The work day never ends. Stress and competition are greater than ever. The job is on the line. Isn't business fun?
It is if you're reading Fast Company, a magazine that has scored with readers and advertisers by recognizing the world of business is no longer business as usual.
"The point of view of the magazine is simple. It's an exciting, challenging, dangerous, opportunity-filled time to be in business," says Founding Editor William C. Taylor, who calls the magazine "a manifesto for change, and a manual for achieving it."
Fast Company, which is Advertising Age's Magazine Launch of the Year, is aimed at people who believe change will help them and their organizations prosper.
LESSONS FOR THE QUICK
Fast Company is filled with lessons learned from fast companies obvious (Microsoft Corp.) and not-so-obvious (a food retailer). The magazine pulls off its mission with an attitude, bite and enthusiasm that is infectious.
"Quit your job. Work your butt off. Screw up. Have the time of your life!" admonishes the current issue's cover story about startup businesses.
Mr. Taylor describes the editorial approach as "service journalism with a brain."
Fast Company readers don't look alike: They labor everywhere from start-ups to the Fortune 500, and one-third are women. But on another score, Mr. Webber says they're almost interchangeable: They have a mandate to push their companies to move and adapt. If you're a maverick, you will subscribe to the Fast Company credo. If you like the status quo, you will hate this magazine.
This attitude has caught the attention of readers and advertisers. In the six issues of its first year, Fast Company sold 491 ad pages, 57% above the original plan. The one-time rate for a color page is $7,800. Paid circulation has reached 125,000.
The business plan behind Fast Company is as unconventional as the six-times-a-year title.
Mr. Taylor, 35, and Alan Webber, 48, former editors at Harvard Business Review, spotted a market opportunity for a magazine that would make sense of a business world upended by reengineering, downsizing and technology.
In 1993, the duo raised $200,000, created a prototype and mailed it to 30,000 names gathered from the Rolodexes of the first-round investors.
After refining the concept, the two shopped the title at most of the major publishers. They generally didn't get past the giants' new-magazine departments.
"Their job was basically to have meetings. You sort of felt this was going to be an awfully long road," recalls Mr. Taylor.
Then they did lunch with publishing mogul Mort Zuckerman's new-magazine "department"-Fred Drasner, who runs Mr. Zuckerman's New York Daily News.
Mr. Drasner got it. Mr. Zuckerman bought it.
Mr. Zuckerman, who also owns U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic Monthly, took a majority interest in Fast Company in April 1995. Messrs. Taylor and Webber own the rest.
Mr. Zuckerman "doesn't have failures," says Paula Brooks, managing partner-director of media services at Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. "We had faith to know that he wasn't going to put out a product that wasn't perfect."
The agency has bought ads for Carillon Importers' Stolichnaya vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin.
U.S. News handles ad sales, production and circulation for the magazine; U.S. News President Thomas R. Evans acts as Fast Company publisher.
"It's the '90s. Everybody has to have two jobs," he says.
READY TO CHANGE
The arrangement follows the credo of a "fast company": Focus on strengths, form alliances to gain complementary resources, control costs, be ready to change.
Mr. Evans initially struck a deal for his 33-member sales force to sell the first three issues. But he says the alliance worked so well that it's now semi-permanent-until, he figures, Fast Company grows big enough to require its own staff in a few years.
As an ad buy, Fast Company has to stand on its own. With a combination buy, Mr. Evans notes, it would be unclear whether advertisers were biting because of the magazine or a deal. Mr. Evans also wanted to ensure he didn't cannibalize U.S. News sales.
STANDING ON OWN
Buyers contend Fast Company is standing on its own. Kevin Powers, ad director at Lotus Development Corp. and an early advertiser in the magazine, calls the book "the Wired of business."
But there may be two key differences vs. the much-ballyhooed Wired: Design and money.
Fast Company toned down its design after a few issues in response to reader critiques; one complained the magazine was "a little too highly caffeinated." The look of the title now falls somewhere between Wired and Fortune.
There's also the matter of money: Wired lost $45.7 million on revenues of $52.3 million from its January '93 launch through June '96.
PROFITS SEEN IN '98
By contrast, Mr. Evans vows Fast Company is on to track to be profitable by yearend '98. U.S. News is believed to have invested significantly less than the $10 million suggested in some reports.
Mr. Evans won't comment except to say careful spending "certainly gets you faster to break even."
Befitting the role that technology plays in fast-changing companies, computers and office equipment account for 44% of the magazine's advertising.
"The business mindset they are appealing to is extremely consistent with that of the influential early adopters of our software," says Don Hall, group advertising manager in Microsoft's Desktop Applications Division. "Fast Company provides a great environment in which to reach business people who are constantly looking for ways to work smarter and faster."
WANTS FASHION ADS
The magazine also has done well with cars, travel and liquor ads. Mr. Evans hopes to get more fashion advertising.
"When it showed up on my desk, I threw it in my briefcase to read on my next long plane trip," says Cheryl Kroyer, associate partner-director of media services at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. "I found it to be a great read. Entertaining and informative. Easy to read."
Ms. Kroyer also liked the "reasonable" rates; client Montgomery Asset Management bought in, and Hewlett-Packard Co. soon will follow.
Mr. Evans stresses the magazine is succeeding mainly because of editorial. Many are conceived to go after a growing sector of advertisers, he says.
In contrast, he notes, Messrs. Taylor and Webber created Fast Company to deliver a certain voice to readers.
As the publication builds, it's making some noise. It brought on a PR agency, Michael Kaminer PR, last fall and will begin trade advertising and consumer promotion later this year.
Ms. Brooks is convinced the magazine's regular readers are consumer trend-setters her clients want to reach.
"When one thinks of business magazines now, they should think of Fast Company in the top four definitely-[along with] Business Week, Fortune and Forbes," says Ms. Brooks, who says Fast Company is "without a question" her favorite business title.
Ms. Brooks says her current issue is "ripped, there are coffee stains on it, it's dog-eared. I really can't say that about many magazines."