Special Report: Zinczenko Guides ‘Men’s Health’

NEW YORK There was a time not too long ago when David Zinczenko could count on a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve become the master of the 30-second phone call and the two-minute meeting,” says the always-on-the-run editor in chief of Rodale’s 1.8-million-circulation health, fitness, relationship and gear manual Men’s Health. These days Zinczenko usually gets to his desk by 7:30 in the morning and heads home—or to a business dinner or magazine event—at 8 in the evening. In between, there are assorted business meetings, appearances on TV shows (Oprah, the Today show) and books to write and promote (Zinczenko and his magazine have built a cottage industry around his Abs Diet, which has spawned books, DVDs, a newsletter and a Web site).

It used to be that an editor’s job was putting out a magazine: cultivating talented writers and photographers, cooking up ideas for stories that grab readers’ attention (and maybe even enhance their lives) and getting that content on the page and out to the masses. That was before magazines got connected, via digital umbilical cord, to the Web, and before publishers set out to bolster their brands and sniff out new revenue sources by spinning out an array of extensions including books, DVDs, video-on-demand and mobile products, consumer goods, retail spaces, clubs, restaurants, events, sibling magazines, TV shows and satellite-radio channels.

In other words, life is a whole lot more complicated now. A panel at this week’s American Magazine Conference (of which Zinczenko is chairman) considers the evolution of the “Editor as Octopus.” Indeed, editors increasingly must be top-notch journalists as well as savvy business managers—brand stewards charged with crafting not only the bedrock ink-on-paper product but also a brand that can be attached to a seemingly unlimited jumble of sidelines. If content is king, then brand surely has become ace.

As Zinczenko explains, “There is definitely an expectation now that an editor will understand how their magazine will extend to other media or even nonmedia, such as events. They have to be kings of all media, and they have to be commercially savvy and be able to represent the magazine if needed. So it’s a tall order. The good news is that if you’ve got a magazine and a Web site, you’re in the game; the not-so-good news is that there’s a ton of things to do after that.”

Zinczenko and Rodale could write the book on how to build a magazine brand. Men’s Health has established not one but two highly successful print spinoffs in the 787,000-circ Women’s Health and 469,000-circ Best Life, with yet another offspring—Men’s Health Living, the first shelter magazine in the men’s market—to be tested this December. The title is closing in on 40 international editions, most recently in Turkey. Then, there are events (the Urbanathlon, which has expanded to three cities), public-service initiatives (the FitSchools program aims to battle adolescent obesity by revamping physical-education programs) and more.

So, what is the secret to growing a successful brand? As Zinczenko sees it, it’s mainly “understanding the core of your magazine. We’re a great brand because we’re a great idea. The magazine, the site, the books—they all serve the reader. Although we’ve expanded into many areas, we’re very careful that the same attitude infuses every aspect of our extensions.”

That “attitude” is key. Explains Pattie Garrahy, CEO of PGR Media, whose clients include Tommy Hilfiger, “Media is so fragmented now that if the voice and tone of a magazine and its extensions aren’t in unison, there’s going to be a lot of confusion in the marketplace. It’s a tough job for these top editors because they’re getting into all these different areas that they may or may not be familiar with. But their vision and their knowledge of the brand makes them the best people to spread the message beyond just print.”

It’s a trend touching editors at all levels of the business—from purveyors of the best-known glossy newsstand editions to publishers with a more down-home ethos. Take Franklin, Tenn.-based Publishing Group of America, which produces newspaper-distributed magazines including the 10 million-circ general-interest weekly American Profile and 12 million-circ food monthly Relish. Those homespun titles have spawned branded books (some sporting reader-generated content) and CDs at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, as well as a syndicated news service. Explains PGA editor in chief Charlie Cox, “We like to think of ourselves as a small company but nimble, and very much able to transform ourselves and really try to do some things a little out of the realm of traditional magazine publishers, and offer our readership [products] we know resonate with them.”

A thousand miles away, from his perch at Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan, David Granger, editor in chief of the 721,000-circ iconic men’s title Esquire, accepts that his magazine is called upon, in today’s marketplace, with spreading its own particular attitude via a range of platforms—even if it can be a bit of a juggling act. “The need to develop successful extensions gets more intense every day,” he says, adding, “I get involved in everything, almost to the extent where it can be a distraction.”

Granger reminds editors and their bosses that their foundation, all things considered, is built upon the page. “I really think the current iteration of magazine editor, in addition to being the editorial guru, is to be a person who is cognizant of running the business,” he admits. “But if the core product, the magazine, doesn’t work, all the rest of it goes away pretty fast.”

Like Men’s Health, the prize-winning Esquire, which took the 2007 National Magazine Award for reporting, has busily propagated its brand. Through its high-concept Signature Space project, the magazine has, since 2003, fashioned the Esquire man’s dream home in a number of luxe locations. The most recent iteration: a just-christened, 5,700-square-foot triplex penthouse in Harlem, tricked out by marketers including Versace and Hugo Boss. And while that undertaking could never reach the number of eyeballs the magazine does, Granger says, the space—home to charity events drawing celebs like Scarlett Johansson and Jay-Z—creates valuable buzz in the media and ad community. (It is also a valuable showcase for the magazine’s advertisers.)

Other offshoots include 16 international editions, Esquire Mobile and the style guide Big Black Book. And Esquire extensions on the drawing board include an online TV show in partnership with Sony Digital Entertainment starring Esquire columnist Barry Sonnenfeld; a sitcom, also from Sony, that plays off the magazine’s successful line of greeting cards; and a series of interstitial programs titled Take It From Esquire, via high-definition cable channel Mojo.

No matter the spinoff, no matter the platform, Granger reckons that to work, it must ultimately “enhance the concept of what Esquire is.”

While Esquire expands its brand with a high-end apartment in the sky, animated cartoons might prove essential in enhancing the esteemed brand that is The New Yorker. Condé Nast’s gold standard of high-brow journalism now offers animated shorts via iTunes podcasts. More than 1.5 million cartoons have been downloaded since they were rolled out this past February. To the delight of a magazine looking to cultivate the next generation of readers (and that would be any magazine), the average age of The New Yorker’s cartoon customers is 27, with 69 percent between 19 and 35.

David Remnick, editor of the 1 million-circ New Yorker since 1998, is known as one of the brainiest guys in magazines: Princeton grad, former Washington Post Moscow correspondent, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. So it’s more than a little funny to see him get so psyched about…cartoons. “Damn right. It goes without saying that we have to bring in new readers,” he says. “When people get to The New Yorker, they tend to stay there; 80 percent of subscribers re-up. So it’s very important to get people addicted to our magazine as early as possible.”

Remnick, you see, is not just a smart-as-a-whip editor: It turns out, he, too, is a magazine brand steward extraordinaire. The first-ever New Yorker Conference—held this past May, with tickets going for $1,200 a pop—was dreamt up by Remnick and Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell. Billed as an event devoted to exploring “the most important ideas, trends and innovations that will shape our future in the next five years,” the program featured discussions with a diverse group including Will Wright, creator of the best-selling computer game The Sims, and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. Sponsored by Microsoft, Lexus, CIT and Johnnie Walker, the conference sold out. The conference follows extensions including mobile offerings, merchandise and the wildly successful New Yorker Festival. Now in its eighth year, the weekend-long festival attracts 17,000 New Yorkers to panel discussions, performances and excursions throughout the city.

“Part of it is that you’ve got to know in your gut what feels right and what doesn’t,” says Remnick. “There’s no Ten Commandments about what will work well.”

Another Condé Nast editor who knows a thing or two about whipping up brand magic is Gourmet’s Ruth Reichl, who, after a long and storied career as a food writer and critic and best-selling author of a string of highly entertaining memoirs (most recently, Garlic and Sapphires), has become somewhat of a brand unto herself. In her day job, Reichl, selected this past March as AdweekMedia’s Magazine Editor of the Year, presides over an empire that encompasses not only the 969,000-circ epicurean monthly but also books (including the best-selling Gourmet Cookbook), the PBS series Diary of a Foodie (gearing up for its second season next January), radio programs, podcasts, events and the Web sites gourmet.com and epicurious.com.

Reichl sees Gourmet’s numerous cross-platform enterprises as a key ingredient in fulfilling the brand’s mission—and makes little distinction between cranking out a monthly magazine and cooking up extensions like books, TV shows and podcasts. “It all seems to blend together to me,” she shrugs. “It’s like one big holistic product.”

Under Reichl, Gourmet has been especially smart about what sidelines it pursues. The editor reports that the title has been approached about slapping its name on everything from dinnerware to calendars to TV shows. At one point, she says, the magazine fielded some 20 TV proposals a month.

Other extensions have proved a logical fit. Take books. One of Reichl’s first tasks after joining Gourmet from The New York Times in 1999 was to revive the long-forgotten Gourmet-branded books from the ’50s that, she says, “were wonderfully synergistic to what we were trying to create. They reminded people that Gourmet has a great literary tradition.” Besides its famous cookbook (the latest edition is due next fall from Houghton Mifflin), titles via Random House include Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing From Gourmet and History in a Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing From Gourmet.

So, like so many other editors these days, you might say Reichl has a lot on her plate. “Right now, we’re living in the middle of a revolution,” she says. “We don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. But I’ll tell you this: You’d be foolish not to at least consider any possible extension that could help build your brand.”

Richard Brunelli is a regular contributor to AdweekMedia.