Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bonnie Fuller proves Michael Sitrick's adage about "finding a lead steer"

You have to hand it to magazine "editrix" Bonnie Fuller for persuading New York Times reporter David Carr write up a great big kiss in front of this past Sunday's business section.

She showed everybody that no matter how despised you are by colleagues and underlings, having cultivated a reputation as a brilliant but very difficult person, being friendly with the right reporter over a long period of time can pay off at just the right time, when you are trying to persuade investors to pony up money in your new venture.

In his out-of-print but very valuable 1998 book called "Spin," crisis communications expert Michael Sitrick advocates "Find a lead steer and the media herd will follow." He writes: "The curious thing about herd animals -- say, cattle -- is that even as they gallop with the group, they sometimes find themselves wondering uneasily if perhaps they're being taken for a ride. Not so much, mind you, that they'll actually break away from the crowd, but enough to keep them watching to see if anyone else feels the same way. All it takes, in this situation, is for one steer to change direction on its own, and the entire herd may wind up executing a complete about-face without missing a stride."

Fuller, one of the most talented women's magazine editors, is legendary for going from publishing house to publishing house, working wonders for each one's business, making everybody internally miserable at the same time, until she is pushed out the door. Each company learned that with Fuller's success there is a tremendous price that was paid -- literally in salary dollars, and figuratively with the hatred she garnered from employees and eventually executives.

American Media, publishers of the National Inquirer and The Star, recently cut short their contract with her. So of course, everybody wants to know what the next act will be. Perusing Carr's article, which reads like an extended version of one of his Monday "Media Equation" columns, it's there 14 paragraphs in and it's not much -- a former Viacom head is seeking to raise "tens of millions of dollars" for a new digital entity called "Bonnie Fuller Media."

That's it. Nothing more. Nothing about what Bonnie Fuller Media will be. That was the news.

Ninety-seven percent of the story was a tribute to Bonnie's publishing world legacy, the highs and the lows, with some choice quotes about her along the way (the best one: "She is a lot like Bill Parcells," said Kent Brownridge, who often battled with her at Wenner Media and is now chief executive of Alpha Media, which publishes Maxim. "He comes, the teams suddenly make the playoffs and maybe the championship, but then wears out his welcome. He will be in the Hall of Fame, but Bonnie, who is truly great at what she does, never seems to get the same credit").

Clearly, David Carr likes Bonnie, despite the baggage she brings, and he's entitled to. She's probably helped him along the way by letting him know of her various career moves -- and that's wise considering she's had bad relations with a number of reporters, notably the New York Post, which goes out of their way to bury her. You can bet that this one "lead steer" made the phones ring at Bonnie Fuller Media on Monday morning.

Will Carr's long and flattering profile change the direction of "the media herd?" For one thing, it's got a few of them positive and curious -- paidcontent.org is already wondering "We will ask her more on it at our EconCeleb conference in Hollywood next month on July 23rd, where she is a keynote speaker." But others are clearly not changing paths.

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