One editor-in-chief in 19 years and an open, but shifting stance on acceptable PR pitches - such stability and flexibility has helped GQ withstand all rivals, old and upstart alike. James Burnett reports.Art Cooper has been editor-in-chief of GQ for 19 years, which in his business is a very long time. Over the same span, its closest rival, Esquire, has had six different bosses. Details, a magazine that could be said to see itself as GQ's younger, edgier brother, has undergone nearly as many relaunches.
Cooper's reign has also coincided with the rise of laddie books like Maxim and FHM, and as the men's magazine market has changed, has he tinkered with his pages. Over the past 12 months, GQ, which has a circulation of 750,000, signed ascendant author Matthew Teague to a writer-at-large contract, and stole Michael Paterniti - dubbed the industry's Tom Hanks for his run of ASME award nominations - from Esquire. After Talk folded, GQ recruited its well-wired publicist, Lisa Dallos, to ramp up its buzz-producing capabilities. And last fall, Cooper scored a significant coup when his decade-long courtship of Rolling Stone design director Fred Woodward finally paid off.
"What's often overlooked is the fact that a magazine has to evolve. I've compared it to Woody Allen's line in Annie Hall,
states Cooper, whose demeanor and bearing approach the polar opposites of the famously nebbish director.
"He says, 'A relationship is like a shark - unless it keeps moving forward, it dies.' It's the same thing with a magazine. And that applies not just to editorial content or columns or departments, but also to the way you look. I think Fred Woodward is the best magazine designer in the business, and the reason I wanted him was his vision. He joined us in December, and the difference you can see in the magazine is amazing."
As GQ's appearance has shifted, so have its standards for acceptable story material - a fact that should be noted when soliciting the magazine's front-of-the-book sections, which represent the best pitch targets. Senior editor Adam Rapoport says that when he assumed stewardship of Fahrenheit, the package that opens each edition, its content sometimes overlapped with other front-of-the-book sections. "When I started in October 2000, the big concern was drawing the line between Fahrenheit and Elements of Style,
which, like fashion-centric offerings Cutting Edge and Possessions, is handled by his counterpart, Katrina Szish. "The distinction we decided upon is that anything in Elements of Style has to feel classic, while Fahrenheit items should be out there on the cultural radar."
In the current issue, for example, Rapoport ran short pieces on the secrets of competitive eaters, the latest hot spots in Las Vegas, and the return of the three-day beard. Another story plugged a coffee-table book of self-portraits by full-figured photographer John Coplans. Events that did not merit a longer write-up found space on Fahrenheit's quarter-page calendar.
"It's not a huge amount of play, but you do get mentioned,
Each month, Rapoport also weighs candidates for Man of the Moment and Woman on Our Mind, which typically feature a demographically-appropriate (GQ's average reader is a 31-year-old male making around $65,425) newsmaker and a scantily clad starlet, respectively. One type of proposal that rarely wins over Rapoport is the attempt to trade on GQ's unique status as both magazine title and adjective. "We get a lot of suggestions that go, 'You have to do something on this guy - he's so GQ,
Rapoport explains. "That's their perception, but it might not be ours. Just because someone wears Raybans and Armani suits doesn't mean I want to write about him."
Like all glossies, GQ is most reliant on the PR industry when it comes to booking covers. "Several of us here have relationships with the big publicists, because, well, that's the hardest part of the magazine to do,
says Cooper. "Everybody is competing for the same handful of celebrities that editors think can sell copies. And with a monthly, you get someone, and you're locked up, and - and this is happening increasingly - the release date changes."
Perhaps that explains the decision he arrived at when selecting the subject for May's cover. For the first time in his tenure, Cooper, always willing to innovate, passed on celebrity options in favor of an anonymous (and very naked) male model. Then - lest readers think GQ had morphed into a clone of Men's Health - its PR team made sure the corresponding article in the New York Post mentioned that the beefcake had recently passed the bar exam.