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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Jack Kliger

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-05-31

Jack Kliger is "The Stabilizer."

"In the decade before I came in, the company had had three management and ownership changes," the president and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacchi Media US Incorporated said. "When I was asked to become CEO in 1999, my mandate was to stabilize the company. It was a tough time to run a Europe-based company in America."

It was, in fact, a tough time to run any magazine company. After nearly a decade of robust sales, the industry found itself hugely dependent on advertising that was uncertain by its very nature; publishers hadn't paid sufficient attention to building circulation, and in some cases had inflated their circulation base.

"At the same time, the Web was expanding - and we had to be smart about using technology to our advantage," Mr. Kliger said. "I felt that we had to take advantage of our engaged relationship with the consumer."

There was another task for Mr. Kliger as well.

"There wasn't a close enough working relationship between the company's French ownership and US management," he said. "One of my goals was to get rid of the wall."

Mr. Kliger's company is a subsidiary of Hachette Filipacchi Medias, which, like its French parent Lagarde is based in Paris (Lagarde recently bought Time Warner Books for $537 million). Hachette Filipacchi Medias is the world's largest publisher of magazines with 280 titles. Some 202 of those magazines are produced outside France - in 39 countries - with 20 in America.

The American brands include Elle, Woman's Day, Car and Driver, and Road & Track. Woman's Day, with a monthly circulation of nearly five million, is among the 10 top selling magazines in America.

"I had to have a plan to protect and strengthen those four brands in particular. They are our key brands," Mr. Kliger said.

He is widely credited in the highly competitive magazine industry to have done that. Mr. Kliger is also credited with having recast Hachette Filipacchi's business in America through cost cutting. Some of his actions were dramatic - such as shutting down the print edition of Elle Girl.

"I think I led the company well through some very difficult times," Mr. Kliger said. "I made the company more cohesive in competitive times and under great pressures. I think that I gave the company a sense of being a company."

The last remark seemed an allusion to his predecessor, David Pecker, now the CEO of American Media. Mr. Pecker's tenure at Hachette Filipacchi was generally perceived as personality focused, not the least on account of his own flamboyant persona.

Although he's no less driven than Mr. Pecker, Mr. Kliger has a more collegial and structured management style.

One measure of his leadership is that the magazines published by Hachette Filipacchi in America generate $400 million annually, or 20% of the company's global sales. The American brands have a readership of more than 50 million.

Mr. Kliger also became more involved in defining the overall directions of the magazine industry. He was recently elected chairman of the trade association, the Magazine Publishers of America.

"Like many in the business, I felt that magazines were living in a ghetto of their own, competing fiercely for ads only," Mr. Kliger said.

He said that having worked earlier for companies such as Advance Publications - as publisher of GQ and Glamour - and Conde Nast, he advocates less of internecine competition in the industry, and more emphasis on issues such as inflated circulation and the advantages of print over television.

Mr. Kliger said that advertising rates of magazines should be based on numbers of readers, and not circulation. According to the National Directory of Magazines, there were 18,267 magazines in America last year.

"The climate is improving for magazines," Mr. Kliger said.

The latest statistics seem to support his view. Total magazine rate-card-reported advertising revenue for April was $2.02 billion - an increase of 5.1% compared to the same month in 2005, according to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Ad pages totaled 20,348.69, up 1.4% from the same period last year. Year-to-date, revenue was $6.9 billion, an increase of 4.5% over the same period in 2005, with ad pages totaling 71,717.80, a 0.7% gain.

If such gains hold, the 244 magazines surveyed by PIB are likely to surpass last year's total revenue of $23.06 billion from 243,305 ad pages. Mr. Kliger's point about improving fortunes of the magazine industry is furthered bolstered by the fact that in 2004, the ad revenue of magazines was $21.31 billion from 234,428 pages, a gain of $1.89 over 2003.

In his job, Mr. Kliger follows such figures closely. A veteran of publications since he gave up teaching in public schools after four years and began selling classified ads at the Village Voice, the Brooklyn College graduate knows that keeping track of ad pages is akin to a stockbroker following the price and volume of equities.

But his interest in the communications business was generated well before he joined the Village Voice, and it had to do with Paul Joseph Goebbels.

"To me, Hitler's propaganda minister was the biggest villain of World War II - not only because he urged the extermination of Jews and supported other atrocities, but also because he controlled people's thinking through the 'Big Lie,'" Mr. Kliger said. "I realized early in life the power that communications has - and the tragedies that can occur when communications is used the wrong way."

That realization was no happenstance. Mr. Kliger's father Sam, a Polish Jew, and mother Ann, a Hungarian Jew, were Holocaust survivors. They met and married in Budapest, and moved to Italy. It was in Florence that their son was born (the Kligers later had two daughters).

Jack Kliger was three-and-a-half years old when his parents emigrated to America. His childhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was turbulent: Ann Kliger contracted tuberculosis, and Jack was placed in a Jewish orphanage for one-and-a-half years.

"I still remember how frightened I was as a boy," Mr. Kliger said. "Perhaps that's why I have strong sensitivity to people being helpless, powerless, and not being in control of their life situation."

It is no coincidence therefore, Mr. Kliger said, that he's active in Jewish philanthropy.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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