The 2002 Adweek Hot List is based on several factors: ad page and revenue gains, as tracked by Competitive Media Reporting for Publishers Information Bureau; performance within a magazine's competitive category; circulation gains; interviews with media buyers and consultants, and our own editors' judgment. Performance is tracked over three years, with greatest weight given to the most recent year.
For the list that follows, only titles with at least 10 issues published last year and $40 million in PIB ad revenue were considered.
With even greater care than in the past, we studied -- besides our usual criteria -- page rates and out-of-pocket costs; month-by-month comparisons to see when a magazine hit a rough spot and what may have caused it; in some cases back further than three years to get a better sense of a magazine's ad history. We also worked closely with Dan Capell, who edits Capell's Circulation Report, to determine the subscription and newsstand vitality of every title on the list. And we looked at one more thing, which inspired an addition to the statistics that accompany the Hot List: growth since 1999.
The Top 10 Magazines 2002
2. Teen People
3. Vanity Fair
6. Martha Stewart Living
7. Cooking Light
8. Marie Claire
10. Good Housekeeping
Executive of the Year: Steve Colvin
By Alec Foege
Lad in Charge - Leading Dennis Publishing's invasion of the U.S., he's won the hearts of readers and the minds of advertisers
It's early Monday morning, and Stephen Colvin is running late for the day's first appointment. The 39-year-old president of Dennis Publishing USA hurriedly knots his dark-purple tie, smoothes his three-button suit, grabs a sleek black overcoat, and kisses his wife, Pippa, on the cheek.
With a grin, he breezes through the living room of their spacious but informal Upper East Side apartment-past the flat-screen TV and the bleeding-edge contemporary paintings-and into the toy-filled playroom, returning with his two eldest children, Joseph, 7, and Natasha, 5. Out in the hallway, Harry, 16 months, waves bye-bye to Daddy. Emerging from the wood-paneled elevator, Colvin attacks the lead item on his busy schedule-walking the kids to school.
Fitting a black wool watch cap over his slightly punked-out hair, he forges a path down the sidewalk with only an occasional glimpse at his tiny troops. Navigating a New York crosswalk at rush hour, Colvin is a master of efficiency, holding hands where needed but otherwise trusting his clutch to stay the course. Ten brisk blocks later, they're in the playground of the neighborhood school. He deposits second-grader Joseph next to a friend, then follows Natasha to the room where she attends kindergarten. Confronted by a closed classroom door, Colvin scrunches his mouth into a cartoonish grimace. Then he looks at his watch.
"We're five minutes early," Colvin says, clearly pleased.
Mission complete, he's out on the street again, this time headed for the subway.
A native of Northern Ireland, Colvin arrived in New York just five and a half years ago to start a U.S. division of the London-based Dennis. Yet he appears to have adapted without pause to the city's hectic, multi-tasking pace and unpredictable rhythms.
In that same short period, he also has reinvigorated the general-interest men's category with the breathtakingly successful "lad mags" Maxim and Stuff and rocketed three new titles (Blender, a pop-music magazine; The Week, a lively news digest; and Maxim Fashion) into easily the worst ad market in decades. By spray-painting the newsstand with a brash Drew Carey-meets-Dr. Ruth sensibility, he also has proved to a snobbish New York publishing establishment that making money in magazines may not be such serious business after all.
Later the same day in his modest midtown office, glistening bikini-clad babes gaze down from framed magazine covers as Colvin weathers an action-packed afternoon of internal meetings. A heated head-to-head with the publisher of The Week about the pricing of paper stock. A powwow with Dennis's head of circulation, reeling with mind-numbing charts and numbers. A spirited debate with the editors of Blender over the bootylicious quotient of the next cover model. It's an impressive blur: Between all the far-flung questions and split-second decisions, Colvin hardly has time to wolf down his lunchtime salad.
"We react quickly, we're nimble, we're a small company, we're a flat management, we don't have that many magazines to focus on," he says in a rare idle moment. "We've always been down-to-earth, treating it as a business and not a vanity or a glamorous profession. It's very easy, because that's the mindset we exist in."
Clearly it's a mind-set that works. The guaranteed rate base for Maxim, currently 2.5 million, is up more than six-fold since 1998. The magazine's total ad revenue for 2001 was $148 million, a 29 percent increase from 2000, making it the far-and-away leader in the ultra-cutthroat men's category. With a $3.99 cover price, it sells a whopping 900,000 copies per issue at the newsstand. After debuting at No. 4 on Adweek's Hot List in its first year of eligibility in 2000, it jumped to the top of this year's list. According to a poll of Fortune 1000 CEOs, investment bankers are five times more likely to devour Maxim than Business Week.
And Stuff has the stuff, too: Launched in 1999, its rate base surged to 1.1 million for the first half of 2002, representing a 30 percent increase from 850,000 for the same period in 2001; ad pages were up 55 percent through November 2001. With Blender (circulation: 250,000) and The Week (100,000) on board since early 2001, the company projects $200 million in revenue for 2002.
Brand extension is another part of the big picture. Maxim broke through the gender boundary in January when it co-published an article on dating with Hearst's Cosmopolitan. German- and Spanish-language versions were recently launched. Last November, Dennis inked a deal with Harrah's Entertainment to host Maxim Lounge parties at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Plans for an increased television and radio presence are also on deck.
Still, despite his impressive track record, Colvin-Adweek's magazine Executive of the Year for 2001-is uninterested in hewing to the image of media titan. Largely eschewing the town cars and lavish perks surgically attached to most New York media elite, he prefers public transportation, keeps his own schedule on a Palm Pilot, and spends more nights at home with his wife and children than at the wild theme parties his company is known for throwing in Hollywood and at the Super Bowl.
With a keen interest in both the business and editorial sides of the company, and a seemingly boundless energy for all the boring details, Colvin prides himself on attracting top talent and letting them do what they were hired for. He also appreciates the stark beauty of lean operating budgets-and ignoring the conventional wisdom.
"He has the reader in mind," says Dennis's chief financial officer, John M. Lagana, a recent transplant from Wenner Media. "The sensibility is, let's put out a product that's good for the reader, not necessarily good to win the ASME award or some MPA recognition. Jann Wenner had that sensibility back when he created Rolling Stone-he put out a product for the reader and didn't worry about advertising, and it hit a nerve. That's what Stephen has done here."
Of course, Dennis saw a steep drop-off in ad revenue last year, just like everyone else (though Maxim finished 2001 with nearly 1,200 ad pages, according to Publishers Information Bureau). And some quietly wonder whether the flagship's self-consciously lowbrow formula-which mixes nearly-nude female pulchritude with snarky, sophomoric humor and bite-size articles-can sustain the company beyond its early meteoric growth and help spearhead newer, less sizzle-oriented categories.
Then there is the ongoing battle to attract high-end fashion advertisers and conservative packaged-goods manufacturers, some of whom won't appear in Maxim or Stuff no matter how generously the Band-Aid-width swimsuits are cut. The professional drubbing can't be discounted, either. GQ editor Art Cooper once famously described Maxim readers as "men who not only move their lips but drool when they read." The sneering never let up.
"The vast majority of people in our industry gave Dennis very little chance for success," confirms David Verklin, chief executive of Carat North America, a media-services firm. "But they've got a lot of credibility as far as I'm concerned. Maxim and Stuff, and even The Week, all show the beginnings of a really innovative publishing company that's willing to take risks, that is really pushing the envelope in its categories, and truthfully runs a very low risk of becoming moribund and stuffy."
Though big-name advertisers like Toyota and Nike are now in the fold, some initially had reservations about Maxim's risque content.
"But quickly after the launch, you couldn't ignore the magic in that magazine-it's irreverent, it's fun," says Christopher Montella, director of creative services for Chaps Ralph Lauren, who started advertising in Maxim shortly after its first year. "It's got a real energy behind it that seems to work well with the Chaps customer, who is a very regular guy, a guy's guy. There's a lot of synchronicity between our customer and the book." Montella also notes that Dennis won't pitch an advertiser just to sell a page: "If it's not right for your brand, they don't come to you."
That no-nonsense attitude permeates every level of the operation. Dennis' editors don't have private offices. "I don't know if I'd be hooked on that Cond? Nast lobster-and-champagne diet, but this suits me fine," says Maxim's editor-in-chief, Keith Blanchard, who shares an open, warehouse-style space with his staff. "One of the things that Stephen's been really good at is inflicting a frugal corporate culture on people who otherwise would have expected some star treatment at the end of the rainbow."
And with mastheads a good bit shorter than competitors', Dennis magazines make do with the barest of bare-bones staffs-yet are careful not to scrimp when it comes to content, another nod to the readers. "Dennis puts out thick magazines, they guarantee 140 or 150 pages every single issue," says Malcolm Campbell, publisher of Blender. "Particularly in the music category, that's an anomaly."
Doing your best under less-than-ideal circumstances is something Colvin learned early in life. Though he enjoyed a comfortably middle-class Protestant upbringing in Belfast, his childhood coincided with the terrorism of the late 1960s and 1970s. As a kid, he was accustomed to the constant British Army presence and a total absence of nightclubs.
"Growing up in Belfast, you were very wary of every car you walked past, in case there was a bomb," he says.
"There was only one cinema, but everybody was afraid to go because it was bound to be blown up anytime soon." The constant threat of violence fostered community-as well as casual boy-girl interaction at private parties, he jokes, "albeit in a pretty weird and slightly desperate environment."
Colvin's father was an accountant who quit to start his own grocery chain. Things quickly didn't work out. "He opened one store, then another, and then died of a heart attack," he says. Colvin was 10 when his mother took over the business and vowed to get Stephen and his older brother out of Northern Ireland. At 15, he left his homeland for an English boarding school.
While studying politics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, he began pursuing his passion for music, playing guitar with a pop-rock band called Sam and Galore, which notably featured his future spouse on keyboards. "I was the guy who ran the band, motivated them, made sure we stuck to schedule," says Colvin. "There's nothing like it-it's just failure, failure, failure. That brought out my driven side and taught me to be focused and not to give up easily." The band eventually struck a deal with a small label and released two singles before its luck ran out.
"At university, Steve was Mr. Social," recalls fellow classmate Kate Rankine, now an editor at the Daily Telegraph in London. "He went to all the right parties, but not in that horrible, networking way. He's never at all come across to me as trying to know the best people. He just always has known them."
Fortunately, Colvin had a day job to fall back on when the band fell through, working briefly at Ernst & Young, then as a London-based ad rep at Dutch media conglomerate VNU (the corporate parent of Adweek). In 1988, he was approached by Dennis Publishing U.K., at the time primarily owner of high-tech consumer and trade titles, to be sales manager of Computer Shopper, a British version of the Ziff-Davis publication.
Though he had little early contact with Felix Dennis, the company's chairman, he'd soon capture the attention of the mercurial multimillionaire. In 1992, he was promoted to publisher and asked to join Dennis' board of directors. Along with launching a few computer titles and helping run the company, he was asked in 1995 to weigh in on a prospective men's title Dennis was starting in the U.K. to compete with eMap's FHM, the laddie-boy progenitor, and Loaded, a zeitgeisty pop-culture magazine also packed with eye-popping pinups. The basic idea was a male equivalent of Cosmopolitan, a service bible packed with feisty wit and regular-bloke wisdom. "We used to spend too much time in board meetings trying to think up names for this damn magazine," says Colvin. "We liked Maxim because of the Ox' and two Om's."
The launch a swift success, the ambitious young man set his heart on San Francisco, where he was offered the job of publisher at IDG's MacWorld. But on the eve of his resignation, Felix Dennis called from New York. "I said, OAre you still working for me?' " recalls Dennis. "He said, OYes, I am.' I said, OIn that case, you've got to get on a plane.' " Held captive by his boss on a boat in the middle of Connecticut's Candlewood Lake, near where Dennis keeps a weekend home, Colvin received the offer of a lifetime-the chance to infect America with Dennis Publishing's grandiose vision of men behaving badly. He accepted it on the spot.
In truth, Dennis Publishing had had two previous incarnations on Yankee soil. The first was as the producer of hugely profitable souvenir books for movies like Jaws and Star Wars beginning in the early 1970s. The second was a failed mid-'90s attempt at a CD-ROM-based music "magazine," also called Blender.
This time, however, was different because Dennis had Colvin on his side. In one of his first and highly praised moves, Colvin lured Cond? Nast veteran Lance Ford, who had worked at The New Yorker and Bon Appetit, to be Maxim's general manager. He since has poached overachievers from nearly every publisher in town. "Steve's best ability is in locating talent and getting that talent to work for him and for the company, and keeping them on our side and motivating them," says Dennis. "He is very slow to blame and anxious always to share kudos with other people."
And he has a knack for getting to the heart and soul of the matter. Ford, who is British but has spent his whole career with American magazines, first connected with Colvin not as an adman but as a fellow failed musician (Ford's band was appropriately named Bad Press). "He's as real a boss as I've ever had," says Ford, since promoted to Dennis's executive vice president. "There are no sides to Steve, which is very refreshing. He speaks his mind, I trust him, and I think his instincts are great. He doesn't have to primp and pose as a president-people just give him the respect he deserves."
America embraced Maxim with hirsute open arms. Fueling the fire with free subscriptions for radio shock jocks, who read the magazine's ribald features on-air, and with an Internet marketing plan that beamed the same jokes to office cubicles nationwide, Dennis took the nation by storm.
After Colvin took over Tom's Diner on the Upper West Side for an "Ultimate End of Seinfeld" party in 1998, even Dan Rather was praising the infant glossy, no doubt drawn in by cover lines like "Your Desk or Mine: The Ins and Outs of Office Sex." A mere six months after distributing 175,000 copies of the premiere issue, edited by Clare McHugh, the magazine raised its rate base to 350,000. By mid-1999, circulation had broken 1 million. Pretty soon, competitors such as GQ, Esquire and Details were putting scantily clad starlets on their covers.
Later that year, a mere 18 months after Maxim's stateside send-off, Colvin summoned Andy Clerkson, the London-born editor-in-chief of Stuff, an electronics-and-gear magalog for guys that had taken off in England, to run the business side of a new U.S. version. Clerkson watched in amazement as Stuff's circulation shot to 1.1 million, becoming the sixth largest men's magazine in America behind stalwarts like Sports Illustrated, Playboy and Rolling Stone.
"There's no waiting with Stephen," says Clerkson, recently named general manager of Maxim. "I knew coming here something was going to be good, something was going to happen, and he was going to make it happen very fast. Things don't hang around in boardrooms with him. He's like the Energizer bunny on 12 cups of coffee."
Strangely enough, the content of Stuff is hardly distinguishable from Maxim's, and yet has had no negative effect on the margins of its older sibling. Colvin isn't surprised. The proud father who takes his kids to school says Maxim's early success convinced him that a little extra attention would nurture limitless potential.
"My feeling was there aren't any general interest men's magazines, why's everybody so negative? Why would Maxim not work? Why would Stuff not work?" Colvin says. "I looked at the newsstand and thought, what a dowdy mess. It was all people trying to justify that they had a very important profession. That's not what magazine publishing is about. It's just a little fluff in people's lives. And if you treat it like that, then you're quite willing to make it into what is an important piece of fluff in someone's life. And that's what we're all about."