MIKE KLINGENSMITH EXPLAINS HOW HE MADE IT TO THE BIG LEAGUES IN
THE NEW YORK PUBLISHING WORLD.
WHEN IT COMES to careers in publishing, Mike Klingensmith could
write the book. His might be titled From Chicago Maroon to Sports Illustrated Chief in 22 Years or
Klingensmith, A.B. 75, M.B.A. 76, didnt plot out a publishing
career from the start. A self-described "public school kid from
Minnesota," Klingensmith had no intention of leaving the Midwest
after receiving his M.B.A.
"I went to New York on lark," he says. "All of my interviews were
in Minnesota or Chicago, except for one."
It was in publishing, he was interested, and he took the job.
At the time, he viewed the entry-level accounting position as
a "one- or two-year experiment" in the Big Apple before moving
back to the Midwest. It turns out, he never really left, spending
more than two decades at Time Inc. He served as circulation director
at four different magazines as well as group circulation director
for Time Worldwide, Fortune, and Money. From 1983 to 1986 he was
general manager of Time Worldwide. But he started his "dream job"
when he became the founding publisher of Entertainment Weekly (EW), a magazine he helped conceive and launch in 1990.
"Given a 90 percent failure rate for new publications, it was
a big risk, but it was such a thrilling thing to get a chance
to do," Klingensmith says of the EW launch. "I was very confident
for our odds of success. I refused to acknowledge the fact that
it might not work. That was pretty naive," he says with a laugh.
"I should have been a lot more worried.
"We executed the magazine poorly out of the box, and that set
us back," he says. "Its hard to repair a weeklyits like trying
to fix a bike while youre riding it. But we got our act together
editorially, and everything followed. Advertising will follow
when you have a readership." Time Warner continued to fund EW
because the staff was able to "demonstrate improvement and chart
a course that promised hope," Klingensmith says.
Slowly their hard work and perseverance began to pay off. In its
fifth year of publication, in 1995, EW won a National Magazine
Awardthe industry equivalent of an Oscarfor general excellence
in a publication with a circulation of over one million. Shortly
thereafter, EW began to turn a profit and became the first successful
new entertainment weekly since People magazinealso a Time Inc.
publicationdebuted in 1974.
"There was a lot of pressure," Klingensmith says, reflecting on
his time at EW. "I knew I would be wholly responsible if it crashed
and burned. We had a lot of tough moments, but even then it seemed
more fun than terrifying."
In February, after nine years at EW, Klingensmith returned to
familiar and well-loved turf when he was named president of Sports Illustrated (SI). The former Chicago Maroon sports editor and business manager admits to a lifelong preoccupation
with sports, including a short stint on the U of C basketball
team. He was a financial analyst at SI from 1977 until 1980, and
the new job provides the perfect opportunity to wed his love of
the game with his publishing experience.
At SI, Klingensmith is in charge of business operations and consumer
marketing, and in a few short months his position has taken him
around the globe: to Augusta, Georgia, for the Masters; to Nagano
for the Olympics; and to San Antonio for the Final Four.
Despite the perks, heading up SI isnt all fun and games. Guiding
a news magazine in the information age presents challenges. Although
Klingensmith says that the proliferation of sports web sites has
not detracted from the success of the printed magazine, it does
mean that there are more players vying for the same advertising.
"There is more competition for media dollars," Klingensmith says.
"Were finding our place in the new media mix."
In some ways, though, the flood of information has also been positive
for the magazine. "People are overwhelmed with a barrage of information,
much of it available instantaneously," Klingensmith said. "This
plays into the hands of the magazine because people need someone
to sort it all out for them. Its the classic role of the news
magazine. People want thoughtful analysis, well-written articles.
And SI is well written and thoughtful and it has spectacular photography."
Easy going, down to earth, and quick to smile, Klingensmith seems
to have adjusted well to the fast-paced publishing world and to
Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and their two children.
His children are already displaying early signs of their fathers
love of sports: 10-year-old Carolyn is one of two girls on her
west side Little League team, and 8-year-old Jimmy is fond of
"all sports that require a stick"namely hockey, baseball, and
golf. Klingensmith himself continues to "play many sports badly"
in his free time. As for his career, Klingensmith is clearly playing
at championship level. As he talks about his two decades in publishing,
Klingensmith makes his ascension at Time Inc. seem sowell, simpleand
downright enjoyable. Has it been all that?
"Ive worked very hard," he says, "The perception in the early
days was that Time was Ivy League, an East coast establishment
corporation. I was a midwestern guy with no work experience whatsoever.
I wanted to do well. I worked hard."
So maybe it hasnt been easy, but Klingensmith has definitely
enjoyed the ride. "Even if it ended tomorrow," Klingensmith says,
"nobody could ask for a more fun career than Ive had."