Media: Red Herring strives to rise above the e-biz crowd - Red Herring has been around for seven years but maintains a start-up culture. On the eve of its going biweekly, the magazine finds itself in a crowded field of e-business publications. As Claire A

As ’new economy’ magazines go, few have had as much to say about public relations as Red Herring. While the phone-book-thick title has offered readers help in choosing the right IR firm, it has also been extremely critical of the hi-tech PR profession.

As ’new economy’ magazines go, few have had as much to say about public relations as Red Herring. While the phone-book-thick title has offered readers help in choosing the right IR firm, it has also been extremely critical of the hi-tech PR profession.

As ’new economy’ magazines go, few have had as much to say about

public relations as Red Herring. While the phone-book-thick title has

offered readers help in choosing the right IR firm, it has also been

extremely critical of the hi-tech PR profession.

An article in the May issue, penned by international editor Kenneth Neil

Cukier, detailed why PR companies need to do a better job of managing

the expectations of their clients. That piece followed another critical

article by the now-departed Alex Gove, who wrote about the daily

harassment he and his colleagues were subjected to by pros checking that

their e-mails and faxes had been received and read.

Those pieces rankled many in the PR profession. ’I thought the Cukier

piece did not advance the dialogue,’ says Warren Levy, a PR consultant

working with Cigna, whose letter to the magazine appeared last


Red Herring editor Jason Pontin argues that the PR community has been

broadly in agreement about the problems that exist between PR pros and

journalists. ’Nothing we said was untrue,’ he comments. ’But I regret

any offense it may have caused.’

Pontin’s advice for improving the relationship is to reiterate the point

made by Cukier: ’PR pros play an important role in the economy as

company gatekeepers and guardians of image. But they have to create

reasonable expectations for their clients.’

With that said, Pontin praises one agency, Niehaus Ryan Wong. ’They

seldom phone me but when they do I know they have something that has

been crafted for me,’ he reveals.

One can imagine how constant interruptions by start-ups with little to

say could jangle the nerves of the overworked editors and writers. ’We

get an enormous amount of calls from both internal PRs and their

agencies,’ Pontin says. ’It can be overwhelming at times.’

Though seven years old, the San Francisco-based magazine is infused with

a start-up culture and the accompanying long hours. It’s easy to see


The 60-strong editorial staff is filling a magazine that can go up to

486 pages. Pontin is currently hiring additional reporters and has

already picked off staff from places like Forbes, Smart Money and The

Wall Street Journal.

While the new economy books put on the pounds, their advertising sales

divisions put on the dollars. The Publishers Information Bureau

statistics for May show just how fast Red Herring is growing. Ad pages

for the month were up from 90.33 in 1999 to 297.25 in 2000, a growth

rate of 229%. Another eye popping factoid: May ad dollars have increased

454%, from dollars 1.1 million to dollars 6.6 million.

Pontin, who is preparing to up the book’s frequency from monthly to

biweekly, says, ’I hope we have managed the growth in a coherent way.’ A

slimmed-down magazine would certainly make Red Herring more portable for

the frequent-flier set.

But is anybody reading them?

The magazine, like its competitors in the new-economy category, is

certainly enjoying wild success; circulation rises are as stellar as the

ad-page increases. But a tongue-in-cheek Newsweek article in June asked

if anyone is actually reading these e-biz magazines. The point is worth

making: could the size of these books be one reason pros are failing to

see the subtle distinctions among rivals such as the Industry Standard,

Business 2.0, Wired, eCompany Now, Revolution, Fast Company and Red


Pontin argues that Red Herring should be classified with Fortune and

Forbes rather than alongside the likes of other technology-oriented


’All our competitors are excellent magazines,’ he says. ’But we are read

by a more senior category of leader and we are more analytical and more


Pontin goes on to explain that Red Herring is not just a pure technology

magazine. When the title increases its frequency he will be looking for

stories about innovation in all kinds of businesses. He mentions

specifically ’advertising, philanthropy, automotive and aerospace.’

The extra edition is likely to carry more articles tied to the news,

though Pontin says: ’We don’t cover news announcements or products or

strategic partnerships or financing unless they indicate an important


Part of Red Herring’s mission is to look closely at what start-ups are

doing. ’They are the principal movers of change,’ says Pontin. But how

do you get to swim in Red Herring’s pond if you’re unknown? One

suggestion the editor has is to tell the magazine about your VC firm,

which it probably already knows.

Still a tough pitch

Several PR pros say the title is a tough pitch. ’We have had the most

success with the online and most challenges with the print version,’

says Kerri Walker, an account supervisor with Alexander Ogilvy in


’They don’t pick up the phones or respond to e-mail. It is best to

interact with the editors at trade shows for relationship building.’

Shannon Clark, an account manager at Denver-based MGA Communications,

successfully pitched her online auto sales site,, to Red - but says her winning pitch was probably the result of


The new printing schedule also means a change of deadline. Look to pitch

news-oriented pieces two weeks in advance and features one to two months

ahead of publication.

The magazine is looking for what Pontin describes as ’scoops of

perception,’ meaning people who offer a new take on business methods.

While many of the feature items look at businesses undergoing change,

there are also some interesting ’side dishes’ to ’surprise and delight,’

he says.

They include a relatively new addition called T&E about how to make your

business travel a little more entertaining by staying at offbeat hotels

and exploring the region. Travel PR pros might well suggest overseas

destinations, but be advised the reporters do not accept junkets.

Pontin wants to increase the title’s international content and is aiming

to have at least 25% of the subscription base originate from outside the

US. Among the magazine’s recent offerings were pieces about VCs in

Bombay and a technology park in Finland.

Commenting on a feature in this month’s issue titled ’Wiring the

Appalachians,’ Pontin says: ’Who else is going to ask what technology is

being used for in the poorest regions?’

While Red Herring may be critical of the PR profession, it hasn’t been

slow to employ its own machine to promote its interests. Plesser

Associates represents the magazine, the online division and the events

arm of the firm, while parent group Red Herring Communications counts

Interactive PR as its agency of record. Seems Red Herring has adopted

the motto: ’If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’


Red Herring

1550 Bryant Street

Suite 450

San Francisco, CA 94103

Tel: (415) 865 2277

Fax: (415) 865 0427

New York

28 East 28 Street

9th floor

New York, NY 10016

Tel: (212) 503 4052

Fax: (212) 503 4099



Editor: Jason Pontin

Executive editor: David Diamond

Managing editor: Jared Simpson

Forward editor: Nicole Sperling

Briefing editor: Lee Bruno

Investor editor: Duff McDonald

Special reports editor: Debbie Gravitz

International editor: Kenneth Neil Cukier

Los Angeles bureau chief: Robert La Franco.

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