The Player: Smith to use 'Parenting' success to grow 'Elle' brand

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The big brand at Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. is fashion title Elle, and its offshoots like Elle Decor and Elle Weddings. The flagship title alone is the company's No. 2 revenue generator. At the podium and in private, Hachette President-CEO Jack Kliger has spoken of the need for magazines, in sour economic times such as these, to broaden their revenue bases away from the standard advertising-and-circulation revenue bases.

Against that backdrop, Carol Smith, founder of Parenting and longtime magazine world executive, came in March into a top position at Elle-senior VP-group publishing director.

"It's a new position, in terms of an Elle brand master position," Mr. Kliger said.

"My mission is to grow the Elle brand among the existing magazine titles, as well as build the franchise and extend it beyond publishing," Ms. Smith said.

This is old hat for her. Just ask about her previous tenure at Parenting, which was sold to Time Inc. in 1995.

"Robin [Wolaner, founder and editor] and I started the magazine in `86," she said. And when she left 11 years later, "there were two monthly magazines, three annuals, a Web site, a book publishing operation, a continuity program ... a custom publishing operation." And more.

None of the new plans for Elle should detract from a more basic battle in the U.S. Here, Elle grapples furiously with Hearst Magazines' Harper's Bazaar for second-place status to Conde Nast Publications' Vogue. Harper's sought to turn up the heat by naming Glenda Bailey, late of Marie Claire, as editor in chief last July. Last year, Elle out-paged Harper's 1,872.9 to 1,642.5. Through April, though, Harper's overtook Elle, posting 352.5 pages to Elle's 305.3. While both titles' pages were down significantly from '01, Elle's 30.5% drop was steeper.

While that plays out, the company's begun exploring new revenue streams in earnest. Mr. Kliger mentioned an upcoming content syndication deal involving an electronics magazine, as well as books leveraging off its Premiere and Elle magazine brands. (A broader definition of magazine value at the company has ensured life for ad-starved Hachette titles like Premiere and Travel Holiday, which can feed content across the company's international portfolio.)

By early next year, Ms. Smith said, three Elle-branded books will be available in America, thanks to the office the company's book division just opened here. Ms. Smith was cagey about revealing her upcoming plans-and few specifics can be parsed from her comments, given how broadly she defines the terrain her brand covers.

"It's not a fashion name-it's Elle, it's her," she said. "If I can bring more of that European sensibility, whether fashion or beauty or cuisine, or books aimed at mothers or a wedding supplement, I'd say yes to all of that."

Ms. Smith suggested such extensions of the brand would come next year, but not for any slacker reasons.

"I've had 352 meetings since March 1," she said in mid-May.

Fast Facts

Name: Carol A. Smith

Age: 53

Now: Senior VP-group publishing director, Hachette Filipacchi Media US' Elle

Challenge: Regain momentum at the mother ship and begin building out the brand

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