article

07.29.11

Magazine Honcho Pushed Out?

Richard Beckman is battling rumors that he’s being nudged from his CEO perch at The Hollywood Reporter and AdWeek. Nick Summers talks to Beckman and his staffers about the shake-up.

Richard Beckman, a longtime heavyweight in the Condé Nast magazine empire who left to head up a stable of trade titles, is fighting reports that he has now been marginalized at the smaller company.

The CEO of Prometheus Global Media, which publishes AdWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard, emailed colleagues Thursday to say that he was giving up day-to-day oversight while a new “brand development” assignment takes him out of the country for extended periods of time. The news was first reported Thursday night by the New York Post, which cited speculation that Beckman would leave the company. Beckman, in a telephone interview with The Daily Beast, called the Post’s story “stupid” and said the shift in responsibility was not out of the ordinary for a small company.

Beckman has been on the job fewer than 18 months. Previously, he spent 24 colorful years at Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and other luxe titles, where his aggressive and showy style earned him the nickname “Mad Dog.” Loud and larger than life, he came across as a tough Londoner of the Bob Hoskins stripe, and thrived in an era when the expense reports were as thick as the magazines, rising to the top of the entire Condé Nast sales operation. But he seemed to have trouble adjusting to the new downsized realities of the publishing business, and quit Condé Nast after a final 10-month run at its Fairchild Fashion Group division.

He went immediately to the company that would become Prometheus. His task was to reinvigorate its newly bought trade publications, and he began in style, luring talent like Janice Min, after her successful run at US Weekly, and Michael Wolff, the author and entrepreneur behind Newser.com. Editorially, it’s worked. The Hollywood Reporter was relaunched as a weekly in November, shedding its image as a moribund daily; in New York, the verdict isn’t quite in on the more recently retooled AdWeek, but it has become a lively read in print and a destination for breaking news on the Web.

But there have been rumblings of problems. In March, the Post reported that investors in Prometheus wanted out. And Hollywood Reporter sources tell The Daily Beast that in the advertising department, he has become known among some of the salespeople for setting unrealistic targets that don’t reflect the reality of market conditions. He created, according to some, an atmosphere of near-constant hysteria but at the same time brought manic energy to his job. In recent months, Prometheus Chairman Jimmy Finkelstein took a stronger and more active hand in the day-to-day running of the company, and the perception was that Beckman was being increasingly sidelined.

Reached at home Friday evening, Beckman’s “Mad Dog” side was switched off. He’d played golf earlier, he said, and was enjoying a glass of wine before going out to dinner. He rejected the idea that he was being pushed out. “I will continue to be the CEO of Prometheus. People can interpret or say whatever they want, but that’s the fact,” he said. He has been traveling “like crazy” in recent months, he said, with trips to China, Brazil, the Middle East, and other countries, including three visits to Mexico so far this year. “We have found a great deal of interest in our assets globally, and I want to get my focus on these [deals], because they are significant opportunities for the company,” Beckman said.

“This is a massive opportunity for our little company, and I intend to pursue it like a dog unleashed,” he added.

In his memo Thursday, Beckman insisted that he would “continue to be fully involved as always in all aspects of our business” but asked staffers to begin copying key messages to a second executive. “As you know, my pursuit of these partnerships takes me out of the country for a considerable amount of time, so I am happy to have Jimmy’s help,” Beckman wrote, referring to his boss, Finkelstein.

“To the writers and editors, this came out of the blue,” a staffer told The Daily Beast.

Finkelstein has backed Beckman, telling Women’s Wear Daily: “Richard was, is and will be the ceo.” Beckman says that the fruits of his overseas deal will become apparent in later months.

“His mind, the way he thinks, his ideas, his process is probably bigger and grander than the properties he’s at can sustain,” a Condé Nast executive told The Daily Beast. “He’s there to inject life into them, and he has, but once you’ve done that, I don’t know if they have the kind of revenue potential to keep that going. You bring a guy like that in to get attention, and then you ride out a mellower and more manageable version of what his plan was.”