Monday, January 12, 2004

Farewell, Steve Florio

Via Gawker's Choire Sicha and through the New York Times we learn that Steve Florio is stepping down as Chief Executive at Conde Nast for health reasons.

"He will be succeeded by Charles H. Townsend, chief operating officer of the Advance Magazine Group, " writes David Carr, "which runs the back-office functions for Cond� Nast and the other magazine groups within Advance Publications, the parent company."

In honor of Florio's departure, I'd like to run a long excerpt of an interview by Ingrid Sischy which ran in Interview in November 1995:

"Steve Florio: It was right after my thirtieth birthday, at seven one morning. I've always been an early riser. The voice on the other end of the phone said, 'Is this Steve Florio?' I said yes. Then he said, 'My name is Si Newhouse.' I replied, 'Oh, yes Mr. Newhouse, I know who you are.' He said, 'I just bought a magazine called Gentlemen's Quarterly and I was wondering if you would like to come over and talk to me about being the publisher.' That was on a Wednesday. He offered me the job on Thursday and I started on Monday. All of a sudden there is this rush, and three days later your life has changed. It can be like a kind of rebirth that you didn't even realize you needed. So I worked on GQ and it was maybe the most fun that I even had in my business career.

"Ingrid Sischy: When was this?

"SF: This was from 1979 to 1984."

The interview contniues:

"SF: ... At GQ we were trying to make it more accessible to all men and the way we decided to do that was by putting personalities on the cover. I called Aaron Latham, the great writer. He had been working on a piece that was called 'The Urban Cowboy.' This was when they were making the film Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta, and I asked Aaron if he could get us John Travolta to appear for a cover shoot and he did. That was really the first such cover. We had had a couple of personalities before but this was the real beginning of the new GQ.

"IS: Did the circulation change instantly, Steve?

"SF: The change was amazing. That's the thing about magazines, they are much more dynamic than people give them credit for. What I think I've always been best at is understanding that magazines are not just demographic figures or circulation numbers or manufacturing or distribution budgets. Magazines are living, breathing things. When I was a salesman in the early part of my career, running around selling ad space, I very rarely used research and numbers to convince people. In my early days at Esquire (ed note: Florio used to work at Esquire) I would sit there with the marketing director or the president of a company and talk about Hemingway, about F. Scott Fitzgerald, about Tom Wolfe and the whole New journalism movement. To me it wasn't just a matter of a sale. I was getting paid to have these enormously stimulating conversations about subject matter that fascinated me. When Tom Wolfe wrote 'The last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!' about the world of automobile racing, I remember sitting down with these guys and saying to them, 'This magazine is the fastest, most beautiful boat in the world, and you guys can't drive it because you're in advertising--the editor gets to drive, but you get to go for the ride. Someone like a Tom Wolfe transports us all there. We are there, in the pit, smelling the rubber and the gasoline, and we are being entertained, while right next to the story is this ad for your product. If it's a great product and it can hold up to the stature of the magazine, and the wonderful level of writing that you find in the magazine, they're going to buy your product.' I probably had more presentations like that than on the cost per thousands, or the CPM. When I went to GQ, when it came to fashion I wasn't interested in the fact that we were showing this type of color of icon being developed in the early '80s, and they were called designers. There were people named Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Giorgio Armani who were becoming larger-than-life figures. We just touched all of this and the spark went off and we had something.

"IS: What year was that? SF: I'm going to say 1980.

"IS: So you were helping guide the magazine not only to the business end as publisher but also in some ways editorially as well.

"SF: At that point I was. But my editorial involvement aggressively backed off when the editor that I had been working with resigned--a man named Jack Haber. After he left, Si Newhouse hired Arthur Cooper, who is still the editor. Cooper was a seasoned editor, he had worked on a number of magazines, and he told Si, 'I can't work with a thirty-year-old publisher who is also going to have editorial override. You have to give me my lead.' I agreed that he should have that because I was really flying by the seat of my pants and trying to make the magazine something, but not quite sure how to do it. Cooper came in and did a brilliant job, almost immediately. The magazine really became well-rounded in those years, and it accelerated on the business and circulations front, too. In 1984, we had a five-hundred-page increase in advertising.

"IS: Did the competition try and snag you?

"SF: The one offer that intrigued me the most was the Times Mirror Company because I love to sail and get out on boats, and one of their magazines was Yachting. I love to hike in the woods and they had Outdoor Life. They offered me the job as a president of the Times Mirror magazine group. I told them I just wanted to think about it for a couple of days. I flew home and went to see Si Newhouse at six one morning. At this point in my career I only used to see Mr. Newhouse maybe once or twice a year. I walked into his office and he looked up from his deck and said, 'Where?' He's been doing this a long time and he knows when something's up. I was nervous, Ingrid, I was dying, because I had had this great run at GQ, but now I was going to make a lot more dough, I was going to have even more responsibility, many magazines, not just one. I never told him what was offered to me. He said, 'Look, how would you like to be the president and chief executive of The New Yorker?' I said, 'Mr. Newhouse The New Yorker is the greatest magazine in America, but you don't own the The New Yorker,' and he laughed and said, 'Don't ever use that sentence with me.' Eventually I spent almost a decade at The New Yorker. That, too, was just an amazing experience for me. Then on January 7, 1994, it was my first day back from my Christmas break. I got one of those early morning calls from Si Newhouse.

"IS: I hope the phone is on your side of the bed and not on your wife's.

"SF: (laughs) I was in the office, actually. (laughs again) Si said, 'Come on over,' and I asked, 'What should I bring?' He said, 'Nothing, just come over.' I walked over there thinking, Oh Jesus, what's going to happen? And I sat down with him and I said, 'What's up?' He said, 'Steve, I'm going to make you president of Conde Nast Publications.' Then he told me that I would have a new partner. Aside from working with [Si] every day I'd be working with James Truman. And he announced James's appointment as editorial director about a month later."

Farewell Steve Florio.

New posts (December 28 The Corsair)

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