2012 September 20
All About Steve
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(NEW YORK) Courting and scoring solely highbrow advertisers for a luxury mag exclusive to American Express’ most affluent cardholders: Welcome to the charmed reality of Steve DeLuca, publisher of Departures. Does he have the easiest job in publishing? BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
What brings us to the Core Club?
I’m here three to five times a week. I do lunches and breakfasts for business, and then on the personal side, I come for the cultural series. Departures and the Core Club have a very close working relationship; if the magazine were to start its own club, this would be it! Believe it or not, I met Richard [David Story] here.
It was before I knew the Departures job was available. I was at an event celebrating a photography book by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I said ‘Hi,’ to Ed Kelly, the CEO of American Express, and he introduced me to Richard—I talked to him about the April 2010 Fashion Issue cover, which had an illustration by Jean Philippe Delhomme back when he did all the ads for Barneys in the nineties. Richard just looked at me and said, ‘Who are you, and how do you know who that is?’ I got a call the next day to come interview to be publisher.
What’s it like to work with Richard?
Richard is my favorite editor in the whole wide world, but a lot of people say that. He’s respected and loved.
Do you travel together?
That’s probably one of the best aspects of my job. Most recently, we went to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar together. We were like two strangers together in a strange land. We went to a desert safari camp and rode camels.
No, no, different camels!
What else goes down on your trips?
When we travel, we challenge each other about who gets to the gym first each morning. Apparently one of the best ways to get over jetlag is to run, actually! This started on one of our first trips together, to Shanghai—I woke up at three or four in the morning, luckily the gym was open 24 hours. I left a note at the front desk that said ‘Richard Story, you’re late.’ It’s become a running joke!
Who usually hits the gym first?
I have to admit, he usually wins. But not by much! He always has his music on at extremely high decibels.
How does that competitive spirit translate to your dynamic at Departures?
Just the way we needle each other about the gym, we’re that way in business, in a friendly manner. He’ll ask me, ‘How come we don’t have that advertiser?’ and sometimes I’ll needle him about a story idea.
So how’s the mag doing?
We’ve been up every issue since I arrived in 2010. During my first full year, in 2011, our advertising improved 45 percent. This year, we’ll grow 20 percent on top of that. Richard is a brilliant editor with tremendous vision; we have an amazing working relationship that lets me go out there and articulate that vision.
How are you doing compared to your competitors?
We’ve outperformed not only our competitive set, but I think we’ve outperformed the entire magazine industry. People have been more cautious with their ad dollars, so they want more bang for their buck—and Departures is all about luxury you can believe in. We are the only ones who can prove that we’re true luxury, and that our readers do actually spend on luxury goods.
How has that competitive set evolved?
This year, it seemed like a lot of magazines jumped back into the luxury fray. You have Bloomberg Pursuits, Best Life, DuJour. They’re starting or reviving products because they think there’s an advertising angle, not a consumer need. If they thought there was a consumer need, those magazines should not have gone away in the first place. Luxury is not a demographic; it’s a mindset. Most magazines have to do the high-low level of the game; we don’t have to play in that world. Other luxury magazines are about ‘my Bentley is bigger than yours,’ and we’re really about a sophisticated lifestyle and the social cues that go along with that.
What kind of AmEx do you use?
I was a Platinum card member before I started the job, and that actually helped me because I was already a reader!
Do you have the easiest job in publishing?
I don’t think it’s the easiest, but I’d say it’s the most fun! I love helping our clients solve their business needs; we’re a great magazine, but more importantly, we’re a marketing solution.
What makes Departures’ business model so successful?
We have controlled circulation. We have the business model of publishing’s future: there is no waste with our magazine. If the Platinum and Centurion cards are like clubs, Departures is their newsletter. People do pay for us, in fact—we’re part of a broader benefits package.
How expensive is that package?
You have to pay annual fees of $450 if you’re a Platinum card member, and $2,500 if you’re a Centurion card member. It’s not just about affluence; it’s also a lifestyle, and those cards are like lifestyle ‘screens.’ These people are very successful, well-educated, well-traveled, with an interest in fashion.
Do you really have to spend $250k annually to score Centurion status?
I can neither confirm nor deny that, but the most important thing about an American Express cardholder is that they’re able to pay off the balance in 30 days. This is not a credit card; this is a charge card. If someone is spending money in a store or hotel, they can actually afford to do it—and they’re probably going to come back and do it again soon.
How much do you get to see of that data?
We get a lot from the top line, although we obviously don’t see any personal data. On the advertising side, we have the ability to see the type of hotels our readers stay at—so we only talk to five-star properties and above.
How has your fashion business evolved?
It’s one of our strongest categories, and one of our biggest growth areas over the last two years. In 2011, we were up 64 percent in fashion; this year, we’re going to be up another 30 percent in the category.
How much info. can you share with advertisers?
A fair amount. We can sit down with them and tell them what portion of Centurion and Platinum card members shop in their stores and how much they spend. It’s pretty high-level information, and very confidential.
Any chance we’ll see subscriptions become available?
No, and that’s what makes it special to the cardholders. Shortly after I became publisher, someone at a cocktail party dragged me into a corner, pulled out his American Express card, and said, ‘I’m a Platinum member, I get Departures, and I love it! See that guy over there? He’s my neighbor and he doesn’t get it.’ He didn’t just mean get the magazine—he meant get the grander scheme of things. It’s the same reason a brand like Hermès doesn’t do a lower-priced line: you’re either a part of the experience, or you’re not.
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