecker said. Under the terms of their agreement, Mr. Kennedy owns 50% of George, but Hachette will fully fund the title through 2001.


Launched amid much fanfare in October 1995, George was seen by many as Mr. Pecker's grab at glamor. But the magazine has yet to turn a profit, or to win respect in many corners of the publishing industry.

Although it is still young, George is not necessarily growing. Itended 1998 with 670 ad pages, a 1.7% decrease from 1997. Circulation was also down, dropping 5% to 403,894, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. Newsstand sales declined 28.2% to 90,867.

Mr. Kennedy plans to boost the title's performance, in part by hiring high-profile contributors. A new editorial team, headed by Executive Editor Richard Blow, includes former Clinton adviser Paul Begala and conservative commentator Anne Coulter.

Mr. Kennedy said he'd also like to cut a TV deal for George and wants to hire an ad agency to raise the magazine's profile among both consumers and advertisers.

Mr. Kennedy knows George needs to grow circulation beyond the current 400,000 rate base, and believes his title could reach the 650,000 to 700,000 range. A recent deal with Hudson News placed six newsstand displays at $25,000 each in its new Grand Central Station store in New York.


George will miss another industry milestone; the title is not expected to be profitable after five years, although Mr. Pecker believes it will be in the black by its sixth year. Mr. Kennedy is quick to note political magazines historically have not proved to be commercially viable.

"It is a challenge to try to produce a self-sustaining commercial political magazine, he said. "We have no endemic ad base, so we have to rely on the vitality of the editorial product.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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