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.”

So why ‘Galvanized Media?’ Explains Stephen: “Do you know how you galvanize metal? You add zinc to it.” The idea for the name, says Dave, comes from “friend and business partner” Steve Gilbert. As for their first client AMI, Dave told me, “I can’t say enough about David Pecker and his leadership. I’ve never met a CEO who thinks bigger. Under his vision, the company is investing heavily in magazines, books and all things digital.”  David was first introduced to Pecker by Ari Emanuel and had his first meeting with the publisher back in 2002. “I loved what I was doing then, and I wasn’t looking to make a change, but we kept in touch.” At the end of 2012, Dave and Pecker met again and after striking a deal, “We re-imagined Men’s Fitness in four weeks,” says Dave.

The June issue of the magazine features a redesign with a new logo, new tagline (“The New Measure of Success”), every section has been redone and there’s several new columns including “Learn It,”  “Earn It” and “Burn It” (as in money for luxury indulgences). The result, says Patrick, is Men’s Fitness‘ biggest issue ever at 175 pages with first-time advertisers Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Ford and Op in the mix. Patrick reports the magazine is up 37 percent in ad pages through June and is expected to be up by an impressive 80 percent at year’s end. To be clear, says Dave, this is not Men’s Health 2.0 but rather, a magazine and a media brand that is “cooler, hipper and younger.”

Looking back on the past few months, Dave told me, ” I was at [Rodale] for 20 years, and I was doing important work and was proud of it. For me, it’s always been about the brand and the larger mission. I assume and accept that it’s a 24/7 [job]. I don’t think you can ever stop thinking about the magazine, and it’s incumbent upon every magazine editor to do whatever it takes to build that brand. We live our brands.”

Stephen put a bit more of a finer point on the wild ride the longtime friends have been on since their departure from Rodale: “Dave blazed a path for other Rodale editors that also became best-selling authors. While he was building his brand, he was making a lot of money for the company.” He continued: “It’s great to be working with a company where achievement is met with appreciation rather than resentment. We were stunned when we first went out and saw how much respect there was for what we’d accomplished.”

And so if Dave is living a much more ‘high-profile’ life touting his new brand than the rest of the media pack, so be it. As for what else the future holds, I took it as a very interesting sign that Dave had to dash off right after our lunch for a meeting with ABC. Will we be seeing Dave some time soon on the small screen? Stay tuned.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. I knew there was something special afoot when they brought in swanky cane back ballroom chairs and special flowers for the table: DuJour‘s Jason Binn and Cindy Lewis, celebrating their recent Webby win with a table full of power gals including Fern Mallis, Mickey Ateyeh, Jean Hoehn Zimmerman and Deborah Cavanaugh.

2. Anne Hearst with hubby-author Jay McInerney and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia. Speaking of royalty, is it just us or does Jay bear more than a passing resemblance to Prince Charles?

3. David Zinczenko, Stephen Perrine, Patrick Connors and yours truly. Since we were seated at Joe Armstrong’s regular table (he’s currently away in Israel), we toasted the ‘Mayor’ in absentia. See you next month!