David Zinczenko on His New ‘High-Profile Life’ and the Real Story Behind His Leaving Rodale

I’ve been looking forward to today’s Michael’s lunch for quite a while. David Zinczenko, who I met in this very dining room many years ago, was joining me with his business partner Stephen Perrine and Patrick Connors, the new publisher of Men’s Fitness. As most faithful readers of this column know, Dave, arguably one of the highest profile editors in history during his tenure as EIC of Men’s Health, and Stephen, head of Rodale Books, were unceremoniously fired from their positions at Rodale last November. The news shocked industry insiders and made headlines all over the media landscape, most notably in a piece penned by Keith Kelly for The New York Post where Maria Rodale cattily commented that David could now go on living his “high-profile life.” When asked if his departure would hurt the brand, she sniped, “It’s not Dave’s Health —  it’s Men’s Health.” Jealous much?

I was thrilled to score the exclusive first sit-down with Dave and Stephen to get the real story behind their firings, an overview of their new venture, Galvanized Brands, and the first look (which Patrick brought along hot off the presses today) of the June issue of Men’s Fitness, the result of their collaboration with their first client, AMI. Dave and Stephen are co-founders and CEO/president and chief creative officer, respectively, of their new firm. Stephen describes Galvanized Brands as a “broad-based brand building and media company that helps other companies unlock their hidden value specializing in health and wellness,” and the duo is positively euphoric about the company’s prospects.

Patrick Connors, David Zinczenko, Diane Clehane and Stephen Perrine

Not surprisingly, it turns out Dave’s living a “high-profile life” that made millions for his former employer has its advantages. (The highly successful Eat This, Not That series he wrote while at Rodale sold 7 million copies in North America.) Last month, it was announced Random House gave Dave distribution and a multi-million dollar deal for his own imprint, Zinc Ink, through its Ballantine Bantam Dell division. As part of the deal, Dave will pen three health/fitness books, the first of which will be published in 2014.  Zinc Ink will publish six to 12 non-fiction and lifestyle books annually — and Dave will share in the profits. He explained that, in addition to Zinc Ink, Random House is prepared to create a series of imprints, like say, AMI/Galvanized, tied to media brands which Random House will publish and distribute. There are currently “half a dozen” AMI/Galvanized book idea percolating, and Stephen told me the first book will be published some time this summer.

Zinc Ink is on track to have three books out by Christmas. “We are being strategic and only want to do books that have a real chance of breaking out. We are swinging for the fences,” says Stephen. The imprint currently has a two-book deal with entertainment correspondent Maria Menounos and will publish a book with boxer and celebrity trainer Michael Olajide Jr. The big news, teased Dave, is that they will be announcing a book deal with “one of the biggest athletes in the world” very shortly. Try as I might, the guys wouldn’t reveal the person’s identity. I played a bit of a guessing game but, it’s top secret for now.

It’s more than a little hard to believe that it was less than six months ago when Dave and Stephen hatched the idea for their business when they were stranded in an Emmaus, Pennsylvania Starbucks after getting their walking papers from Rodale. (Company car service was only provided one-way for the trip to Rodale’s offices. Nice.) The story of their firing reminds me of my favorite Mad Men episode, “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” where the partners, having learned they were being sold out by their employers, come up with a plan to launch their own company and pull it together in the course of one weekend. Taking a page from Don Draper, Dave and Stephen went one better and, within five minutes of meeting at the coffee house after separate meetings with the powers that be, came up with a plan to start their own company. “We were two guys with a combined 40 years of experience at the company,” recalls Stephen, adding that the two men have been working together for the past two decades since they first met as senior editors at Men’s Health. “We just seized the opportunity.”

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