Hearst’s Eliot Kaplan: ‘We Are the Go-To Company Right Now’

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsThe coming monsoon didn’t deter the faithful from making the trek to Michael’s today. I haven’t seen the place that jam-packed in ages. Everywhere you looked there talking heads (Fox 5’s Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto), head honchos (Showtime’s Matt Blank), and the random actor (Campbell Scott, remember him?)

There was also an unusually large contingent of fashion folk who had plenty to chew on besides their Dover sole. When I stopped by to say hello to Mickey Ateyeh and her guests, which included the former heads of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and several designers (Angela Cummings, Jeffrey Banks) they were abuzz with the just-announced news that famed designer Alber Elbaz had stepped down at Lanvin. The general consensus is that he’s headed to Dior. A few tables down, Jaqui Lividini was dishing about the very same thing.

Eliot Kaplan and Diane Clehane
Eliot Kaplan and Diane Clehane
Credit:

The long, heartfelt speech Alber gave last week when he accepted the Superstar Award at The Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars from Meryl Streep all makes sense now. (Full disclosure: I’m on FGI’s creative committee.) Was this his farewell to the troops? Sure sounded like it. He called out the industry for its ever-accelerating pace, for choosing ‘loud’ over quiet elegance (“I prefer whispering”) for killing creativity and for taking the fun out of fashion. After 14 years at the helm of one of fashion’s most iconic labels, his unanticipated departure is truly a shock to the fashion system. Fern Mallis told me that the industry is in turmoil, with its key players at a loss, not knowing what’s coming down the road. “Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and they don’t know if it’s going to be a stiletto, platform or sneaker.”

Speaking of career development, I was really looking forward to my lunch with Eliot Kaplan, vice president, talent acquisition, for Hearst Magazines. His company bio lists his responsibilities which include “career development, succession planning and compensation overview.” With a job description like that, I knew we’d have plenty to talk about. “I basically made this job up,” Eliot told me between bites of Cobb salad.

Before ascending to the role of Hearst’s top talent scout, Eliot toiled at magazines for two decades, during which he served as managing editor of GQ under Art Cooper, where he worked with the magazine’s venerable stable of writers including David Remnick, Walter Kirn and Jennet Conant. He went on to become EIC of Philadelphia magazine for seven and half years. When it was time to move on, he explained, he realized he didn’t want to get another job where his name was on top of a masthead because, among other reasons, he “didn’t like being the face of a magazine and that’s where the business was going.” What he did enjoy was “working with young talent and established writers.”

That’s when he came up with the idea for his current gig and first discussed it with former Cosmopolitan editor Kate White, who told him at the time, “If you don’t do it, I will.” Kate became his first boss, hiring him to find her a news editor for Cosmo during the first dot-com boom that precipitated a mass exodus of editors in search of big time digital dollars. Eliot told me he originally intended to pitch the job to both Condé Nast and Hearst but Cathie Black, Hearst’s president at the time, “Got it right away.” A month later it was a done deal.

Now in his 16th year with Hearst, Eliot told me if he had to estimate, he’d say he’s been responsible for the hiring of two-thirds of the top editors and art directors for the company’s 21 magazines and start-up ventures. As you might imagine, he’s a very popular guy. “Print editors and designers come in and talk to me about a lot of different initiatives.” I’ll bet. Over the course of our lunch I discovered he basically knows every single person working in print today. “I’ve interviewed the kids of people I’ve interviewed—it’s come to that,” he joked of his long tenure at the company.

I’d venture a guess that there were more than a few folks in this very dining room that have sat across his desk looking for their next big break. But often it doesn’t happen right away—but that doesn’t mean it won’t. “Sometimes I’ll see someone and then three years later see them again and then again in two years and check in to see how they’re doing. Maybe they originally weren’t ready [to be an EIC] but ten years later, they are.”

The million dollar question: what does it take today to land one of these coveted top spots? “Passion, curiosity, adaptability and a track record that can be explained.” And that doesn’t necessarily mean a gap-free CV. “There are often good reasons for those.” Don’t we know it. And, of course, the right attitude is critical. “Hearst is really a ‘roll up your sleeves’ kind of place. There’s no room for diva behavior.”

To wit: every editor must prove their mettle and good-naturedly does so at the company’s annual Mag Front (inspired by the television upfronts—get it?) , instituted three years ago by Michael Clinton. Every editor has to present his or her big idea to advertisers and select company personnel. It’s strictly insiders—no press aloud—but a little birdie told me that at yesterday’s show and tell, Redbook editor Meredith Rollins enlisted Scandal’s Scott Foley as her hunky visual aid and Marie Claire’s Anne Fulenwider brought along Drew Barrymore. “Editors are really running their own small companies, in charge of their P & Ls and their own brands,” explained Eliot.

Rather than view all the disruption to print media as a bellwether of doom, Eliot says the company’s diverse roster of talented and collaborative editors and its entrepreneurial spirit (“We’re a private company which is run like a public one which is better for business”) has propelled Hearst to the top of the heap. “We have weathered the storm much better than the other media companies,” he said. “We are the go-to company right now.”

Over coffee, Eliot (who, by the way, is married to financial journalist Jean Chatzky), Alexandra Carlin and I played our own version of ‘Where are they now?’ (Where are you, Aaron Brown?) and traded stories about working for various publications back in the day. Eliot joked that during his days at Condé Nast, “If you weren’t five to ten percent over budget, you were failing.” Ah, what a difference a few decades make.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Mickey Ateyeh hosting a table of fab fashionistas celebrating the CFDA’s Jewelry Week. Several bling brokers were on hand at the CFDA offices on Monday for a meet and greet with the press. In attendance today: The Princess of Pearls, Angela Cummings, designers Simon Alcantara and Nicholas Varney, former CFDA executive director Fern Mallis and past president Stan Herman, Jeffrey Banks and Cynthia Lewis.

2. Fox 5’s Greg Kelly and Andrew Stein with two gals we didn’t get to meet.

3. Showtime’s president Matt Blank. We just had to stop by his table to tell him how much we are enjoying the new season of The Affair. If you’re not watching, you’re missing some intriguing buzzworthy television for grown-ups. It’s on Sunday nights at 10 pm. You’re welcome.

4. PR scion Steven Rubenstein

5. Larry Spangler and Woody Allen’s screenwriting partner, Marshall Brickman

6. Power gals Maury Rogoff, Jill Martin, Fox Five’s Rosanna Scotto and author Jill Brooke

7. Stylista Jaqui Lividini and two fashionable folks.  

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Ambassador John Loeb.

9. Laurie Dhue

10. Sony’s Dawn Bridges

11. Nikki Haskell

12. Luke Janklow

14. Literary legend John Grisham enjoying a champagne toast with some folks from Doubleday. What were they celebrating? Do you have to ask?

15. Travel agent to the jet set Alexandra Chemla

17. David Corvo

18. Audrey Gruss and author Jay McInerney (who moonlights as Town & Country’s wine critic.) Jay was sporting an impeccably tailored blue plaid suit which left absolutely no room for an extra thought… Very natty.

20. Author Michael Gross and Ann Magnin

21. Producer Francine LeFrak

22. Actor Campbell Scott (yes, the son of the later George C. Scott) who slipped in unnoticed (except by Eliot and me!) to lunch with Robert Halmi, Jr.

23. Bob Tobin

24. The Wall Street Journal’s Anthony Cenname

25. MSG’s Hank Ratner

26. Joel Levy and Frank DiGiacomo

27. Eliot Kaplan, Alexandra Carlin and yours truly

28. Nikki Tippin

29. MailOnline’s North America CEO Jon Steinberg

30. PR maven/author/advocate Sandi Mendelson

Faces in the crowd: Reality show regular and Kim Kardashian confidant Jonathan Cheban with a trio of Kim lookalikes (wannabes?) …. The Wall Street Journal’s Kristina O’Neill

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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