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Maxim Gets a Makeover

A decade after it sparked the so-called "laddie"mag wave, Maxim is the last lad standing in the U.S., following the closures of Stuff and FHM.

NEW YORK — A decade after it sparked the so-called “laddie” mag wave, Maxim is the last lad standing in the U.S., following the closures of Stuff and FHM. And with a new editorial director, Jim Kaminsky, the former Men’s Journal editor-in-chief who jumped ship to Maxim two weeks ago, and a new owner, Alpha Media Group, the title is aiming to reinvigorate itself with a shot of strategically administered testosterone.

“What I’m asking Jim for is to make this qualitatively the greatest young men’s lifestyle magazine in the world,” said Kent Brownridge, the CEO of Alpha Media Group, in an interview with DNR. “We’re already the biggest. Now make it the greatest.”

It’s a tall order, and the Kaminsky game plan—at least as he mapped it out on his fourth day on the job—is to improve the magazine’s service elements, update the humor, make the sexy parts “really sexy” and bring back some long-form journalism to its pages.

“I think there’s room for real stuff to read in this magazine. I want 4,000-word investigative pieces, with a narrative, that can hold a candle to stories in any magazine out there,” said Kaminsky. “I want Maxim to be as current, smart and ambitious as it can be”—a goal that might surprise some observers who have long stereotyped Maxim as a fluffy “beer and babes” read.

Kaminsky is aiming to change that perception by fine-tuning the Maxim formula—a formula that may have become a little dusty. Ad pages have dropped 8.9 percent through October of this year and Men’s Health has stolen its longtime crown as the best-selling men’s magazine on newsstands.

“The world has changed and the market has changed. Our reader today is more ambitious, more sophisticated, and savvier about pop culture,” said Kaminsky. “The vernacular for humor has gone from Howard Stern to Judd Apatow. Both are funny but one is a little savvier, a little smarter. We are in the process of dissecting every page and every element of the magazine to see what works, what doesn’t, and refine it. I want Maxim to connect viscerally with young males in the way it once did.”

Humor is central is to the Maxim editorial voice, but a snarky tone can also be off-putting to some fashion advertisers. “While I personally read and enjoy Maxim the magazine and Maxim the brand, there has never been a strictly humor magazine that has endured over time,” noted Marty Staff, CEO of JA Apparel.

The new team at Maxim hopes to address that issue with an updated approach to fashion and style coverage. “Fashion has always been a part of Maxim, but it’s going to be a bigger part,” said Brownridge, 67, the former general manager of Wenner Media who engineered the acquisition of Maxim’s former parent, Dennis Publishing, for just north of $240 million by Quadrangle Capital Partners, which then dubbed the company Alpha Media. “The fashion world just doesn’t think we’re serious about it, because maybe in the past we haven’t been. But we’re going to have great fashion editorial. Killer. Drop-dead great. In the fashion world, you can’t fake it. It has to be there on the page.”

The magazine has brought in a new fashion director on the edit side, Kelly Rae, who held a similar position at Stuff, Maxim’s sibling title that was shuttered by Brownridge. Beginning with the November issue of Maxim, Stuff will appear as a section in Maxim dedicated to clothes, gear and gadgets.

“Fashion is critically important to the magazine,” said Kaminsky. “Obviously from a business perspective, but also it hits our readers where they live. All our research shows they care about clothes. I want our fashion pages to be beautiful and aspirational, using the best photographers. I think fashion companies will come to realize that if they are interested in reaching 18- to 34-year-old guys, we are going to be a great place to be in. Going forward, it’s going to be a process explaining that to the fashion community.”

Fashion advertisers have always had a solid presence in Maxim—it’s among the title’s three biggest categories, along with automotive and spirits/beer—and the title has added prestigious brands like Gucci fragrances, Armani fragrances and Diesel to its client roster this year. However, some fashion brands have always been wary of Maxim’s frat-boy attitude and overtly mass appeal.

“I don’t really view them as a fashion book, per se,” said Emily Liu, marketing director at Sixty USA. “We have a limited budget, so we focus our spending on fashion leaders, like Details, Black Book and Interview. But I think it will be very interesting to see what kind of makeover Maxim gets. I think their challenge is to reach a more sophisticated guy. A lot of men’s books have closed, like Cargo, FHM and Vitals, so there’s a good portion of the men’s market up for grabs.”

Another obstacle for the 2.5 million-circulation Maxim is its advertising rates: The open page rate is $180,000, which is a reach for many fashion brands. Ben Sherman, for example, used to advertise in the book but has shifted to smaller magazines and outdoor as its ad budget shrank in recent years. “It’s a big commitment to be in Maxim, and you don’t want to spend your entire budget on one ad,” noted Dana Dynamite, entertainment marketing manager at Ben Sherman.

For larger fashion brands looking for wide reach, Maxim is pushing its multi-platform vehicles, including Maxim Radio, Maxim Mobile for wireless devices, and Maxim Digital, which encompasses the Maxim.com, Blender.com and StuffMagazine.com Web sites. (Blender, a music magazine for young men, was part of Alpha Media’s acquisition of Dennis Publishing.) The company has also created a new events planning division, called Alpha Productions, which will create and execute signature events like the Maxim Super Bowl and Hot 100 parties, as well as smaller events for advertisers, such as the upcoming Bud Select lingerie fashion tour.

“The larger fashion companies are realizing there is a huge opportunity here to reach a volume market on these multiple platforms,” said Rob Gregory, publisher of Maxim. “Maxim Radio reaches seven million subscribers on Sirius satellite radio and Maxim Digital reaches 5.2 million unique visitors per month. We connect the dots for advertisers very well. We help them reach the big dollar volume market. These aren’t quote-unquote gentlemen or metrosexuals—these are the vast majority of successful guys.”

Despite the challenges facing Maxim, Brownridge is confident that Quadrangle’s investment is a good one. “We’re monetizing our heads off right now. This is a very profitable company. Every month we are making money. We just want to increase that,” he noted.