In a shock to the publishing industry, longtime Rodale and Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko is leaving the company, the New York Post reported today. Zinczenko is considered synonymous with Rodale, having grown up near its Emmaus, Pa., headquarters, and spending nearly his entire career at the publishing company.
According to the Post, Zinczenko is planning to start a new venture with Rodale Books head Stephen Perrine, who is also leaving. That would make sense, given Perrine and Zinczenko have long worked together, on Rodale books and on Best Life, a well-received but short-lived Men’s Health spinoff that Perrine edited (and which recently made a comeback). Perrine “rounds out Dave in a lot of ways and is a wing man in a lot of ways,” according to one acquaintance.
Zinczenko has been heard to be talking to bankers about raising money, leading to speculation that he would branch out on his own. In addition to his books empire, Zinczenko also has gotten into the restaurant business, owning The Lion in New York's Greenwich Village with pal Dan Abrams.
CEO Maria Rodale said she and Zinczenko "mutually decided not to renew" his contract, which was up at the end of the year. Zinczenko will continue to work as an author for Rodale Books. Bill Phillips, editor of MensHealth.com, was bumped up to vp, editor in chief, succeeding him.
"I decided it was time for a change," she said. "The direction we want to take the company in and he wanted to take the company in are not aligned. He's very celebrity-driven, and what he does, he does really well. What I'm looking for is more diversity and more depth."
Asked if Zinczenko had become unaffordable, Rodale said, "What he wanted we really couldn't give, and I'm not talking about money. It was time for him to move on."
As for whether Zinczenko's departure will hurt Men's Health's image with advertisers, Rodale said he hadn't been involved on the brand day-to-day for a while. "Bill Phillips is the man behind this now," she said. "While he many not be spending his time on television, everybody brings different things. I think if anything, our engagement with readers will soar. I think that's what advertisers want."
As for the books division, Maria Rodale said she asked Perrine to leave because she wanted to diversify the company's books beyond "big diet books" to include gardening, kids, spirituality and the like, and that "Steve's heart was not in books. Steve was very passionate about a very narrow thing." She said a search was under way for his replacement.
Zinczenko and Perrine haven't returned messages seeking comment.
Zinczenko became editor in chief of Men’s Health in 2000. Since then, Zinczenko’s name has become synonymous with the magazine’s, and thanks to his regular public appearances on behalf of Men’s Health (he’s a contributor on the Today show) and the launch of the successful Eat This, Not That! franchise, Zinczenko has become a brand unto himself. He's steadily ascended at the company, adding business responsibilities in 2011 when he got the newly created title of evp and gm of the Healthy Living Group and Rodale Books in 2011.
During his 15 years at Rodale, Zinczenko also formed a close relationship with the company's owners: When family matriarch Ardath Rodale died in 2009, Zinczenko was the only company executive to speak at the memorial service.
While Zinczenko is by far the most high-profile executive to leave the company, Rodale has suffered a string of other top-level departures in the time since Maria Rodale, a family scion with little corporate leadership experience, became CEO in 2009. Those included Prevention publisher Laura Petasnick, digital product developer Matt Bean, and top sales execs Gregg Michaelson and Mary Murcko.
One media industry figure who knows the company well said of Zinczenko's departure that "perception-wise, it changes the value of Men's Health," but that in other ways, his leaving could actually have an upside, considering the brand stands on its own in the consumer's eyes.
When it came to the editorial product and listening to advertisers' increased desire to get more involved with the brand, "Dave is very controlling," this person said. "[His leaving] might create a more flexible atmosphere."