Happy New Year! From the looks of things at Michael’s today, most of the media mob and A-listers were still celebrating (or have already headed off to Los Angeles for Sunday’s Golden Globes), but no matter. We were happy to get back into the swing of things and made our way to 55th and Fifth to ring in 2017 with the first ‘Lunch’ of the season.
I was joined today by publishing vet Jack Kliger who I’ve known since he was publisher of Glamour (we were both children at the time). The former CEO of Hachette Filipacchi (more on that later) and EVP at Condé Nast is one of the most respected executives in the business. In recent years, he’s put his great instincts to bring dormant brands back to life. In 2008, he was tapped by OpenGate Capital to resuscitate TV Guide Magazine and two years later, the magazine returned to profitability. Between bites of Dover sole, Jack filled me in on his ambitious and intriguing plans for 2017.
Jack bought the 35 year-old title British Heritage in 2014 when he founded Kliger Heritage Media. Renamed British Heritage Travel, the retooled title is flourishing. Besides redesigning the book to include more photography and expanding the magazine’s coverage of popular culture (Full disclosure: I write the occasional story about British period dramas), Jack decided to expand the magazine’s travel coverage with more service-oriented features (highlighting restaurants, hotels and various historical points of interest) to help its U.S.-based Anglophile subscribers with the travel plans to the U.K. The subscription-only publication (“I may do specials”) also offers readers, whose numbers are on the rise, a newsletter with ‘members only’ promotions and discounts.
This year, British Heritage Travel is officially in the travel business, offering subscribers exclusive tours launching this summer, with itineraries created especially for its readers by the magazine’s editors. Jack told me, “We want to offer subscribers experiences that have a unique and authentic flavor for experiencing all things British. Everything is designed to appeal to the U.S.-based Anglophile.” To that end, a tour celebrating Jane Austen will take travelers to many historical locations, including her family home in Bath and the village of Steventon where she wrote several books. It also includes a stop at Highclere Castle, the now-iconic great house where Downton Abbey was filmed. Other trips and an August cruise will give travelers the chance to visit villages and locations tied to popular television shows including Game of Thrones and Poldark. An Outlander tour (sign me up!) is also in the works.
“Can I tell you about my latest project?” asked Jack. Please do. Jack is working with Condé Nast International negotiating the rights to publish an English language version of La Cucina Italiana in North America. He told me he’s hopeful that he’ll publish the first issue later this year. Clever Jack did his due diligence before deciding to snap up the rights to the food- and wine-focused title. “We surveyed 70,000 former subscribers [they stopped publishing in English in 2014] and 20 percent said they’d resubscribe. That’s a big number!”
Not surprisingly, his plan for the revamped version will include travel coverage and expand beyond the printed page. There’s a La Cucina Italiana cooking school in the Condé Nast building in Milan staffed with full-time chefs, a restaurant-quality kitchen and an entertaining space. Jack, who was born in Italy, plans to offer trips to the school. He’s also eyeing the rights to the magazine’s extensive library of cooking videos. “Who doesn’t love Italian food and wine?” he said.
Needless to say, Jack is optimistic about the future of print. “Publishing about people’s heritage is a good special interest [niche] to be in these days,” said Jack as we sipped our coffee. “Magazines are an experiential product that enhance everything. If you can do that right, your business is going to be OK. Magazines got caught up on the advertising drug and forgot the primary relationship should be with the consumer.”
Last year’s presidential election and upcoming administration is an opportunity for print to flourish, said Jack. “Trump could help real journalism. I am more proud of magazines and newspapers than any other media during the election. As [New York Times columnist] Nicholas Kristof wrote, broadcasting and cable were just going for the eyeballs.” Print has a special opportunity — responsibility, said Jack. “Magazines are not as news-oriented as television, but they do fact check — and fact checking is a good thing.”
Jack was unsparing of his criticism of the wall-to-wall television coverage Trump received during the election. “He got $2 billion of media coverage for free and the ironic part is he said it was ‘rigged.’ That’s like a dealer saying you’re a junkie after selling you a pound of smack. [Trump] would get on a program and [reporters] would just let him talk and talk. Matt Lauer [during NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum] was such an obvious abandonment of what was supposed to be journalism.”
When our conversation turned to politics I had to ask Jack about his recollections working with John Kennedy, Jr. at George. He was CEO of Hachette for just six weeks before the fateful crash in July 1999. Jack told me that despite being on crutches hobbled by a broken ankle, John insisted on coming to Jack’s office for their first meeting. “He said he wanted to be ‘respectful.'” Within a week, said Jack, John arranged for his editors to meet with New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and Gov. George Pataki to talk about the political landscape at the time. “I said ‘John, these guys are two Republicans!'” To which the son of the country’s most legendary Democratic president replied, “The first thing my father taught me is to get all points of view.” Recalled Jack, “At the meeting, D’Amato said he thought John would make a great senator.”
But that was not to be. After learning that John’s plane was missing, Jack called Mac McClellan, then editor of Flying Magazine, who told him it was “highly unlikely” anyone would be found alive. In the aftermath of John’s death, Jack told me “there was a lot of turmoil within the staff” adding, “no one talked, but Richard Blow wrote a book.” Jack also had the difficult task of negotiating with Caroline Kennedy, who inherited John’s 50 percent ownership of the magazine. “The family wanted nothing to do with [the magazine]. John owed a lot of money. We forgave the debt.”
With assurances from Jean-Luc Lagardere, CEO of Lagardere Group, the French conglomerate that owned Hachette, George continued to be published for the next 15 months. But it’s not the memory of the magazine that lingers. “I will never forget that funeral,” said Jack. “I was seated next to Muhammad Ali. During the service I turned to look at him and there was a single tear running down his face.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Mark Ordan
2. Tim Strauss
3. Andrew Stein
4. Michael Wolff
5. Stan Shuman
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman
7. Steven Stolman and Melanie Seymour Holland
11. Courtney Tuttle
14. Alice Mayhew
16. Drew Schiff
18. Jonathan Estreich
27. Jack Kliger and yours truly
29. David Sanford and Lewis Stein
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.