Cannes Lions 2005

Editor of the Year

By Published on .

This is just too good. Bonnie Fuller, editor in chief of Us Weekly, is decrying the media's mounting obsession with celebrity.

"When I became a reporter and then a magazine editor, nobody wrote about editors in chief," she says. "The focus, the intense media scrutiny of them didn't exist. It's been quite a change."

No media outlet has yet run a picture of a dressed-down Ms. Fuller toting a plunger-as Us did with ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell this summer-but Ms. Fuller has always attracted a great deal of attention in the magazine world, and since she came to Us Weekly in March, it's happening again.

She's significantly boosted newsstand sales and buzz. She's made her own star ascendant once more after flaming out in a stint at Conde Nast Publications' Glamour, where her vaunted consumer sense appeared to desert her.

Once again, her work provokes conversation. There are those who love it and sense the sneaky wit amid the sizzle. There are those who snipe at its perceived tawdriness-one sure way to rile executives at owner Wenner Media is to suggest Us owes any aesthetic debt to supermarket tabloids.


And yet Ms. Fuller, 46, has created the newest iteration of a celebrity magazine, blending elements from sources as diverse as Time Inc.'s In Style, Conde Nast's Lucky, British celebrity mags Heat and Hello! and the supermarket tabloids.

Us has become an extraordinar- ily confected magazine, emblazoned with pinks and hot purples, its design amok with photo-heavy pages liberally scribbled with delirious exclamations ("Hubba Hubby!").

It's obsessed with the minutiae of celebrity, as fascinated with the gloss as it is with the grunt work behind it-a glammed-out Gwyneth will appear in the same issue as a shot of her unstyled and looking decidedly declasse.

"I love paparazzi," says the soft-spoken Ms. Fuller. "I've always loved the newsiness and energy of it."

Love it or hate it-and we're not entirely sure on a day-to-day basis where we fall-the mix is as undeniably compelling as eating the whole box of cookies, or ripping the top off a gumball machine and stuffing fistfuls in your mouth.

That the product is undeniable, if not exactly nutritious, has won endorsements from unexpected places. "It gives me more of the vulgar, celebrity-centric trash I seek in a magazine like that," says Kurt Andersen, who co-founded Spy and "If I want a guilty pleasure, I want the full guilt and the full pleasure."

Us is "a deep-fried Twinkie," says Redbook's entertainment director, Claire Connors, who worked at Cosmopolitan for Ms. Fuller. "It's so bad, it's good."

Credit Ms. Fuller, whose editorial Comeback of the Year makes her Advertising Age's Editor of the Year, and who becomes the first editor to claim that honor twice.

Replacing Legends

By now Ms. Fuller's resume is well-known. To the States from her native Canada in `89 to edit Gruner & Jahr's YM. Then to Hearst in `93, to helm then-new import Marie Claire. Then to Hearst's Cosmo in `96, where she replaced the prototypical Cosmo Girl Helen Gurley Brown (and won her first crown as Ad Age Editor of the Year for `97); over to Glamour in `98, where she replaced another legend, Ruth Whitney.

Ms. Fuller's name became a sort of industry shorthand: for eye-poppingly sexed-up cover lines, for boffo newsstand numbers, for a formidable work ethic that astounded those around her. (The early months of her tenure at Us Weekly, which is notorious for Monday night closes that stretch to dawn or beyond, saw significant turnover.)

"She is a very strong editor who is a perfectionist," says Mary Berner, president-CEO of Conde Nast sibling Fairchild Publications, whose tenure as publisher of Glamour overlapped with Ms. Fuller's as editor. "That's where the stuff about her being difficult comes from. She will do it again and again and again, until it's right."

Ms. Fuller's ship ran aground at Conde Nast's Glamour, whose newsstand sales were flat in the first half of 2002, an improvement over earlier declines during her tenure. (Ms. Fuller attributes single-copy problems to complaints from pressure groups that forced polybags over her magazine and says newsstand numbers were trending up at the end of her tenure.) She won few friends at Conde Nast or Hearst by reportedly lobbying for the top post at Hearst's Harper's Bazaar. Ms. Fuller declines to respond to what she terms rumors. "I was very committed to my job," she says.

The official story is Ms. Fuller's contract was not renewed. She worked on a book titled "From Geek to Oh My Goddess" and consulted with Meredith Corp., and her name all but disappeared from business pages.

That changed once Terry McDonell left Us Weekly to edit Sports Illustrated, and Ms. Fuller arrived.

Celeb's Noses

For Us Executive Editor Janice Min, the story of Ms. Fuller's Us was glimpsed in a single ... nose.

"The watershed moment was Liza Minnelli's wedding," she recalls. Someone studying the photos noticed how similar the noses of David Gest (Mr. Liza Minnelli) and Michael Jackson were. "So let's just call it out," Ms. Min recalls the thinking going. "Do they have the same nose?" They found a plastic surgeon who essentially said: Yes, they did.

So goes the new Us, the stray comment elevated to gleeful wallow. The now-notorious photo feature asking if stars, literally, had big heads. Swooping arrows on its pages; exploded enlargements of circled bangles on wrists. "It adds an extra layer of texture," says Ms Fuller.

Her boss, Jann Wenner, is a little less restrained about it. "I, in my life, would never have thought of taking a pencil and circling [a detail] and going `To the limit!' " he says, all but howling with laughter. "But that's what they're doing. And it's so much better."

Ms. Fuller "is an entertainment editor. That's a very important role in magazine journalism," says Elizabeth Crow, the editorial director of Primedia's consumer magazines and the person who hired Ms. Fuller at YM. "If you want to have a good time, you call Bonnie."

Such praise is not universal. "The sudden popularity of Us just drives home the fact that I do not understand women," says a lugubrious 30-ish male magazine editor.

Indeed, Ms. Fuller's gut feel for her reader has not always drawn praise, be it from pressure groups singling out her cover lines as smutty or from more traditionally minded editors.

"I don't mean this as bad as it sounds," says a high-ranking editor at a non-competing publication. "She leads us toward demeaning ourselves. We would get there anyway," the editor concedes, but "she just gets us there faster."

Asked about such notions, Ms. Fuller focuses elsewhere. "It's a business," she says. "I've got to get [readers] to go to the newsstand every single week."

The Audit Bureau of Circulations shows they have. For the first half of 2002, a period for which Ms. Fuller is only partly responsible, newsstand sales were up a whopping 30.1% over the previous year to 405,662. Ad pages are up 5.73% through September, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

An Ad Age analysis of Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR data shows that Walt Disney Co., which bought into a partnership for Us Weekly in March with $35 million, was Us' second-largest advertiser, accounting for about 6% of its ad pages for the first nine months of 2002 and roughly doubling its commitments from `01.

Asked if Disney got any special deals because of its ties, Wenner General Manager Kent Brownridge, says: "Disney has a deal that is commensurate with the volume they run." He points out Disney's entertainment properties made it a natural heavy advertiser in Us anyway. "If they were selling [do-it-yourself] tools, maybe you'd have a reason to raise an eyebrow askance," he adds.

In any event, media buyers don't seem terribly concerned over Us' new, midriff-baring clothes. "It's fabulous," enthuses Pam McNeely senior VP-group media director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif. Ms. McNeely had a whimsical take on detractors' charges Us is too tabloidy: "It's not even a guilty read. I feel no guilt at all."

"We document pop culture," says Ms. Fuller. "That's a very fine thing. Some of the greatest writers of all time, including Jane Austen, [had] books [that] were about pop culture."

reflection on itself

Given how the world works, it may not surprise that pop culture reflects right back at Us. On a recent episode of NBC's "Will & Grace," Grace emerged from the bathroom to proudly announce she'd read the entire new Us Weekly in 2 minutes.

If there was a dis inherent in the reference, a pleased Ms. Fuller won't cop to it. "I'm glad Grace is reading Us, no matter where," she says. The editor-as-celeb thing may bum out Ms. Fuller, but, come to think of it, references to Us on sitcoms are something else that weren't heard of back when Ms. Fuller first broke into the business.

Bonnie Fuller

Born: Toronto, Ontario. U of Toronto grad. First media job: Fashion reporter for the Toronto Star, 1978. Fave mags growing up: Teen, Seventeen, Glamour, Vogue. First magazine edited: Canadian fashion title Flare. Mother of 4. On a recent Us close that kept her at work till 3:30 AM: "An improvement over 6:30!"

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