Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bonnie Fuller: 'It's All About Knowing the Reader'

Fast and Fearless: The Life and Times of Bonnie Fuller
CBC Documentary, March 3, 2005
Click here to view two brief video clips showing Fuller at work

Provoking celebrities, confounding critics and colleagues and turning the unabashed world of tabloid media upside down, high-profile magazine editor Bonnie Fuller’s shameless embrace of sex, fashion, celebrity and gossip has attracted scores of readers and equal measures of scorn and admiration in the industry.

Fast and Fearless: The Life and Times of Bonnie Fuller, is a candid, behind-the-scenes look at the infamous editor at work. The film portrays her mercurial journey from a self-confessed geek in suburban Toronto to the very top of New York’s ultra-competitive magazine elite. Told through honest interviews with Bonnie, family members, old friends and high-profile colleagues, including the original ‘Cosmo girl’, Helen Gurley Brown, Bonnie Fuller’s story is revealed for the first time ever, warts and all, up-close and personal.

Purists may complain that the ‘Fuller formula’ has dumbed-down every magazine she's touched. Former staff recount that she's virtually impossible to please. Her ex-bosses have learned that she's probably more ambitious than loyal. What then makes Ms. Fuller such a commodity in New York’s merciless world of magazine journalism? By tapping into the average American woman’s obsessions, the ex-Torontonian and former editor of Flare, YM, Marie Claire, Cosmo, Glamour and US Weekly has been credited for her remarkable ability to post hefty circulation gains. So it’s no surprise that Bonnie Fuller’s reputation is on the line again.

As newly-appointed editorial director of American Media Inc., and responsible for more than a dozen high-profile tabloids, including The National Enquirer and The Globe, how will she fare trying to turn Star Magazine, a dying tabloid, into a popular mainstream consumer title?

The editorial chief of American Media says magazines must reach readers "both visually and textually." Editors may know what readers want, but if they're unable to "sell it on every page [they're] going to be in trouble."

By Patrick Phillips, I Want Media, 03/25/04

Bonnie Fuller is the editorial director of American Media Inc. (AMI), the publisher of magazines and tabloids including Star, Men's Fitness, Shape and National Enquirer. Fuller, a veteran of the leading women's magazines YM, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Glamour, joined AMI last year in a widely publicized jump from Us Weekly, the celebrity title she revived and transformed into a hot read.

The widespread attention given to Fuller's move to AMI "confirms her as the closest thing the magazine world has to a celebrity editor," observed Advertising Age. Her hot streak may have contributed to her appointment as 2003 Media Person of the Year in an online poll conducted by I Want Media and The Week magazine.

In a chat in her office at AMI, Fuller spoke about America's love of celebrities, Myrna Blyth's women's-magazine-bashing book, her advice for newspaper editors, and what the future may hold for Martha Stewart's magazine.

I Want Media: In our annual poll for Media Person of the Year, you were voted as the figure that had the most impact in the media in 2003. Do you believe that you've made an impact?

Bonnie Fuller: I really don't like to sit and sort of pontificate about how I did this or I did that. But in terms of the last couple of years, I did have an impact on creating a new category -- celebrity weekly magazines. We created a new habit for women.

This new category is important because it marries celebrity news with fashion news, beauty news -- even health news -- in a way that women never had before. The reader no longer has to wait. You can watch the Oscars and fall in love with Cherize Theron's makeup on Sunday, and by Wednesday you can pick up Star magazine and find out exactly how to get the look. You don't have to wait for a monthly, which won't come out until many weeks later.

The newspapers weren't even covering this -- the award shows and the red carpet functions -- in the same way before this exploded as a weekly category. This is a whole new thing.

IWM: Us Weekly editor Janice Min said recently that "celebrities have infiltrated our media in a way you haven't seen even five years ago." Has American culture become more celebrity-obsessed?

Fuller: It has, absolutely. We all need role models. We all need fantasy. And people like to gossip. Once you leave high school, you don't have people to gossip about in common any more. But everybody can gossip about celebrities. You can go to a cocktail party, and if you don't know somebody you can still go, "How about that Brad and Jen, can you believe that they blah-blah-blah?" And everybody can chime in.

Celebrities are more beautiful. They're richer. They date more beautiful people. They wear gorgeous designer dresses and outfits. And they do have body flaws, unlike 17-year-old models. There are celebrities of different sizes and ages that everybody can relate to. It's fun to have a glimpse into a more fabulous life.

IWM: What is the difference between the new glossy Star magazine and other celebrity titles?

Fuller: Star breaks news every week. In the last few months we've broken the biggest celebrity stories. We broke the news that Courteney Cox is pregnant. We broke the news of the Uma-Ethan divorce. We were the ones to break exactly when the Ben and J.Lo nuptials were supposed to happen. If you want to know celebrity news, you come to Star.

IWM: The new glossy Star is available only in New York and Los Angeles and doesn't go nationwide until April. But are you happy with the results so far?

Fuller: All we're hearing from the readers is that they love it. And we're getting younger readers and higher-income readers. They're becoming addicted to it. That's really important.

IWM: What is your mission at AMI?

Fuller: To grow magazines, to start magazines, to help give birth to magazines. And we will be acquiring magazines. It's really to help David [Pecker, AMI CEO] fulfill his vision of growing a very large print media company. And I think David would like to see brand extensions into broadcast media. It's really exciting.

IWM: Which AMI magazines need the most reinvigorating?

Fuller: Star was the first project. We're also in the midst of doing a redesign for National Enquirer. National Enquirer is a hugely important brand to us. We're going to be introducing a new design and glossy paper stock in April. We want to grow new readers for Enquirer.

IWM: Many of the Weider bodybuilding and fitness titles, such as Men's Fitness, which AMI acquired last year, would seem like a departure for you, given your background in women's magazines. Are they particularly challenging?

Fuller: I see everything as a challenge. Men's Fitness is interesting because it has a new way of talking to men. Its entry point is through fitness, but it also deals with emotional issues, and I can relate. It's a close equivalent to Cosmo, Glamour and Marie Claire.

IWM: Rodale is reportedly unhappy with how much the redesigned Men's Fitness looks like its Men's Health. What's your response?

Fuller: If I had a penny for every time one magazine said another looks like they do, I'd be a happy camper, as many magazines have more than liberally taken ideas I've done in other magazines throughout my career. Men's Fitness is well on its way towards the success that AMI has always envisioned for it.

IWM: AMI is planning to launch a new shelter magazine this fall. How will it be different from existing shelter titles?

Fuller: It's going to have a lot more service. It will be much more about how you get the look. It's aimed at couples in their twenties and thirties. It's for the guys as well as the women. A lot of couples do their homes together.

House Beautiful and House & Garden are very decorator dependent. Most of their stories are about a decorator helping somebody. But not many women can afford a decorator. They have their own ideas, but they don't know how to complete them. Women are used to that approach in fashion magazines, so why wouldn't they be open to it in a decorating magazine? I think there's a real need here.

IWM: You have a reputation for pumping up the circulation of your magazines. What are you doing that maybe other magazine editors aren't?

Fuller: It's all about knowing the reader. And it's important to be able to communicate to readers both visually and textually. The physical package has to attract them. You can know what readers want, but if you can't communicate it to them and sell it on every page you're going to be in trouble.

IWM: How do you stay in touch with the reader? Do you think you have a lot in common with your readers?

Fuller: Well, clearly I'm not a key demographic for Men's Fitness, but I'm a key demographic for who we're trying to reach in Star. I am that demographic, physically and mentally.

IWM: You recently gave a talk on how to attract younger readers to newspaper editors at a luncheon of the Associated Press Managing Editors. What did you tell them?

Fuller: I think newspaper editors need to think of their Page 1 as like a [magazine] cover. It's there to draw the reader into the pages of the newspaper. I also think it's important to not only have local news. I mean, when you're traveling, and if you can only get a local paper, you really feel like, "What's going on in the world?" You're hungry for the New York Times or USA Today.

IWM: Do you think most articles should be shorter? A lot of the articles in Star magazine are like captions.

Fuller: No, they're not.

IWM: Most of the articles in Star are less than 500 words.

Fuller: Well, they're not 5,000 words. I'm not saying that it's The New Yorker, but there is a lot to read in Star. And there are different ways of reading. A lot of readers at first are only going to dip in and read the captions or the first couple of hundred words. If you're interested in all of the stories, there's enough in there to take you a long time.

IWM: The individual who nominated you for Media Person of the Year (who wishes to remain anonymous) says that she admires your success and regards you as an inspiration. Do you see yourself as a mentor?

Fuller: I've worked at a lot of places, and I've had a lot of great people working for me. Many of them have gone on to become editors-in-chief. Like Kristin van Ogtrop, the editor of Real Simple. Atoosa Rubenstein, the editor of Seventeen. Keith Blanchard, the editor of Maxim. Quite a few. Cindi Lieve at Glamour. Janice Min at Us Weekly, of course. And Donald Robertson, who is now the creative director of Cargo. There are so many I'm leaving out.

IWM: What's your take on "Spin Sisters," the new book by Myrna Blyth, which claims that many traditional women's magazines are run by liberals and exploit readers' fears?

Fuller: I haven't read the book, so it's hard for me to comment. I know Myrna, and I respect her and think she's smart. But I certainly don't think there's been any kind of conspiracy. Women have made great strides in the last 40 years, and in that time women's magazines have been huge cheerleaders. They basically say, "Go do it. Here's how." They give women a lot of tools to help them widen their opportunities.