NEW YORK — “It’s tough out there. Anyone who doesn’t think business is a challenge is making a mistake. Am I demanding? Yes. Do I require a lot from my people? Yes. So, come on, shoot me.”

Those are the words of Ronald A. Galotti, the rough and tumble publisher who took on Vogue five weeks ago.

When Galotti got the job — a startling move considering he had been fired from Conde Nast’s Vanity Fair only 10 months before — more than a few staffers feared his reputation as a gruff, take-no-prisoners executive.

Steven T. Florio, president of Conde Nast Publications, sought to allay some of those fears, describing Galotti as “a better man,” who would now direct his gun “externally, not internally.”

So are we now seeing a kinder Ron Galotti?

“No way,” Galotti shot back, in an interview at Vogue’s offices this week.

“I didn’t change. When it’s tough times, you have to respond accordingly,” he said, referring to the down market he experienced in his final months as publisher of Vanity Fair. He was abruptly dismissed in May 1993, after engineering a dramatic surge in business over a three year period, only to see the gains erode once editor Tina Brown moved over to The New Yorker.

“They always say Ron’s the bad boy of publishing. He throws chairs and people out, things I don’t do,” said Galotti. “But I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of me.

“My books do well. I deliver profits and advertising pages. That’s the responsibility I have. Mr. Newhouse did not bring me back because I was good looking,” he said.

Galotti has taken over Vogue at a trying time.

Ad pages are off 8 percent through May, following a virtually flat 1993. Galotti said June’s ad pages will be up between 3 and 4 percent, and the magazine will be off 7 percent for the first half. He expects improvements in the fourth quarter, and projects Vogue will once again be flat for the year.

“When you take over a publication, it takes time. I think things will start to improve. The business has gotten later and later.” And, Galotti conceded, “it does take six months to get up to speed.

“Of course Mr. [Steven] Florio wants the needle to move immediately. When you go from publisher to president, you have a lapse of memory,” quipped Galotti.

Galotti said he’s inherited a strong staff, and there was virtually no transition period after Anne Sutherland Fuchs, who was bumped up to senior vice president, director, international, left the publisher’s post after three years.

“I don’t do transition,” he said.

“Do I have to be a lunatic and sell all the ad pages myself? No!” he said, but admitted, “I’m always out selling. I’m not disillusioned by what my role is.”

How involved will Galotti be with Vogue editor in chief, Anna Wintour?

“I work closely with Anna. She wants to be continuously kept abreast of our relationship with people.” But Galotti said that while he “worked closely with Tina [Brown] on Vanity Fair’s covers, I don’t work with Anna on covers.”

At Vogue, Galotti wants to build some of the peripheral businesses, such as travel. “Resorts are fashionable and we haven’t sold that,” he said. He’s also interested in financial services and bringing in more automotive business.

Beauty remains Vogue’s biggest ad category, outstripping fashion. In 1993, Vogue ran 944 beauty ad pages and 886 fashion pages, according to Galotti. Based on figures from the Publishers Information Bureau, Galotti said Vogue ran 79 percent more fashion pages and 55 percent more beauty pages than Harper’s Bazaar, the number two magazine in both categories.

What about rate busting?

Galotti said Conde Nast won’t negotiate rates, while some of his competitors will. But he added that he expects to see “improvements in the corporate buy” under newly appointed senior vice president, corporate services, Jack Kliger.

“I think that most people are willing to pay for real value,” said Galotti, noting his staff creates programs with manufacturers “that actually move merchandise.”

While manufacturer programs may bring in ad business, Galotti conceded the game can be won or lost on the newsstand.

He noted that 58.2 percent of Vogue’s total circulation of 1.2 million, is single-copy issues. “The vitality at the newsstand is critical,” he said.

But recent trends indicate there is work to do in that area. According to Audit Bureau of Circulation, Vogue’s average newsstand sales for the second half of 1993 dropped 1.6 percent to 739,865. Total paid circulation for the second half was down 2.7 percent to 1,250,008.

Discussing newsstand sales, Galotti said that compared to the competition “it’s not even a contest.”

“Mirabella, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar combined don’t sell on the newsstand what Vogue does,” he said.

One of Galotti’s immediate concerns is Vogue’s all-important September issue — the cash cow that compensates for weaker months.

“September for Vogue is this monumental thing that happens at the consumer level,” said Galotti, noting the magazine sells about 1 million newsstand copies.

To promote the issue, Vogue has a new ad campaign using photographs of designers, including Calvin Klein, Gianni Versace, Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano [which previously appeared in Vogue] with the tagline, “See You in September…Vogue,” and the designer’s name. The ads will run on phone kiosks, bus shelters and billboards in May and June.

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