Cover Story: ‘Esquire’ Gets Creative

NEW YORK Esquire editor David Granger (shown), who caused a flap with the February issue that hid an ad on its cover, is getting ready for his next act.

Granger’s May issue will have three perforated covers that can be separated into horizontal strips. When flipped over, those strips create different images. Actor George Clooney and President Barack Obama are two of the three planned cover subjects for the issue, themed “How to Be a Man.”

Printing company Sandy Alexander is handling the job, which Esquire believes to be the first time a magazine has used perforated covers.

The History Channel bought two of the multiple covers plus the two-page spread following the third cover. The network planned to use the covers to promote its planned show, Life After People: The Series, which will look at what would happen to Earth if people suddenly disappeared. History Channel parent A&E Television Networks is a joint venture of Hearst Corp., Disney-ABC Television Group and NBC Universal.

“This is a very targeted, innovative breakthrough,” Chris Moseley, svp, marketing, History Channel, said. “It reaches upscale, highly educated, professional, managerial men, which is a match with our audience. And they’re not that easy to reach.”  

Kevin O’Malley, vp, publisher of the Hearst Magazines title, said the History Channel responded to the first-time nature of the covers as well as the issue theme. “The show they’re launching really aligns with the issue theme and the iconic appeal of the cover subjects,” he said.

The May treatment will be Granger’s second unconventional cover this year. The February issue cover contained a window, which, when opened, revealed an ad opposite editorial content. The American Society of Magazine Editors concluded that the cover flap didn’t violate its editorial guidelines, although some members worried that such innovation would lead magazines to create covers to appeal to advertisers.

Whether the May “mix-and-match” issue also raises questions about editorial integrity could depend on whether the cover choices appear to be influenced by the advertiser.

O’Malley said that Esquire’s covers are always editorially driven. Moseley said that the History Channel would use the mix-and-match feature in designing its ads. But, she said, the network hadn’t been informed of the cover images and its ads wouldn’t have any connection to them.

The covers are examples of how magazines, facing severe challenges to newsstand sales and ad revenue, are looking to stand out with original editorial treatments and ad units.

At an ASME luncheon this week where he was invited to discuss the issue, Granger said that he has been trying to bring innovation to the pages of the magazine in recent years. He said a handful of readers complained that the flap, which covered Obama’s face, disrespected the president, but that the negative response wasn’t overwhelming.

Circulation figures for February aren’t publicly available yet, but Granger said the February issue sold “better than average” in newsstand sales in addition to capturing buzz. Esquire’s newsstand sales averaged 105,503 for the second half of 2008 on total circ of 726,358, per the Audit Bureau of Circulations. “People are talking about paper — that’s exciting,” he said.

Esquire also got attention last year for its blinking, electronic cover on its September 2008 issue. Designed to mark Esquire’s 75th anniversary, the cover was used on some 100,000 newsstand copies. O’Malley said a cover with a pull tab was planned for June, with more innovative ideas in the works for the second half of ’09, but declined to elaborate.

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