MEDIA PROFILE: Rolling Stone's new design offers new possibilities for PR pros

Rolling Stone's makeover may upset some diehard fans of the 35-year-old title, but with smaller articles as part of the revamp, PR people should rejoice at having more pitching avenues.

Rolling Stone's makeover may upset some diehard fans of the 35-year-old title, but with smaller articles as part of the revamp, PR people should rejoice at having more pitching avenues.

Music lovers everywhere issued a collective gasp when Rolling Stone's September 19 issue hit newsstands last week. Under new managing editor Ed Needham, formerly of British men's mag FHM, the bible of rock 'n' roll underwent a makeover, ditching 10,000-word features for smaller articles and adopting a new design. While magazines revamp their images all the time, Rolling Stone's status as a cultural barometer - not to mention its longevity - garnered it reams of media coverage for its redesign. Most was negative. "The day that diehard fans of Rolling Stone have dreaded, when short articles, lists, and factoids replace thoughtful...think pieces...has arrived," said the Associated Press. It was a break in tradition for a magazine with a 35-year legacy of documenting counterculture written by the likes of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The magazine's legacy has even inspired a Cameron Crowe movie (Almost Famous) and a song by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show ("On the Cover of the Rolling Stone"), but Needham says that the revamp was still necessary. Competitors Spin and Blender are gaining in the circulation race, though Rolling Stone still holds onto the top spot with a circulation of 1.3 million. "It's the same magazine and the same philosophy," Needham told PRWeek. "We're just attempting to inject some color, to be the kind of magazine that people have time to read today." Of the press generated by the revamped issue, he says, "It's reminded everybody of the special place that Rolling Stone has in everyone's heart. It's an important brand." While articles are shorter, there are more of them, and that means that editors are more respondent to PR pros. "If anything, it's much easier to pitch us now," says associate editor Kirk Miller. "There are more places for more content." Almost every section of Rolling Stone is pitchable. "Music PR is vital to our business," says Needham. The magazine retains its main sections, such as the news section, called Rock & Roll, which contains short stories, quotes, and charts. Among the stories in the new issue are a story about the return of Axl Rose, a new Kylie Minogue wax figure in a compromising position, and a chart comparing ticket prices for Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones gigs. Another is Random Notes, featuring even shorter blurbs, which mostly include celebrity sightings and events. The back of the current issue features 101 CD reviews - four times more than before - as well as movie, book, DVD, video game, and technology reviews. Pitching the right person is the key to placement in Rolling Stone, Miller says. The masthead, which still includes Thompson, P.J. O'Rourke, and Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke among the 40 editorial staff members, does not specifically list which sections editors work on, so Miller recommends calling the general phone line. "Talk to an assistant and find out who the best person is for your client or product," he says. "Then send the editor an e-mail and a CD or sample." The biweekly magazine works with a short lead time to get the most recent information, but it's important to plant seeds far in advance. Because of the magazine's popularity, the sheer volume of pitches prevents editors from answering every e-mail. "I get pitched every day," says Miller. "I get at least 50 e-mails and phone calls a day from PR people." As a result, he tends to work with PR pros and publicists with whom he has a relationship. Steve Martin, founder of music PR firm Nasty Little Man, has built relationships with Rolling Stone's editors over the years representing bands like Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and Beastie Boys. He says it's necessary - as it is with all titles - to pitch the right section, be persistent, and listen to feedback. "Silence can be an indicator," he says. Adam Renfrow, media relations specialist with Catapult PR who pitched editors in the technology section this summer, found this to be true. The editor he pitched was responsive at first, but he never heard from him again after the interview had been conducted. "It was very strange. I've had no reply or feedback since then." Chris Olmstead, a senior media executive at Golin/Harris International's LA office, also emphasizes the value of a relationship. "One journalist said you can have the best relationship, but if you don't have the product, then you're not going to be successful," he says. ------------ Contact list Rolling Stone Address 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104 Phone (212) 484-1616 E-mail Web Editor and publisher Jann Wenner Managing editor Ed Needham Senior editors Nathan Brackett, Jason Fine, David Fricke, Peter Travers Associate editors Jenny Eliscu, Kirk Miller, Sarah Pratt, Thomas Walsh

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