Back in 1992, when bankruptcy lawyers were the busiest people in town, a 30-year-old book publicist decided to set up her own agency. She coaxed a business loan from her father, paid for phone lines with a credit card and hired a fancy lawyer on the cheap by giving him armfuls of newly published books.
Back in 1992, when bankruptcy lawyers were the busiest people in
town, a 30-year-old book publicist decided to set up her own agency. She
coaxed a business loan from her father, paid for phone lines with a
credit card and hired a fancy lawyer on the cheap by giving him armfuls
of newly published books.
The ambitious young woman was Susan Magrino, who now runs a major
lifestyle agency that represents a slew of top name clients from the New
York Times Magazine to publishing giant Emap Petersen.
Magrino says she knew early on that she had the will to succeed: ’I knew
I had to do something; that drive was installed and if you run a
business, you have to have that drive. But I was always driven by my
interests as opposed to having a five-year plan.’
Magrino consulted a number of folks before quitting Crown Publishing,
her first job after graduating from Skidmore College. Among them was
Susan Heilbron, former general counsel to Donald Trump. Heilbron says
she told Magrino if she thought she was the best and her clients agreed,
then she should strike out on her own.
Attracting the rich and famous
Her first customers were the people she had already represented at
Crown, the Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne and cookbook author
She repaid her father’s initial loan and began to take other clients
such as PBS’ Charlie Rose, who launched his show nationally with
Magrino’s aid. Though she won’t reveal figures, Magrino says gross
revenues at her firm grew 70% in fiscal 1998.
Stewart tells PRWeek: ’I am one of her most demanding and active
clients. I encouraged her to step out. She is a very astute
businesswoman with a variety of clients. She’ll do maybe a designer, the
W hotel, then Vanity Fair and The New York Times. There is an
inter-relationship with all her endeavors.’
Magrino has been inextricably linked with Stewart’s burgeoning business
interests ever since. ’I’ve been working with Martha since 1983, and
it’s wonderful for me to work with someone for such a long time,’ she
Stewart, who vacations with Magrino, says the PR pro rarely talks about
herself, only the clients. ’She doesn’t toot her own horn and that is
unusual in this day and age.’
Magrino’s eponymous agency has grown in the past five years from a book
publicity specialist to a magnet for famous names: the agency represents
Ariel Sands, owned by the family of actor Michael Douglas. But the
magazine division is Magrino’s first love. Among her print clients are
Harper’s Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money and Emap
The agency also has an events division, launched two years ago when
client David Bowen decided the only way to expand his own business was
to link up with Magrino. Bowen initially ran six annual non-profit
dinners, and is now organizing a New York City Opera event for 650
people in September and a 1,000-person Millennium Dresses fashion show
in December in honor of Liz Tilberis, the late editor of Harper’s
’She has an ability to retain, process and mobilize and can make a
stodgy event an exciting one,’ says Bowen.
Not just a job
Magrino’s pale white office overlooking New York’s Central Park is
dotted with antique furniture. She flips through her social calendar,
which has an event planned on almost every weekday evening. One recent
day included the release of Emap’s results, a lunch with Martha Stewart,
the memorial service for Liz Tilberis and an evening get-together with
Other recent dates have included the launch of Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full
and Absolut Vodka’s garden party for designer Kate Spade.
For a woman who so closely identifies with her clients, a night at home
is rare. Perhaps the close proximity of her office to her apartment,
just across the street, is too tempting. ’Her work is a lifetime
project,’ says Stewart, an impression that is reinforced by Heilbron.
’Susan Magrino is what she does. It’s not a job - it’s a life, and she
really gives her life to her clients.’
Magrino is truly dedicated to giving her clients the best advice. ’I
don’t make people do something they are not good at. There are people
who don’t like to do TV interviews,’ she says. ’Don’t force them if they
are not comfortable with it.’ Clients are chosen on the basis of whether
the agency can grow with them: ’We talk about what the potential is with
new clients. We want to learn as well.’
The agency is focusing its expansion and looking for mid-level staff in
three areas: the Internet, corporate work and travel. ’Travel is huge
and is getting bigger. We want to grow that division and brand it, and
we are working on a business plan for that,’ says Magrino, who worked on
the rebranding of the hip W hotel. The assignment was one of her most
challenging because the hotel’s management was in a state of flux at the
Magrino, once voted best publicist by New York magazine, is a poster
girl for the modern professional woman. She starts her day at 5:45am,
reads the papers, then hits the gym for one to two hours. She doesn’t do
breakfast, preferring to plunge straight into her calls list and brief
clients on the news of the day.
One friend who did not want to go on the record, wonders if Magrino
needs a respite from her breakneck pace, but she tells of many a weekend
spent reading on Long Island’s beaches. Her list currently includes
Music for Torching. Magrino’s other loves are tag sales and clothes.
Colleague Bowen says she is always picking up old albums for him.
One time during an adventure holiday to Egypt with Stewart, Magrino’s
luggage was lost and she was quite unhappy about it. ’She is very
uptight about her appearance,’ says Stewart. ’She was so upset when our
bags got lost, so we lent her all our clothes, whites and pastels. Now
she has completely changed her palette.’
Despite the inconvenience, Stewart says Magrino rarely loses her sunny
disposition or her boundless enthusiasm. One can safely say that the
loan her father made years ago has been paid back in full, and then
SUSAN MAGRINO - Founder, Susan Magrino Agency
1983: Earns English degree from Skidmore College
1983: Joins Crown Publishing, rises to senior media relations
1992: Founds Susan Magrino Agency.