2011 September 9

From The Daily in Print: Hare Apparent

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Jimmy Jellinek Jimmy Jellinek
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(NEW YORK) After hopping around the EIC suites at Complex, Stuff and Maxim, recovering lad-magger Jimmy Jellinek is feeling his oats in the house that Hefner built. Clothes! Casinos! TV shows! Fragrances! Is there anything Playboy isn’t getting action from? With retro buzz and enough PE money to erect a mansion on every block, the iconic brand’s chief content officer is working his tail off to prove there’s a rabbit for every hat. His next trick? Getting you to read the articles. His old playmate Christopher Tennant gets the not-so-dirty dish. 

THE DAILY: How’s life at Big Bunny?
JIMMY JELLINEK: Excellent. I’m about to celebrate my three-year anniversary.

What are you proudest of so far?
Our ability to enforce an overall brand discipline across Playboy, so when we launch something, we can do it strategically across multiple platforms. Everything we do now is vertically aligned—or getting there. For example, our October issue is going to feature the star of The Playboy Club, which is our NBC show. Then, we’re tying that into licensing deals and other advertising programs—stuff we’re doing with Bloomingdales and Fashion’s Night Out. So, one entertainment program that we have on television touches every aspect of what we do with the brand. But our biggest success to date has been our fragrance business with Coty.

Playboy has a fragrance?
It does, sir.

Does it smell like baby oil?
No, no, no. The collection’s based around different cities—New York, Vegas—and is actually the top-selling fragrance in Europe and, like, the number-two fragrance in the U.S. You’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s the biggest launch Coty has ever had. It’s got an upscale, aspirational feel to it and allows us to penetrate a large part of Europe with what we do.

Talk about that. What is it Playboy does these days?
A whole lot of things. It’s impossible to just be mass anymore. You can’t be just one thing. It’s all about niches and micro-niches. And the beauty is that Playboy, even though it’s a mass brand that appeals to millions of people—because of its history of long-form journalism and literature, because of the history of what we did with service, the sexual revolution, and the Playmates, which appealed to a broad spectrum of middle-class America—we’re able to be both class and mass at the same time. We have reach, but we also have the prestige aspect of the brand.

Talk to me about the class part.
The best example is probably the recent event we did with Partners & Spade for the launch of the iPlayboy archive, where we had everybody from André Balazs to Waris Ahluwalia to Simon Doonan choosing their favorite pieces from the vault as part of the Playboy Commission. Oh, we also published the first major new translation of Madame Bovary in 100 years, and had Paz de la Huerta read it under the HighLine.

So class and ass. Conventional wisdom says you do one thing and you do it well, no?
You’re talking about the most recognizable icon on the face of this earth other than the golden arches, the Nike swoosh and the International Red Cross. The moment you see the Playboy logo, you understand what it means—you don’t have to explain it. When you put that logo on a product, it has an amazing power that resonates globally. That also drills down to the magazine and serves the core intellectual property products we’re putting out, from the magazine to the archives to our mainstream TV programming. All of these things reach different groups of people and all of them have a different takeaway. Hef always says Playboy’s like a Rorschach test. For some, it stands for upscale prestige; for others, it stands for sexiness; for others, it’s a broad-based middle-class brand. We’re proving we can be all of those things simultaneously as long as we execute them with a specific discipline.

You’re big on brand discipline. Were those Playboy car air fresheners from the ‘80s a bad idea in retrospect?
Our new management structure—we’ve gone private—has been a huge boon for us. We have a private equity partner in Rizvi-Traverse Management, which also has majority stakes in ICM, Summit Entertainment. When you’re a public company, you’re a slave to that quarterly shareholder report, so you get stuck chasing short-term results to satisfy the Street instead of building a company that will stand the test of time. So, yes, there are aspects of the things we did in the past that we wouldn’t do now.

What’s the game plan?
It is for us to become a brand management company in a way that maximizes efficiencies. We were this sprawling horizontal company that was trying to compete as a media company when our only core competency was print. In this day and age, to be a standalone print property, without a significant brand behind you, is really difficult. I mean, look at all the magazines like Maxim, which is falling by the wayside both culturally and financially, or the struggles the Condé’s mens' titles are having. What we’re doing with the magazine—sort of chasing this retro-modern appeal—is reminding people of what the brand stood for, while being relentless and modern and giving them entrée into the Playboy experience.

How do the clubs fit in?
We just opened our London casino, our first one since the Seventies, and we have properties in Vegas and Cancun. A Playboy mansion is launching in Macau. We have deals in Panama, Moscow, and Miami...the idea is to bring back the club in a big way, and it’s the perfect time for it with the launch of the show, which is tracking well and getting an enormous amount of attention. I mean, you think about everybody that sniffs around Playboy, from Terry Richardson, to the entire marketing campaign of American Apparel, to the entire basis of Mad Men. All of these cultural touch points come back to Playboy.

How does fashion fit in?
Licensed apparel is one of our main growth categories, actually. You can see that in the collaboration we did with Marc Jacobs or in the uniforms Marchesa designed for the London club. We’re doing partnerships with everyone from Dolce & Gabbana to Vans. Playboy is sexy, it’s fun, it’s a little bit dangerous, it’s about the night, and if you’re Marc Jacobs or Marchesa, you want to align yourself with that.

What about fashion advertising?
For our October issue, we’re up seventy percent in PIB pages year-over-year. We just broke Elizabeth Arden, with the John Varvatos fragrance, and other upscale brands are starting to take notice. Traditionally, we’ve had these very staid brands, like Van Heusen and Straight Arrow ties, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re finding significant traction as people figure out they have permission to do business with us because of the mainstream nature of the brand, and because of the heat of, not only the magazine, but our social media. We have the biggest Facebook footprint of any magazine brand in the world. Six million Facebook fans!

Who are you reaching these days?
It’s the group of guys from The Hangover. These are guys that lead regular lives, but that have an element of style. They’re not Purple magazine readers, obviously. These are 18-45 year-old American men with solid jobs who can pay the bills, but at the same time want a little bit of danger and sexiness and aspiration. They’ll spend a couple thousand dollars in Vegas over the weekend with their buddies and drop a significant amount of money at John Varvatos to dress like rock stars. It’s CliffsNotes on being cool for the regular guy. You pick this magazine up, you flip through it and you’re informed about what you need to know, wear, see, do and read for the month. But it’s not unattainable, like GQ or Details, where you pick it up and think, Jeez, this has nothing to do with my life.

Your last two covers featured fashion darlings Lizzie Jagger and Daisy Lowe. Is it getting easier to book talent?
One of our chief advantages is that we have 32 editions around the world, so with Daisy we did a co-deal with French Playboy, which is very fashion forward and style-oriented. It has a very small reach, but a tremendous amount of credibility within the European fashion market. We allowed them to run the cover simultaneously, which gives Daisy an opportunity to take advantage of our reach in the United States to build the Daisy Lowe brand and, at the same time, have the opportunity to use French Playboy to book all of her fashion jobs.

Everyone’s still getting paid, though, right?
For sure, because what we’re asking them to do is different. We’re offering something to the reader that’s a much larger fantasy. Compensation helps us secure talent in a way that guarantees a partnership. We don’t have any issues when they come on set. Everybody knows what to expect from day one.

Have books like Purple helped? In an age when Lara Stone and Milla Jovovich are showing full frontal …
What Olivier [Zahm] has done with Purple has helped us significantly because it’s eroticized fashion. He’s taken what we’ve been doing for 58 years and turned it into high art—with a wink and a level of irony. But I think it has more to do with the pervasiveness of what’s happening online. You can get nudity and sexuality for free all day long. That’s not the reason we do what we do. If we were just that, we’d be dead on the vine.

Who’s your dream get?
Oh, let’s not go there.

For the cover, I mean.
Well, obviously, we’d love to get Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Gisele, Jennifer Aniston, Mila Kunis...We want to continue to have a foothold in both the fashion world and mainstream Hollywood.

The Marge Simpson cover you had Matt Groening illustrate for The Simpsons’ anniversary was one of your biggest sellers ever. Are you looking to do more stunt covers?
Depends on who it is. Throw some names out.

Arianna Huffington.
No. I mean, that’s just…No one wants to see that. I think that she’s a very talented social media maven but the world would prefer that she keep her clothes on.

You’ve talked a lot about Playboy’s literary heritage. Who’s writing for you these days?
Nick Tosches and Jonathan Ames are our new columnists. We sent George Gurley up to Wasilla to chase the Palins, which you saw on the Today show and Jimmy Kimmel. Paula Froelich from Page Six went to Baghdad for us. We sent Will Self to go camping at Chernobyl. There’s no part of the globe we won’t go to and no story we won’t touch. In terms of journalism, it’s pretty much us, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. There’s that cliché that people only buy it for the articles, but that’s never been more true.

How does your wife, Emily, feel about all this?
It’s funny. I came to this job from the lad mags. There’s a discipline and a rigor and honesty to the Playboy brand that didn’t exist there. The lad mags were like construction workers whistling at cleavage. This is the polar opposite of that. This is a brand that occupies the political, moral, and ideological high ground and has done so, for 58 years. Also, being an English woman growing up with The Sun and News of the World, she’s seen breasts in newspapers since she was six years old.

By the way, how’s Hef?
We usually talk every day. He’s still the EIC of the magazine and signs off on every page. He’s the original lifestyle brand. This is a guy who invented the men's magazine; who invented the idea of having a lifestyle; who invented the idea of bachelorhood. In 1953, in the grayness of the Eisenhower era and the post-war recession, the idea that a man would move to the city, define himself by his possessions, and live his life in Technicolor was totally revolutionary. He sexualized consumption and consumerized sex. He turned everything on its head.

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