Cannes Lions 2005

Publishing Executive of the Year

By Published on .

At a luncheon sponsored by Dennis Publishing's The Week, a clever young publishing executive sits across the table from a legend of contemporary literature. "Kurt, this is Stephen Colvin, publisher of Maxim and Stuff," comes the introduction. Kurt Vonnegut stares at Mr. Colvin blankly. Obviously, the aged satirist and author of such masterpieces of black humor as "Cat's Cradle" and "Slaughterhouse-Five" has no idea what Maxim and Stuff are.

Mr. Colvin shakes the master's hand and then turns to the person who made the introduction. "You really should say I'm president of Dennis Publishing," he corrects with a whisper. "By the way, who is that man?"

Stephen Colvin is an outsider, and that has been one of the keys to his incredible success in the U.S. In 1996, he arrived from the U.K. to launch Maxim, a men's magazine that would ignore all the ground rules and sacred cows associated with men's titles in this country. Specifically, that men's magazines should be earnest, with long articles by blue-chip writers-like Mr. Vonnegut-and with cover portraits of sybaritic young men. Mr. Colvin came with the cool, detached perspective of a man who knew that approach was dead.

"A men's magazine ought to be irreverent, sexy and useful," says Mr. Colvin, who proceeded to launch a product that completely redefined the category, and helped earn the 39-year-old the title of Advertising Age Publishing Executive of the Year.


"Stephen grew up a Protestant in Ireland. Then an Irishman in boarding school in England and finally a Brit in America," observes Johnny Levin, senior VP at William Morris Consulting, which develops entertainment extensions for Dennis such as the recent first-look film deal between Maxim and New Line Cinema. "He's always been on the outside looking in. That distance has made him a shrewd, keen observer. It has allowed him to study things here but never let them define him."

Jim Poh, director of creative content distribution at MDC Communications-backed Miami agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which places ads for the BMW Mini Cooper in Dennis pubs, agrees. "If people come from a different paradigm ... where the same rules don't exist, they can have a lot of success by not knowing the rules they should be playing by. ... they do something different and many times that can work."

In this case, it has worked. Almost six years after launching, Maxim is one of the most influential magazines in the market. Maxim's total paid circulation was 2,569,172 (34% of that single-copy sales) in the first half of 2002, according the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Ad pages rose 0.88% through September 2002, vs. a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Its sibling Stuff, launched in 1999, had circulation of 1,170,555 (42.3% at the newsstand) in the first half. Ad pages were up 15.4%. Blender's circulation is estimated at 350,000, and The Week's is about 140,000. Both were launched in early 2001.


Dennis' formula for success: stories you can flip through, aimed, as Mr. Poh puts it, at "the attention-deficit disorder generation." Even The Week, Dennis' serious product-called a CliffsNotes for the news-boils down items from newspapers, magazines and Internet sites from around the world. The other three Dennis titles-Maxim, Stuff and Blender-mix short, irreverent articles with dazzling young cover girls and tabloid layouts.

And now, Mr. Colvin is parlaying his fast-breeding brands into other media. At The Week luncheon, which features a panel discussion on corporate ethics moderated by Harold Evans, a consulting editor at the pub, Mr. Colvin has a light-bulb moment. He pulls "Harry" aside and asks if he'd be interested in moderating a TV program based on The Week. The former editor of The Sunday Times is game and so is his wife, Tina Brown, also in attendance.

Mr. Colvin is known for thinking on his feet, even though at the moment he's on crutches. He tore 6 inches of his calf muscle just two weeks earlier in a tennis match with Andy Clerkson, general manager of Maxim, which is involved in developing a Maxim cable network.

"Stephen is a deal-maker," says Maxim Editor Keith Blanchard. "He has instant photographic recognition of a good idea."

Some say Mr. Colvin's pluck is in his Irish blood. His mum, Iris Colvin, who still lives just outside Belfast, ran a chain of stores after her husband died. "The boys had to be educated, obviously," Ms. Colvin says, who put Stephen and his brother Howard through private schools. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for her community work.

Mr. Colvin joined Dennis in 1988 as a salesman and quickly moved up to group publisher of a set of computer titles.

"I thought it would be good for him to operate a new American operation ," says Felix Dennis, chairman of Dennis Publishing, adding, "He's got enormous energy and he's got a sort of boyish charm that conceals a pretty tough interior. In a sense, he was given this wonderful blank canvas to work on."

Iris is proud of her son. "He was head boy at the prep school, so he must be pretty good all the way around, don't you think?"

Stephen Colvin

Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland. First ambition: rock star. "I remember his first performance at prep school," says his mum, Iris Colvin. "He was quite popular with the girls." Recorded pop single "Walk My Way," in the U.K., a song that had no legs. Went into accounting, finally publishing.

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