The New Yorker, that tradition-steeped (some would say tradition-soaked) magazine, which has never deigned to run a single photograph with a story, is hitting the airwaves. A week from today, 30-second spots, featuring catchy lines and vivid reenactments of New Yorker profiles, will begin to appear between segments of such programs as "Miami Vice" and "Good Morning America."
The $2 million campaign is only the beginning of a revolution in the once-stodgy marketing and advertising practices of the 60-year-old publishing icon, purchased by the Newhouse media empire last spring.
Readers were treated to a taste of the new regime in the Sept. 9 issue with a two-page spread for the Calvin Klein perfume "Obsession." The ad, which would hardly have withstood the scrutiny of a previous management that fended off cigarette and underwear ads, features a nude woman in an erotic pose with four men.
Steve Florio, the 36-year-old publisher of a revamped GQ, brought in by S.I. Newhouse to "save" The New Yorker from financial stagnation, personally recruited the Klein ad. When William Shawn, the 78-year-old editor who has exercised a tight veto over advertising practices for four decades, saw the spread, Florio said, "I don't think he loved the ad, but he didn't say don't do it. He just shook his head and said, 'It's a new day.' "
The reclusive Shawn, legendary for his brilliance and eccentricity, has refused to be interviewed since the magazine was sold. Rumors sweep the city's literary circles that he has conflicts with the new management and will gradually be eased into retirement.
But Newhouse continues to say that Shawn will stay on as long as he likes. It was considered newsworthy enough to be reported in the local press that Shawn, who normally lunches at the Algonquin, among the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and James Thurber, recently was lured to dine with Si Newhouse at the Four Seasons. As usual, however, Shawn, a late riser, ordered cornflakes. (Florio, sitting in a booth nearby, reported that the two were "yukking it up.")
Florio, who has been named president of The New Yorker, described his own relations with Shawn as "cordial . . . Most of the conversations we have are very pleasant," he said. "He's a terrific guy. He's really wonderful. He's brilliant . . . He never takes on a fight he can't win."
At one point, however, Shawn apparently took a stand, after discovering the magazine was about to run an ad for men's Jockey briefs. "I didn't show it to him," Florio said. "He saw it in the dummy. He said, 'I find it offensive.' I said, 'If you feel that strongly, I'll pull it.' We have a good give-and-take."
A month after moving into his new office, the only one in The New Yorker's decrepit building on 44th Street to be outfitted with a new built-in air-conditioning system, Florio found a nicely framed cartoon, anonymously placed on his desk. It showed two respectable-looking old fogies gazing through a glass door with the title "Publisher, New Yorker." One says to the other, "My God Buffy, he's Italian."
Florio rushed up to Shawn's office. "I said, 'Mr. Shawn, what do you think about this?' He roared. He said, 'Are you offended?' I said 'Hell, no, I wasn't offended.' "
Florio has yet to discover the culprit, despite considerable detective work. "It was someone who was trying to hurt my feelings -- I love it!" he laughs. "The undercurrent was, 'Your parents didn't come over on the Mayflower.' "
Florio has hung the cartoon on his wall; an apt symbol for the Queens-bred New York University graduate in marketing, who has moved to the top in the Ivy League and culturally self-conscious aura of a magazine whose mascot is an Edwardian dandy with a monocle and a quill pen.
Said the mustachioed, portly Florio, glancing up at the cartoon during an interview, "If you went to school in the '60s, well, we were an entire generation of Americans who thumbed our noses at authority and just stood there saying, 'Oh yeah?' "
The Newhouses are determined to make The New Yorker more profitable. In the last decade, annual ad pages dropped from nearly 7,000 a year to slightly over 3,000, and circulation has stagnated at about 500,000. Florio's three-year plan is to raise ad pages and circulation while appealing to a readership that is younger and "more upscale," as he puts it.
Years ago, when the magazine's circulation topped 300,000, The New Yorker's first editor, Harold Ross, reportedly commented, "Too many people. We must be doing something wrong." The endurance of such instincts helps explain why, in the past 14 years, the magazine has not sent out a single subscription solicitation.
Florio sent out a mailing of 100,000 in May to test about 25 "upscale" lists. By the end of the year, he said, 2 million subscription solicitations will be sent out.
Inside the building, Florio's presence has been felt in other ways. In his first few months, he fired 12 of the magazine's top managers, some of them earning six-figure salaries.
"There was a layer of management that had no responsibility and no authority," Florio said. "I asked them what they did and they couldn't tell me. One guy said, 'I do networking.' I said, 'What does that mean?' He couldn't tell me."
In another policy change, Florio has agreed to accept insert-card advertisements, despite Shawn's objections that they would be "an intrusion on the reader." Also over Shawn's objections, Florio has begun accepting half-page ads.
However, in a clear departure from the days when writers and editors kept a strict distance from the business side, Shawn twice has invited Florio to address groups of editors and writers. "I told them my vision of what the magazine was," Florio said. But he added that the groups were more interested in urging him to find a new building.
Today, Florio plans to show Shawn the TV spots featuring New Yorker profile subjects -- one of a revenue agent who arrests moonshiners, another reenacting the shooting of a farmer as he is defending his farm from foreclosure. An ad featuring a presidential hand pushing the nuclear button was rejected by network censors as too controversial.
"It's a video generation," Florio said. "People don't read as much as they used to. We're living in an age of People magazine . . . People tell me The New Yorker is stodgy, the articles are too long and why are there no graphics. I think we can change people's opinion."
Already, Florio is talking about launching new "quality" magazines using the talents at The New Yorker. "I want us to be a force in publishing," he said. " . . . A lot of people out there are waiting for me to fall on my butt. But I won't fail at this."