PROFILE: Wenner Media thrives on the PR hits Zakim generates

Wenner Media's Stuart Zakim has always lived by the motto "find ways to peacefully coexist," and it has served him well amid the inherent highs and lows of a 20-plus-year PR career

Wenner Media's Stuart Zakim has always lived by the motto "find ways to peacefully coexist," and it has served him well amid the inherent highs and lows of a 20-plus-year PR career

What do Stuart Zakim and Bruce Springsteen have in common? They're both from New Jersey, and both are generating massive media coverage this summer. While Zakim doesn't have his own album out, he is the corporate PR maestro behind the hit title US Weekly, and its Wenner Media stablemates Rolling Stone and Men's Journal. As chief liaison and corporate communications officer, Zakim is charged with running PR, as well as marketing the titles through a variety of formal and informal TV partnerships. US Weekly's increasingly regular scoops end up in all sorts of other outlets which help publicize the magazine. Zakim engineered US Weekly into a segment of American Idol, Fox network's hot talent show. Competitors were filmed giving their first "celebrity" interview to the magazine. Zakim also tied up a co-branded VH1 segment, called "hottest couples." In addition, Zakim's PR efforts are supported by an agreement with US Weekly's part-owner to give first refusal on stories to Good Morning America and other ABC outlets. His quick thinking ensured that US Weekly made the most out of the absence of an official Julia Roberts wedding photo. Zakim zipped out a JPEG of the magazine's Monday cover, featuring a photo of Roberts in a wedding dress, which was used in numerous outlets until the official wedding picture was made available that Tuesday. New York Times Magazine reporter David Carr lauds Zakim's PR prowess for the numerous media stories casting US Weekly as a challenger to People. While US Weekly is certainly giving the Time title a run for its money, US Weekly's circulation is 950,000, compared to People's 3 million plus. Executive editor Janice Min says that since US Weekly editor-in-chief Bonnie Fuller came on board, Zakim has had to adjust a lot of his PR thinking. "All of a sudden, we were producing scoops, and that necessitates a different way of calibrating the media," says Min. "He's been deluged by calls. He's very adept, quick-thinking, and he's dealing with three other magazines." The arrival of FHM's Ed Needham as editor at Rolling Stone has concerned loyalists of the title, with many fearing it will move down-market. That has presented Zakim with a perception challenge. "There were a number of op-eds that were off," says Zakim, "There was a very emotional response. The essence of the magazine won't change from rock n' roll, fashion, politics, economics. But it will look cleaner, the articles will be shorter, the type face bigger." He hints that those who wrote such off-base stories will be back of the line when he's looking to place news about the new look Rolling Stone, scheduled to hit newsstands on August 30. Zakim is clearly ready to play hardball when necessary, though Carr adds, "Even when he's screwing you, he's a mensch." From the get-go Zakim's motto is "find ways to peacefully coexist." When asked about the negative press that has plagued Wenner Media in the past, Zakim explains that there was a tendency for company staff to bear grudges or stay silent. "If you don't cooperate, you can't communicate." Magazine industry expert Lisa Granatstein, a general editor at MediaWeek, says Zakim was very responsive upon his arrival in 2001. "He came and asked what our deadlines were. He's able to cut the crap and get to the point." And when there's negative news to respond to? "He puts his best spin forward. He's as forthcoming as he can be, and he gets you people as quickly as possible." For Zakim the business press is crucial, given Wenner Media's status as a small private company that needs every ad dollar it can get. Though US Weekly and Rolling Stone are never very far from the headlines, Zakim has a separate struggle with Men's Journal. "We're trying to find ways to make it a person. Having the right spokesman is crucial." A report in The Observer newspaper on August 1 suggested that editor Sid Evans may be on his way out. Zakim is quoted as saying, "We're not looking for anyone." Zakim always knew he wanted to be in PR. He was entranced by presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger, who worked with President Kennedy. "I saw how you could influence public opinion from an early age," says Zakim. In college, he was the master of event marketing, then he interned at an entertainment PR agency. As a result, he got his first job out of school at Columbia Pictures. "I thought I died and went to heaven." That was until the company got mired in a scandal involving an executive who wrote a fraudulent check. But it gave him his first taste of crisis PR. He went on to do publicity on movies such as Schindler's List, Apollo 13, and Cape Fear, not to mention the odd clunker, like Waterworld. He says it can be amazing to watch how a negative story about budgets can kill a movie. He also spent time at entertainment website Icast.com. While his foray into the web was short-lived, he says, "I wanted to learn about the dot-com business. I'd never want to be pigeonholed. What did I learn? Nothing comes easy." His office walls are covered with photos of stars ranging from Madonna to Mickey Mantle. It's clear he loves this whole pop culture business, and enjoys the benefits it brings an influential PR executive: Zakim recently scored tickets to see Springsteen in Asbury Park. ------------ Stuart Zakim 1978-1986 Columbia Pictures. Joins as publicity assistant, leaves as senior publicist 1986-1987 DEG (Dino De Laurentis Group), director, East Coast publicity 1987-1990 Rolling Stone, director of publicity 1990-1998 Universal Pictures. Started as director, production publicity, leaves as VP, national publicity (1993-1998) 1998-2000 Playboy Enterprises, VP of corporate marketing 2000 iCast.com, VP of publicity 2001-present Wenner Media, chief liaison/corporate comms officer

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