profile of 2008 Editor of the Year David Zinczenko, published in Adweek

David Zinczenko.jpeg

The editor in chief of Rodale’s Men’s Health is fresh off an appearance on NBC’s Today show to promote his latest book, Eat This, Not That, and apparently, even if you’ve been named one of People’s 50 Most Eligible Bachelors, as David Zinczenko was in 2003, there’s still more to do to put your best face forward.

So, on days like these, this prince of all media–who, besides running the 1.8 million-circ men’s monthly and co-authoring books on fitness, nutrition and relationships, serves as editorial director of Men’s Health’s 496,000-circ lifestyle spinoff BestLife and a senior vp of Rodale, and has become a familiar presence on daytime talkers–must submit to a makeup artist. At least he has a sense of humor about it. “I still have my war paint on,” says AdweekMedia’s Editor of the Year, gesturing somewhat self-consciously to his smoothly pancaked face.

If this is a war, it’s hard to imagine who Zinczenko is battling–he’s left most of his opponents in the dust.

Since being named editor in chief in 2000 at the age of 30, Zinczenko has shaped Men’s Health into the world’s best-selling men’s magazine brand on the newsstand. At a time when even the most established books are struggling to sell copies, Men’s Health–which backs up its tagline “Tons of useful stuff” by packing the magazine and its companion Web site with quick hits of advice on fitness, health, weight loss, nutrition, sex and style–actually picked up the pace this past year.

U.S. single-copy sales rose 4 percent to 540,150 in the year’s second half versus a year earlier, per the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Also in ’07, the magazine raised its rate base for the fifth straight year, and this year boosted it once more to 1,775,000 with the January/February issue. Respected industry analyst Dan Capell, in his Capell’s Circulation Report, named Men’s Health “Top Circulation Performer of the Decade.”

Advertising business, meantime, is through the roof. For full-year 2007, under the guidance of vp, publisher Jack Essig, ad revenue soared 19.4 percent year over year to $178 million, on an 11.8 percent jump in ad pages to 1,176, reports Publishers Information Bureau (this, compared with flat revenue and a 5.9 percent drop in ad pages in 2006 versus the year prior).

The magazine was just nominated for the American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Award for General Excellence in its circ category, with the likes of Condé Nast’s The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, as well as an Ellie nom in the Leisure Interests category. (Winners will be announced May 1.)

Men’s Health has established itself as a powerhouse online, too. Last year, Rodale handed editors of its magazines, including Zinczenko, responsibility for their own Web sites, giving creative control to the people who know their brands best. now features more than 500 video clips and the daily Men’s Health Minute, in addition to tips on practical topics like how to make a killer omelette or the best weekend workout. The number of unique visitors as of last month versus a year earlier exploded 168 percent, reaching 1.54 million, reports Nielsen Online. Rodale reports online ad revenue has tripled in the last year.

Men’s Health devotees can’t seem to get enough of the magazine and its ever-increasing sidelines. Men’s Health now publishes 40 international editions in markets including Italy, India, South Korea and Kazakhstan. Recently, Zinczenko added investigative pieces, with reports from hot spots including Darfur, Iraq and Afghanistan–resulting in a journalistic mix that’s both brainy and brawny. “Since Dave took over, he’s really taken it to a whole other level,” says Jeff Morgan, president of product licensing at Polo Ralph Lauren and publisher of Men’s Health when Zinczenko came on board in March 1993.

Zinczenko credits Morgan, who he calls “a big thinker,” with expanding Men’s Health beyond its U.S. base. As a young associate editor, Zinczenko helped establish Men’s Health editions in Mexico, Germany and other points. “It was a great experience for him because he got to relaunch the magazine multiple times and, in so doing, really understand what was driving them, what the readers really wanted,” Morgan recalls.

Building Men’s Health into one of the most successful men’s magazines was only a warm-up for the restless Zinczenko. Over the past four years, the title has spawned two spinoffs. BestLife, which debuted in 2004, targets men in the stage of life after the younger-skewing Men’s Health, with coverage of careers, personal finance, fatherhood and marriage, as well as fashion and luxury. Women’s Health, which bowed in 2005, was a response to female fans of Men’s Health who craved a magazine of their own but with the same formula of highly distilled, briskly packaged information as its big brother. Both spinoffs have become among the fastest-growing magazines in the U.S., and both appear on this year’s AdweekMedia 10 Under 50 Hot List, recognizing titles with under $50 million in annual ad revenue that have achieved exceptional ad momentum. (Last December, Men’s Health tested a third spinoff, shelter title Men’s Health Living.)

Men’s Health and its offspring magazines form the foundation of what is quickly coalescing into a small media empire. There are Zinczenko’s numerous books, including his best-selling Abs Diet series and last fall’s nutrition guide Eat This, Not That. Then, there’s the Men’s Health Urbanathlon & Festival, a multidiscipline race with a concrete-jungle focus now in its third year. Last year came the FitSchools Foundation, whose mission is battling childhood obesity and reforming physical education.

In its inaugural year, FitSchools supplied new athletic equipment and a refurbished running track to a school in Easley, S.C. The principal had nominated his humble institution of learning because not only was the track being used as a turnaround for buses, but also his students were dangerously off course. After one 300-pound fifth grader fell through the floor of a trailer used as a makeshift classroom, it was clear the school needed a healthier lifestyle. “That was part of a resolution that I made last year: Let’s go help a school and spread the message of health and wellness to kids,” says Zinczenko. “Nearly half of American kids today are overweight or obese.”

While Zinczenko trounces his opponents in the rough-and-tumble men’s magazine field, he still faces his most formidable opponent: himself. A 2002 profile in Moravian College Magazine (Zinczenko was a double major, in journalism and political science, at the Bethlehem, Pa., school) touches on his mother’s struggle raising him and his brother Eric (now group publisher at Field & Stream) after their father left the family. The elder Zinczenko died in 1999 at age 52 from complications associated with obesity. “In some ways, he’s a mystery,” Jeff Morgan says of Zinczenko. “He can be very intense, very serious. He’s always working. I think Dave’s life in some ways responds to his upbringing. He’s just driven, self-driven.”

Responds Zinczenko, “My parents broke up when I was very young, and there was a lot of unfinished business between my father and me. So when he died unexpectedly, it infused me with a sense of urgency. I let things go unsaid, and now they can never be resolved. As a result, I look at everything that I want to achieve as though it needs to be done right now. Does that make my days stressful? Yes, but it also makes my evenings more fun and relaxing because almost every day ends with a sense that I’ve accomplished something.”

While Zinczenko and the Men’s Health team have built a globally recognized brand, the name of the magazine is actually deceptive. Industry analysts and Zinczenko himself agree the magazine is a lifestyle guide rather than a pure exercise manual–and expanding beyond the realm of smoothies and smooth abs has given the book some serious traction beyond its core readership as well as a diversity of advertisers. Along with characteristic fitness-magazine staples like vitamin and supplement purveyors, the pages of Men’s Health boast an enviable mix of fashion, beverage and auto marketers including Calvin Klein, Prada, Budweiser and Chevrolet.

The March 2008 issue features an ad for BMW’s new 3 Series, marking the automaker’s first Men’s Health buy in several years. “It’s a little bit clichéd at this point, but it’s this work-hard, play-hard psychographic along with the affluence that definitely reads magazines like BestLife and Men’s Health,” says Ken Bracht, media communications manager at BMW USA. “That’s ultimately what attracted us to Men’s Health.”

But even the term “lifestyle” doesn’t tell the whole story of Men’s Health. This is a brand, after all, about problem solving. If gender stereotypes are to be believed–and a mass-market magazine like Men’s Health is built on those stereotypes–men are solution-oriented, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about why something is a problem or what it feels like to have the problem. They simply want to fix the problem, and Men’s Health tells them how, cutting through the clutter in a society teeming with advice givers. Zinczenko says his magazine is about “turning the issues we all face as men into solutions. Unlike the other magazines, we provide information that you can act on immediately, not pat advice. We’re not gonna say, ‘Oh, you’re having relationship problems? Communicate.’ We’re gonna say the exact way to communicate.”

“David is a true expert on how men feel and think,” says David Lauren, senior vp of advertising, marketing and corporate communications at Polo Ralph Lauren, a Men’s Health client. “He understands our generation in a unique way, and that is reflected each month in his magazine.”

For years, Men’s Health resisted putting celebrities on its cover. But now, familiar faces from the worlds of sports and entertainment grace every cover. The star system serves a dual purpose, as Zinczenko explains it: The celebs are another way of providing information to readers, offering their own fashion, relationship and career secrets. And, they save Men’s Health from being lumped in with the cut-and-jacked models posing on other fitness magazines. (It must be said that its cover models are no slouches, however, when it comes to keeping buff. This year’s subjects will include actor Mark Wahlberg, Lost star Matthew Fox and soccer sensation David Beckham, who will appear on the front of the September issue as well as the back, as the magazine presents a flip-side special section on fashion.)

Putting celebrities on the cover, the editor says, “humanizes the magazine in a way that the models can’t. It also says this is a very contemporary magazine. In the past, you could take a few issues of Men’s Health and mix them together, and it’s like you weren’t really sure what year they were from. That’s not the case now.”

Considering that Zinczenko has been doing this for 15 years–and, presumably, there’s only so much enthusiasm a guy can muster for writing cover lines about six-pack abs–how does he stay motivated?

When asked the question, Zinczenko gets out of his chair, walks over to a stack of Men’s Health issues and pulls out the September 2006 edition, featuring a cover shot of the actor the Rock, wearing a button-down and an almost-shy expression, and the cover lines “The Hero Doctors of Darfur,” “Men and Ambition” and “Build a Linebacker Body.”

“First of all, the cover of the magazine, the newsstand cover, is a sales tool,” the editor instructs. “We know the hot buttons. We know what guys respond to. So we’re able to go to the newsstands and deliver the things that work for them. But we also split our covers. We have a subscriber cover too. If you look at the breadth of the magazine, you have three amazing pieces…”

There’s a pause while he peels back the cover and thumbs through the many front-of-book ads on his way to the edit well. “It was a really good year,” he cracks. Eventually, Zinczenko arrives at a feature on emotional stress, which leads into a piece on the NFL’s secret training camp. “And then there’s a great story–I mean, Richard Conniff is a great writer–where he’s talking about Darwin and science [in “Survival of the Hottest”]. Then, boom, you are in Darfur and [contributing editor] Bob Drury is looking at the death and disease and what is going on, and spending months reporting this story. Several years ago, we wouldn’t have committed to this kind of endeavor.

“This,” he sums up, “is what keeps me motivated.”

It’s also what keeps him from getting distracted by industry naysayers. Zinczenko got flak, for example, for dubbing the 2007 American Magazine Conference, which he chaired, the “Maga-Brand Revolution.” One blog called the tagline “unfortunate.” Zinczenko shrugs off the sniping. “It’s a conference title,” he says. “It’s like, we were never expecting people to go back and start using it every day. It was something catchy, it was something that absolutely worked as a conference title.”

That’s the thing about Zinczenko: He’s very clear about what he does and why does it.

One gets the sense he doesn’t like to make mistakes, and that if someone suggests he made a bad choice, he’ll methodically break it down to determine whether the decision really was flawed. Zinczenko is too competitive to approach his work, and his life, with anything less than complete rigor. “I just really enjoy challenges, and I am especially competitive here because the men’s market is really competitive. It’s brutal. And what winning means is that we’re helping to improve lives,” he says.

The editor’s personal life has also come under scrutiny, with reports on who he’s canoodling with at any given moment popping up on gossip sites and Page Six. The editor famously once dated the actress Rose McGowan. Today, he and pals like MSNBC’s Dan Abrams are fixtures at hot spots like Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn, in New York’s Greenwich Village.

He insists the tongue wagging doesn’t phase him. “There’s too many other things going on,” he says. “The criticism that I do dwell on is the criticisms that are about the magazine or about what we’re doing editorially.”

While 2007 was a banner year for his own “maga-brand,” Zinczenko promises there’s much more to come. For one, Men’s Health will continue its ambitious international expansion. “There are a lot of countries left on the map. Cosmo’s probably in 90 or 100, so we could be in all of those,” he says. Zinczenko also plans to double the number of Men’s Health specials this year, including a green guide and a “Heroes of Health & Fitness” to coincide with the brand’s 20th anniversary issue in September. An edition aimed at kids is in the works. He also envisions Men’s Health venturing into film, though declining to elaborate.

Zinczenko also sees franchise potential for his book Eat This, Not That, which emanated from a column in the magazine. “Wear This, Not That. Say This, Not That. Earn This, Not That. Buy This, Not That. Eat This, Not That for Diabetics. There are so many things that we can do there,” says the editor.

In characteristic can-do fashion, Zinczenko boasts that there’s no limit to what the Men’s Health brand can achieve. “There is no ceiling,” Zinczenko insists. “The magazine isn’t even breathing hard.”