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BOCA RATON, Fla.-There were sparks but no explosive outbursts when the presidents of the nation's four largest magazine companies squared off on a panel during the final day of last week's American Magazine Conference.

As expected, Hearst's rate base plan was front and center as a topic. But much of the rancor that was expected between Hearst Magazines President Claeys Bahrenburg and Conde Nast Publications President Steve Florio was defused in the opening moments when the two wrapped their arms around one another in a warm embrace. They were joined on the panel by Time Inc. President-CEO Don Logan and Meredith Corp. President-Chief Operating Officer William Kerr.

The president who got a lot of pointed barbs throughout the three-day event wasn't even there: David Pecker, president-CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.

He had engineered a pullout from the Magazine Publishers of America in mid-1993 in a dispute of MPA-sponsored ad research.

Efforts to bring Hachette Filipacchi-and its accompanying six-figure dues payment-back have so far proven futile. But Tony Hoyt, the new senior VP of the non-member American Media, parent of the National Enquirer and Star was at the conference as the MPA tries to broaden its membership by luring the tabloids.

In the exchanges over Hearst, Mr. Florio went so far as to call the Hearst move "gutsy." But he also labeled it a "mid-course adjustment" that dealt Conde Nast a "competitive advantage. I hope they do it again next year and the year after that."

Mr. Bahrenburg defended his company, saying, "being reader driven is the right choice."

He said some advertisers have objected to the ad price increases that accompanied the rate base cuts, but "the degree of fallout has been much less than I anticipated."

Elsewhere there was also an appearance by DreamWorks SKG principals and in a riveting address, author Gail Sheehy urged editors, advertisers and marketers to stop "slavishly" pursuing the 18- to 34-year-olds and start looking at people in their 40, 50s and 60s who are acting younger than in previous generations and who are more financially secure. She said there is a new term "middlescence" by which the baby boomer generation doesn't fully grow up until sometime in their 40s.

In another panel, publishers were urged to find better and faster ways to measure the impact of the medium's ad messages with readers. "We've increased our print advertising spending this year," said Judith Beaudry, associate director of media/print for Procter & Gamble Co. "We would increase it more if we could really show our product managers that print works for them."

Attendance hit 700 registrants, up slightly from the 694 attendees at last year's gathering and just short of the record 715 who flocked to Bermuda two years ago. Mr. Kerr passed the baton to Mr. Bahrenburg as the chairman of the MPA.

Most attendees were enthusiastic about ad revenue prospects for next year. Though there were rumblings in some quarters that automotive and fashion retailing might be soft early, Mr. Logan said, "We're bullish. We think 1996 will be a strong year.'

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