Editor of the Year: David Granger, Esquire | Adweek
Advertisement

Editor of the Year: David Granger, Esquire

Advertisement


Granger has taken that crusade around Esquire, lunching with groups of staffers in the magazine’s copy, research, production and design departments. A former production head subsequently recalled his childhood delight in the doodles and cartoons in the margins of Mad magazine. He questioned why editors don’t use that white space. That got Granger thinking. For a 14,000-word Stephen King novella, Esquire commissioned drawings of Stephen King novels, images like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, to illustrate the edges of each page. That led to “Marginal Fiction,” a short story commissioned and edited to fit on the margins of all of the October 2007 issue’s 102 pages.

Deputy editor Peter Griffin brought up another overlooked section in magazines: the front of the book. “Nobody would read the masthead, the letters, the table of contents, so we mashed it up,” says Granger. “As much as we love the medium, there’s also impatience with how conventional magazines can be.”

In that restlessness, Granger found an ally in design director David Curcurito who he hired five years ago. As Granger looked at new ways to make every inch of space in the magazine entertaining, he applied that thinking to cover design as well, introducing a Vietnam Memorial-inspired “wall-of-type” aesthetic in the September 2006 issue. Not that Granger’s always trying to squeeze more on to a page: He’s walked into Curcurito’s office asking things like “Why do we have headlines? I’m sick of them.” Curcurito, a former creative director at The Source, was happy to comply with an issue where none of the features carried headlines. “David’s got fantastic taste and style, but he also gives me a lot of creative freedom,” says Curcurito. “We get excited about the same things.”

As Granger tried to get readers to reassess their relationship with print, Esquire needed to do the same with its underleveraged Web site. The results speak for themselves. Since Esquire.com’s relaunch three years ago, the number of unique visitors has grown sixfold to 2.5 million last month, with page views increasing to 23.3 million from 1.8 million. The site’s content deftly augments and promotes print. Last June for the Megan Fox cover, the sex symbol was shot in a digital video, which was made into a short promotional film that got more than 3 million video plays on Esquire.com. Outtakes from the video were used as photographs in the magazine. Typically, extra print photography and interview content make their way to the Web. Earlier, a March print fashion portfolio was also made into a short film, which was e-mailed to international fashionistas, distributed virally and became part of a “Fashion Film Festival” on Esquire.com.

“David believes the magazine has to transcend the medium, but the Web site has to speak back to the magazine. He’s always pushing for the Web to do more—just as he does with the magazine,” says Esquire.com Web director Eric Gillin, who oversaw the relaunch.

Adds Esquire publisher Kevin O’Malley: “We talk to advertisers about Esquire, the brand, not just the magazine. One of David’s great assets is that not only does he have such great editorial instincts, but he also has a very solid business acumen and understands the lifeblood of this business.”

Even in a tough year, those instincts weren’t lost on advertisers. For the launch of a new hybrid vehicle, Lexus created a special ad with an augmented reality marker that appeared in Esquire’s December issue with the same editorial focus. Using the augmented reality technology, readers were able to experience product demonstrations like the use of the car’s radar cruise control capability.

“We wanted to bring the innovation of the Lexus HS250 to light in a different way, and the augmented reality issue was a huge draw to us,” says David Nordstrom, vp of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s Lexus Division. “As we see print evolve, we want to be associated with that kind of innovation.”

If Esquire’s ketchup bottle needed better packaging, nobody could complain about the quality of its contents. The magazine works with some of America’s best writers, many of whom moved from GQ to Esquire with Granger. During Granger’s 13-year tenure at the top, Esquire has been a finalist for 53 National Magazine Awards, winning 13, including the General Excellence award in 2006.

Granger has smaller budgets at Esquire than he had at GQ, and his core edit and design team of 12 oversees a remarkable amount of content. Granger—who most people address by his last name—and deputy editor Griffin met in the mid-’80s at Sport and are close friends.

Griffin was happily between jobs when Granger joined Esquire in 1997 and didn’t want to join the staff, but agreed to help him for 90 days. Thirteen years later he’s still there, and their close collaboration drives the magazine’s success. “They’re like two people who finish each other’s sentences, but they don’t even have to speak to do so,” says writer-at-large Chris Jones.

Granger, with his Master’s degree in English, takes pride in his writers. He still personally edits writer-at-large Tom Junod, whom he began working with 17 years ago at GQ. (When Junod left to follow Granger, published reports had Condé Nast trying to keep him with a counteroffer of $300,000 and writing gigs at GQ and The New Yorker. While that amount may be overstated, Junod’s loyalties to Granger are not.) When the writer first pitched “The Falling Man,” the September 2003 award-winning piece inspired by a close-up shot of a man who jumped off a World Trade tower on 9/11, Granger was less than enthusiastic, thinking it was a media story—the kind of thing he doesn’t like. It was a tough piece to get just right, even in Junod’s skillful hands.

“Most of the time I flailed around, and David  allowed that flailing to happen in the interest of getting something outside the norm,” says Junod. “When I first met David, I was a first-draft writer, and I deemed a story a success because of that. Now I’ve written 40,000 words to get to the final 10,000. It’s not a minimalist place.”

Or, a predictable one. In 2001, Chris Jones, an Ottawa-based newspaperman, showed up at Esquire’s New York offices. Armed with a box of donuts and helped by a friendly building janitor, he cold-called one of the editors and later got the chance to submit a sports piece. In 2007, Jones proposed a piece about how a soldier’s body gets sent back from Iraq. Granger and Griffin “looked at each other for 30 seconds before agreeing to it,” Jones recalls. Eight months later he delivered 22,000 words for a piece that was supposed to be 6,000 words. In May 2008, “The Things That Carried Him” ran at 17,000 words and won the National Magazine Award for feature writing last year. “Where else will you find that willingness to trust a writer like that?” asks Jones. “While I was working on it, there were never any questions about the piece or where the story was going.”

Continue to next page →