Originally published July 21, 1997
Don’t hate Randall Lane because he’s arrogant. As editor in chief of P.O.V., a new men’s magazine waging war in a brutally competitive marketplace, he makes a little attitude go a long way.
Take P.O.V.‘s all-out frontal assault on arch-rival Details, a 10-year-old magazine of choice for tattooed, body-piercing slacker punks.
P.O.V., itself a rising magazine of choice for career-bent, humorless twentysomethings, sent out postcards with a picture of the Titanic on one side, labeling Details as a sinking ship following the firing of yet another Details editor and a reported switch in editorial direction from all things featherweight to service features with a pro-career bent.
“They were clearly adrift editorially, and that is one of our fundamental strengths,” Lane says. “We have never changed our mission or our focus and to see them all of a sudden do a 180-degree switch and come right to us, struck all of us as a sinking ship. That’s where the postcard came from.”
The magazine fired another round in June by slapping a sticker on its cover that read “Forget GQ, Try P.O.V.” That backfired, at least with one reader. Shades of J. Danforth Quayle.
“While I am pleased that P.O.V. has been awarded ‘Adweek’s Start-up of the Year,’ ” wrote Carlos G. Martinez, “GQ you are not.”
Some might think P.O.V., with just two years under its belt, was asking for a kick in the pants by taking such cynical and aggressive shots at its competition. But such sass probably grabbed more industry attention than any single edition of the magazine.
“Our most direct competitor is probably Details,” Lane says. “We are happy to go straight head-to-head against them, because we are smarter, we know what we are doing and our mission has been validated. Details‘ new emphasis on careers and ‘downtown is dead’ — we have been espousing that for two years and we have been doing it. This magazine was founded by entrepreneurs, people stepped out of the traditional career track, who say that entrepreneurship is cool, that being serious about your work as well as your lifestyle is cool. They are finally coming around two years later and saying, ‘Well, you guys are probably right.’ The difference is, we know how to do it, we are living the life and we are not just pretending.”
Arrogant? Maybe, maybe not.
Oh, sorry, Randall. Didn’t mean to interrupt.
“Our direct peers? We will take any of them on,” Lane continues. “We are smarter than they are. We know what we are doing. We have never changed our mission, and we think we have the right formula.
“GQ and Esquire, which skew a little older, are not doing a very good job. Guys my age — I am 29 — are crying out for something that talks to them, and Details never has. So the reason we singled them out is because we see them as somebody who is trying to do what we do but has always failed. We really understand what is going on. We are not trying to push (readers) into getting nipple rings. Details panders to the idea that the twenty-something person is a slacker, while we say guys in this age group actually work for a living, and yes, we like to have a good time, we like to go out, we like to go to see music, and we care about fashion, but we are also concerned about our going out and exercising and playing sports and also working. That’s something Details is finally realizing, but I think they are a little late to the table.”
Lane was previously the Washington bureau chief at Forbes, where he met P.O.V. founder and publisher Drew Massey. They are now part of of a generation of fast-rising twentysomething journalists including Swing‘s David Lauren, the Electronic Newsstand‘s Brian Hecht and Matt Drudge, author of the highly respected, media-savvy Drudge Report, who are rising to the top of credible, big-money media operations that they helped created.
“Hopefully,” Lane says, “(my) credentials are solid enough so people can say, ‘Well, this guy is young, but he is certainly not green, and he certainly knows what he is doing.’ Our whole staff is like that. Young, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know what we are doing. In fact, I think we know what we are doing for this market better than anybody else.”
P.O.V. hasn’t exactly taken the consumer magazine world by storm. When was the last time you heard somebody say, “Did you see that great article in P.O.V.?” More likely you heard somebody at a newsstand wondering to what the bland-sounding title referred. P.O.V.? Is that anything like POZ, another new magazine, albeit one for HIV-positive men?
It apparently wasn’t enough that the editors put “Guy’s Survival Guide” in small type under the title; as of the June issue, a ribbon added across the top of the cover now explains it all: “The Men’s Magazine with the Smart Point of View.”
Lane says the magazine’s title indicates “that we have a focus, and our articles are pointed, are opinionated. This isn’t just your flat, windy magazine. This is a magazine with some spice to it, and hopefully the name encompasses a lot of that. It is also a name that doesn’t have a lot of preconceived notions because people can’t assume they know what you are about automatically. I mean, what did ‘GQ’ mean when GQ was founded? (THIRTYSOMETHING MR. MEDIA SEZ: “GQ” is shorthand for Gentleman’s Quarterly”) The editors of GQ made it mean something. I mean, if anything, decades ago, when Esquire started, maybe you thought it was a magazine for lawyers, but what Esquire did was make ‘Esquire’ mean something. That’s what we are doing here at P.O.V.”
The biggest difference between P.O.V. and other magazines is that P.O.V. is all “service,” meaning it seems like every story tells you how to do something or where to do it. It’s packed with advice and personal experience, such as Brian Dawson’s hysterical, first-person “You Got Balls” (August) story about spending a season as a gopher for Detroit Tigers ballplayers. Other men’s magazines tend to view service features as part of their mix, not the whole thing, probably because it makes P.O.V. come across like another all-service title, Men’s Health. No matter how well-written and informative — and they are both — they become interchangeable and somewhat bland.
“If you had to say we were one thing or another,” Lane admits, “we probably would go down as a service book. What isn’t a service book nowadays?”
He’s got a point there, at least as far as newcomers go. Maxim‘s second issue was virtually all service. Verge, another new entry, is even subtitled “Essential Gear for Life.” And Swing is very similar to P.O.V. in terms of pitching a work hard, play hard philosophy.
Lane, however, doesn’t believe it’s fair to compare his most excellent men’s magazine to anyone else’s, let alone the service-dominated women’s titles.
“We are trying to provide our readers (with) service,” he says, “but unlike women’s magazines, we don’t patronize and we don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. There are some new titles in the men’s magazine market that seem to think that is a good formula and just really sink to the lowest common denominator.”
You wouldn’t be referring to one edited by a woman, would you? Say, Maxim?
“You said it,” he says. “I didn’t. But, a woman who came from a women’s magazine says it, to boot. And that’s fine if they think that works. I am telling you that the guys I know and our readers don’t want to be insulted, they are not stupid. I am not sure who Maxim is trying to get (as readers) other than people who maybe need to turn their brains down to medium or medium-rare or something when they are reading it.”
What sort of man reads P.O.V.?
“Our focus is on a guy in his late twenties, professional, college-educated, has a job, wants to have a better job, is serious about his career and is serious about his social life as well, serious about playing sports, getting ahead at work, relationships, investments, the whole package. We are about people who just want to live a full life, and we are not trying to cut them down in any of those directions.”
Let’s talk content. P.O.V. typically runs celebrity pictures on its cover, but until recently never ran accompanying stories on the celeb. The photos always illustrated a greater theme from rating the coolness of a job (Beavis and Butt-head) to indulging one’s vices but more recently P.O.V. has added short interviews to complement its celebrity covers.
The feature that Lane says personifies P.O.V. is its “When I Was 25” column, which was launched from an April cover story. You might call it the “Old Fogeys Page,” where men such as Ed Rollins, Scott Turow and Ed Bradley, who have long since left their 20s behind recall their glory days.
“We don’t ask people to write for us who inherited their positions or were born in their position,” Lane says. “The idea is to show our readers that we were all living in a dingy apartment at one time and we all started at an entry-level job. The fact is, there is no limit as to what you can accomplish and we show people who have gone on to be the best in their field. I think that is inspirational and that is what we are trying to do at P.O.V., in part: inspire our readers.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Because the biggest difference between P.O.V. and older competitors such as GQ and Esquire is the age into which it was born. An educated young man 20 or 30 years ago probably expected to land a decent corporate job out of college with a firm that he might well stay with his entire career. Today, he’s just as likely to go into business for himself right out of school or after getting some practical experience at a larger company.
It’s a different world that young people are entering and Lane says that his background at Forbes gives him an advantage, an entrepreneurial bent that his older counterparts at other men’s magazines may lack.
It’s an attitude of “No one is going to take care of us, so we have to take care of ourselves.”
“And so that is exactly what we are trying to do,” Lane says, “empower our readers to take their lives into their own hands. We are trying to say, take charge yourself.”
So don’t hate him because he’s arrogant. He’s just doing his job.