David Pecker Holds Court; David Zaslav Jumps the Shark

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1003_mockup.gifIt’s been a head-spinning summer of celebrity sightings and media maven mashups at 55th and Fifth, but today at Michael’s the mogul quotient was completely off the charts. I knew it was going to be one of those days when Discovery Communications honcho David Zaslav sauntered into the dining room sporting shades and carrying a stuffed shark. Oh, hadn’t you heard? The net’s Shark Week kicks off August 4. Funny enough, David was lunching with William Morris Endeavor’s co-CEO Ari Emanuel. I’ll let you insert your own joke here.

I was sitting squarely in the center of gravity with David Pecker and David Zinczenko and the experience was akin to being a fly on the wall to the lunchtime version of ‘This is your life, David Pecker,” as friends (too many to mention), former colleagues (ditto) and well-wishers (everyone else in the room), stopped by to pay their respects and get some face time with AMI’s chairman and CEO. (“I’m definitely going to call you about that, thanks!”) It was something akin to The Godfather without the tuxes, mumbling and cannolis (David opted for the ‘Michael’s burger and ‘Zinc’ had the Korean tacos).

Zinc (in the interest of clarity, I’ll refer to David Zinczenko by the catchy moniker of his book imprint) has garnered plenty of headlines this year with his highly publicized alliance with AMI, his Random House contract and a new deal with ABC (he’s got his first segment on “20/20” airing this Friday). David has maintained, by comparison, a somewhat low profile — except for the fact that he was a contender for the top spot at Time Inc. this spring. AMI’s affable chairman (I discovered this man knows everyone — and I mean everyone) has opted to mostly let his game-changing decision of hiring Zinc and the success at the newsstand with his myriad of titles do the talking.

David Pecker, Diane Clehane and David Zinczenko

Fresh off the quarterly AMI board meeting in Connecticut this weekend, there was plenty to dish about over lunch. As you undoubtedly know, AMI publishes, National Enquirer, Star, Globe, OK!, the newly revitalized Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Fit Pregnancy and Shape and several other titles which reach a combined audience of more than 60 million readers every month.  With the birth of the royal baby and the can’t-make-this-stuff-up New York City mayor’s race, I just had to ask David what his tabloid titles have in store. Plenty, as you might expect, but each title addresses a very different constituency. When it comes to news about the royal baby, the ubiquity of the coverage poses a challenges says David.

“Two years ago when William and Kate got married the special issue of People sold 2 million copies but last week’s issue with the royal couple and the baby on their cover sold 1.1,” he  said. “The Star reader is really interested in what it’s like at home with Kate and the baby and what the nursery looks like.” But can those juicy details actually be uncovered? “Everyone has their sources,” David told me. And besides, “The royal family never come out and deny anything.”

But this is not your grandmother’s or even your mother’s Star or Enquirer. With David at the helm, the Star’s demos have changed considerably with readers falling into the 25-45 demo competing head-to-head with People. “When I bought the Enquirer in 1999 I wanted to ‘legitimize’ (the coverage),” David told me. “I wanted to get rid of the stigma of ‘It’s not true.’ We have three independent sources on every story and have had no lawsuits. We don’t ‘create’ stories unless we have something.” Luckily, there are plenty of gifts that keeping on giving like the Kardashian clan (Star averages at least one cover a month on one of the publicity-shy sisters and their momager). And when it comes to the royal family, there’s plenty of fodder. David explained the difference in the coverage across his brands this way: “The Star readers only want to read good things about Kate; they like her. The Globe reader despises Charles and Camilla and The Enquirer reader is really just interested in the news. Bill and Hillary Clinton are their royalty.”  Speaking of the Clintons, does he think Anthony Weiner, whose wedding was officiated by Bill Clinton, is Enquirer material? “With everything that has come out, yes.” Carlos Danger, you’ve been warned.

I could barely keep up with David who regaled us with tales of the myriad of interesting people he’s worked with over the course of his career. (Sorry, but some of the best stuff is OTR) Remember, he launched George with John Kennedy Jr. when he was at Hachette. The man knows a thing or two about high profile editors. He also hired serial editor Bonnie Fuller to helm Star and she worked with him for five years. With man-of-the-moment Zinc sitting across the table, I asked David if the era of the ‘celebrity editor’ had peaked. “Over the years, the editor became more important than the audience and there had to be a change. In my two decades running these media companies, to me the best editor is someone who really knows his constituency and can change with the marketplace as well as someone who understands advertising. These are very rare qualities. The only person that has those qualities today is David.” What, you expected him to say something else?

For all the coverage that Zinc’s alliance with David has garnered, they have definitely lived up to the hype. While the ‘Zinc Effect’ is plainly evident at Men’s Fitness (“He’s made 400 changes in the time he’s been here,” says David) where advertising is up 50 percent since the relaunch and newsstand for the past two months (June and the July/August issue) has seen a 35 percent bump over the same period last year, David tells me Zinc’s influence has been widely felt throughout the company. Zinc has also had a hand in tweaking other titles including Shape. “I have seen a sea change in who I can hire,” David told me. “Before it used to take human resources five to seven interviews to fill a position and now people are coming to us. That hasn’t happened in the 15 years I’ve been here.” And that staff is pretty busy. Next month, the staff of Fit Pregnancy and Natural Health (they work on both books since neither is published monthly) are moving to NYC and there are at least half a dozen books slated to be published by March of next year under the new AMI Books imprint (which David says was Zinc’s idea).

“If you have a good idea and tell him about it, David wonders why you didn’t do it last week,” says Zinc. “You can email him and you’ll get a reply at 6 am on a Saturday morning. It’s 24/7 with him. He’s got an amazing entrepreneurial spirit.”  Rethinking that summer vacation right about now, aren’t you?

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s senior vice president for external affairs Harold Holzer presiding over a table full of folks we didn’t recognize. Did you know that Harold is one of the country’s most  respected scholars on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era? Now you do.

2. Accessory maven Mickey Ateyeh and pals

3. David Pecker, David Zinczenko and yours truly

4. Vartan Gregorian

5. Herb Siegel

6. Penske Media Vice Chair Gerry Byrne, Maryann Halford with a handful of well dressed folks

7. DuJour’s Jason Binn with “a client.”

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and a dark haired gal we didn’t get to meet

9. CNBC’s Ron Insana — Long time no see!

10. Webster Stone. Don’t you love that name?

11. Bobby Friedman

12. Social swan Simone Levinson with a few equally blonde ladies who lunch. But do they eat?

14. TV Guide Magazine’s acting CEO Jack Kliger

15. LionTree Advisors CEO Aryeh Bourkoff

16. United Stations Radio Network’s Nick Verbitsky

18. David Zaslav and Ari Emanuel

20. Pamela Mohn

21. Quest‘s Chris Meigher

22. Marketing maven Shelly Zalis and Susan Grimes

23. The Newlywed Game: I was thrilled to see The Wall Street Journal’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein back in the dining room after several weeks of skipping the Wednesday scene. The guys had more than a good excuse for their absence. After 44 years together and, as a “strike against the Defense of Marriage Act,” they tied the knot in Brooklyn. I was charmed by David’s story. He told me that a trip to the borough’s City Clerk’s Office was one of the “happiest” experiences of his life. “If I wasn’t doing what I was doing,” David told me, “I’d want to work in their marriage licensing bureau. Everyone that comes there isn’t disgruntled; they’re happy.” The guys first went to get their license and went home to sit out the 24-hour waiting period when they realized Lewis’ home state of Ohio had been misidentified as New York on the license. They then went back to correct the error and were told that they could marry right then and there because the waiting period was over. They decided to come back one last time because they’d invited a friend as their best man (and to take photos of the nuptials) and didn’t want to disappoint. The third time was the charm! “It really does feel different,” reports David. Congrats guys and best wishes.

25. The increasingly svelte and stylish Tom Goodman with Kathy Marchasei. Tom tells me these long time pals haven’t seen each other “in decades” but Kathy, now a professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, is in town to check out the majorly tricked out headquarters of Tom’s eponymous PR firm. (We’re not kidding. He’s got this great employee cafeteria modeled after a 50’s-style diner that Fonzie would love!) These two go back to the days when Tom toiled at JWT in the PR department and Kathy was working for their client, Bausch + Lomb and it was Kathy’s first “Michael’s lunch.” Welcome to the club!

27. Scalamandre’s president Steven Stolman with Kohler’s global creative director Tristan Butterfield. A little birdie told me these two interior design powerhouses have big plans in the works. Stay tuned …

29. Tim Landy

30. PR maestro Stu Zakim and business consultant Mike Berman who’s just back from Dubai and is back weighing in on the breaking industry stories of the day on his must-read blog, BermanMeansBusiness. com

We’ll be ‘Lunch’ing in Maine for the next few weeks. See you back in the dining room at the end of August!

Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.