Two years ago, Men’s Fitness put Vin Diesel on its cover, wearing a red, body-hugging T-shirt and surrounded by coverlines that screamed “Instant muscle” and “53 fat-burning tips.” Vin is back for the June issue, and while he’s still showing off his biceps, this time he’s sporting John Varvatos and Banana Republic.
Sitting at a long conference table in the offices of American Media Inc., chairman David Pecker placed the 2011 issue alongside the new one to underscore the point: Men’s Fitness, long the province of workout tips and Gatorade ads, is going in an upscale lifestyle direction to compete with the likes of Men’s Health, Details and GQ.
It is a triumphant moment for Pecker, who’s tried for years to get Men’s Fitness out of the enthusiast ad ghetto (“We could not even land the cars they drive to the gym”). But it wasn’t until he enlisted what he called his “Delta Force” of Dave Zinczenko and fellow Rodale refugees Stephen Perrine, Joe Heroun and John Mather that he felt he could. “This to me is the biggest thing I did since George magazine,” he effused. “But John was not an editor. Dave is an editor.”
Comparisons will no doubt be made between Men’s Fitness and rival Men’s Health, which Zinczenko edited and spun into a mini media empire including Women’s Health, Best Life and books until he was pushed out of Rodale last November. Not long after, he was having drinks with Pecker at the Bull & Bear at the Waldorf-Astoria. (It was the second time Pecker had come courting, the first being shortly after he bought Men’s Fitness from Joe Weider in 2002).
Fast-forward to the new Men’s Fitness, all spiffed-up with a new logo in all caps, black-and-white cover and more attitude. The tagline, which used to be “Everything for every man,” is now “The new measure of success.” To fulfill that promise, new departments instruct men in how to stay fit, but also what to eat and what to drive. Hugh Jackman will be on the August cover. Timothy Ferriss and Jack Otter will be contributing, as will fashion photographers Ben Watts and Richard Fibbs.
Guys who go to the gym also are interested in other markers of success, Perrine explained. It’s “filling an absolute need” in the market, Zinczenko chimed in. “Fitness is the vehicle for living the great life—getting the partner they want, getting the promotion they want.”
As for that “other magazine we were associated with in the past,” as the team is likely to refer to Men’s Health, Zinczenko and Co. dismissed the possibility of confusion (Rodale sued AMI in 2004, charging that Men’s Fitness looked too much like Men’s Health.) Zinczenko avoided criticizing his former employer, where CEO Maria Rodale made no secret of the fact that she felt Zinczenko had become too big of a star himself.
“I think we’re on to something completely different…more upscale, cooler,” Zinczenko insisted. “We were really competing against ourselves; we weren’t even thinking of Men’s Health, or Details, or Esquire.” Perrine was more blunt: “We want to get away far away from Men’s Health as possible.”
Not that they wouldn’t like to get a few of its readers; Men’s Health’s circulation, at 1.9 million, is three times that of Men’s Fitness. Men’s Health also carried more ad pages in 2012, 720 to Men’s Fitness’ 627. (Men’s Fitness readers are younger, by two years, however.)
Marketers seem to be taking note; with the June issue, Men’s Fitness is starting to get the kinds of high-end advertising it’s never carried before, like Ralph Lauren’s Polo fragrance and Ocean Pacific. “They are finally getting the marketplace attention they never had, as warranted under the new regime,” said MediaVest evp Robin Steinberg. “Men’s Health now has competition.”
AMI is spending uncharacteristically big on the magazine, with the new talent, with 25 percent more editorial pages and a big party at The Standard to kick off the new issue. Lizzie Grubman’s PR firm is working on the launch.
“We really believe we will make an enormous splash in this market,” Pecker said. But for him to get the magazine to the 1 million circulation threshold he aspires to in a category that’s flat will require a lot of fancy footwork, one single-copy buyer at a time.