It’s possible that by end of this summer, Janice Min and Bonnie Fuller could no longer reign as queens of their respective celebrity weeklies.
Min’s contract with Wenner Media’s Us Weekly is said to be up in July, and there are numerous reports that Fuller, editorial director at American Media Inc., has been entertaining new gigs as her employer battles various business challenges.
A spokesman for Fuller declined to comment. A spokesman for Min said, “We do not comment on contract negotiations.”
Talks to renew Min’s last contract two years ago went down to the wire. Meanwhile, AMI had net losses of $160 million in 2006 and Fuller’s pet project, Star, struggled late last year, just before company chief David Pecker brought in a new editor in chief, Candace Trunzo, for the title.
While both Min and Fuller are far from out the door at their respective magazines, the potential changes in their careers beg the question of what their futures — and those of any high-ranking publishing executive these days — could be in the “second act” in the changing landscape of publishing. Many media companies are cutting jobs, editors are becoming “brand managers,” titles are being pushed beyond print and private equity firms are increasingly eyeing publishing companies as possible takeover targets.
“There aren’t that many jobs out there at the higher end,” said one executive recruiter, who requested anonymity. “It’s not like these jobs are hanging off of trees. We have a hard enough time finding great jobs for people who make $300,000,” let alone those who would command $1 million or more. “One could argue that they’re an easier case because they’re special. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to find somebody willing to spend $1.5 million on somebody.”
That could be private equity players, just as elsewhere in the business world. Deep-pocketed private equity firms are increasingly becoming owners of media companies through acquisitions and appear to be hungry for more. “Private equity companies are changing the landscape of the media world; not only are they buying, they’re creating a different kind of company,” with titles stretching across multiple media platforms, said one high-ranking editorial executive. Not only do the companies pay well, in the form of cash and stock, there’s hope that executives could receive a huge payout, should a company go public in the future. “They have a lot of money, but not a lot of experience in the field,” the editorial executive said.
This story first appeared in the April 6, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
These firms often partner with experienced publishing executives to help them explore deals, but pure editors don’t always get the first call. “I don’t see the same kind of attraction to editorial executives on the part of private equity,” said Reed Phillips, managing partner at media investment firm DeSilva + Phillips. “They’re fixated on business executives. Once in a while, you’ll see a different approach, like Carlyle Group with Norman Pearlstine, because he was the top executive at all of Time Inc. and his role with Carlyle is a mix of using his editorial judgment to find good companies to buy.”
Ripplewood Holdings hired former Fairchild chief executive officer Mary Berner at Reader’s Digest Association after it acquired that publisher, and now Berner is directing RDA’s turnaround. Companies vying for the Time4 Media titles when they were for sale last fall partnered with publishing veterans: former Time Inc. executive vice president Jack Haire worked with Boston Ventures and former Wenner Media general manager Kent Brownridge worked with Quadrangle Group.
After the deal becomes final, the first priority is to assemble the management team. After that is complete, said Phillips, “then they might bring in top editorial talent to the company.”
And whether it’s a traditional media firm or a private equity company, the next move for many editors will depend on what skills they bring to the table. “Editors have different talents. Some are innovators who come up with great ideas and excel at starting projects,” said another senior level magazine executive. “Then there are others whose greatest skill is taking someone else’s idea and executing it well.”
Fuller, for example, is known for creating the formula for what is now a successful celebrity weekly category, but her recent execution at Star has stumbled. Not having a wave of success at AMI could be a challenge in getting her next gig, explained one manager at a publishing company. “She’s not coming off of any big win.” Min may have an easier time selling herself — she took Fuller’s format at Us Weekly and grew the magazine’s single-copy sales from 600,000 in 2003 to about a million as of last year.
So where could either go?
Most believe if Min chooses to leave Us Weekly, she still has some options in print, such as a fashion or news magazine, should a job be available at the time. “She’s got a noncompete [clause in her contract], but I doubt it would block her from going to a title like Vogue,” said one publishing executive close to Min. Or, she could easily go to television. “Janice could do any number of things — she’s smart, she’s likable, a good-looking person and she’s funny. She’s got it all.”
As for Fuller, an editor in chief of a noncompeting title said, “If I were her agent, I would be angling for her to be an executive producer or programming head in a celebrity journalism television show. She isn’t the face of a magazine, and she isn’t the warmest managerial style, but she’s clever as hell, knows how to package, has enough celebrity to mobilize these kinds of teams and has the cache to walk through the network doors.”
And, in the end, no matter what happens with Fuller’s and Min’s contracts this summer, they and similar editorial talents appear to have a greater future outside print. Even hedge funds are seeking senior editorial talent to vet projects — but beyond traditional media. With the contraction of the print world and its struggles to reinvent itself in the multimedia age, the next move for many top editors might be out of the ink pot and onto the airwaves.
As Phillips said, “The Internet may offer more opportunities for people like that in the next five years, or entertainment companies and film companies.”