NEW YORK: In its first move to build an in-house PR department from the ground up, American Media Inc. (AMI), best known as a supermarket tabloid publisher, has hired Stu Zakim to lead its communications efforts.
The move reunites Zakim with Bonnie Fuller, AMI's editorial director who since joining the company last year has been revamping Star magazine as a competitor with Us Weekly and People magazine. Fuller and, to a lesser extent, Zakim are well-known for the PR juggernaut that a few years ago turned Us, then a struggling also-ran in the celebrity journalism world, into a legitimate challenger to People.
With Star, the two will be vying to accomplish roughly the same task. At his new post, Zakim, who was recently fired from the top comms post at Wenner Media, will be responsible for repositioning the publication as it changes to a glossy format and moves out of the side of the checkout aisle to the aisle's front, where its competitors are sold.
"Star was always legitimate, the reporting was always good, but it had that tabloid assignation attached to it, which is not a positive perception," explained Zakim, whose title is SVP of corporate communications. "Bonnie's credibility is what it's all about."
There will also be a push to gain credibility among the entertainment community. "We need to get the comfort level of the personal publicists so they'll deal with us," he said. "It's a quality publication that just needs to change its positioning."
AMI is famous for its stable of celebrity-watching tabloids like the National Enquirer, but it also owns the recently acquired Weider Publications, including Men's Fitness and Shape. Perhaps the company's moment of greatest notoriety came in 2001, when its Boca Raton, FL offices were a focal point of the post-September 11 anthrax attacks.
Since then, the company has stayed in the headlines by moving its editorial offices to New York and laying off many of its Florida staffers.
Despite its large size and unique position in the media landscape, AMI has not had an in-house PR operation. For years, communications duties were handled by Richard Valvo, a consultant who has taken on a corporate VP role within the company, and Rubenstein Associates, which will remain on a consultancy basis.
To build up his department, Zakim is now searching for two senior publicists and an assistant. Zakim will report directly to AMI president and CEO David Pecker.