No Longer In The Vanguarde: Pub Says Mags' Demise Does Not Reflect The Market They Served

Five days after announcing that his company would shutter three of its publications and seek bankruptcy protection, Vanguarde Media Chairman and Chief Executive Keith Clinkscales said that the move was in no way a reflection of the vibrancy of the markets it served. Rather, he emphasized that the difficulty in raising money during a tenuous economic climate - rather than advertiser or reader response - ultimately led to the company's demise.

"I wouldn't want our inability to raise money to be a reason for people to stay away from this market," Clinkscales said on Monday. "The problem was raising capital to shore up the needs of a growing business, period. The market itself was and is incredibly vibrant."

With the bankruptcy filing, three Vanguarde titles were immediately shuttered: Savoy, a lifestyle publication for upper- and middle- class black men; Heart & Soul, a health and beauty pub for black women; and Honey, a style and entertainment magazine for younger black women. Thrown into doubt was the future of Savoy Professional, a magazine for young African-American professionals jointly produced with the Jungle Media Group (JMJ), publishers of MBA Jungle and JD Jungle. JMJ co-founder Jon Hausman said that his company hopes to continue publishing the title, which has been warmly received since its debut in late 2002.



Clinkscales said that Vanguarde's problem may have been one of ambition. Launching in 1999, the company attempted to grow at a pace that might not have been realistic, considering the troubled media climate. "We had some errors and decisions made during the dot- com era that we never fully exorcised out of our cost structure," he explained. "Basically, our plans called for growth during a time when there wasn't much room for growth."

Still, he pointed to the response from the advertising community as a sign that the publications had struck a chord. "We had momentum," he insisted, and the most recent Publishers Information Bureau numbers seem to back him up. Heart & Soul surged nearly 40 percent in ad pages during the first ten months of 2003, while Savoy was up 18 percent and Honey grew by just under 9 percent. All three titles saw double-digit ad revenue growth during that period as well; while revenue-per-page totals weren't sky-high, they were comparable to those generated by Jet during the same ten months.

As for industry response to Vanguarde's bankruptcy, reaction was muted - owing in no small part to the timing of the announcement, which hit the wires after many media mavens had already checked out for the Thanksgiving weekend. Mitch Korn, an industry veteran who recently joined Gemstone Communications' Ethnic Print Media Group, suggested that shallow budgets most likely had something to do with Vanguarde's problems.

"There's not enough money to go around," he shrugged. "There are only so many magazines that buyers will have the budget to buy. [Vanguarde's publications] were very good magazines and certainly filled a niche, but you can only go so deep within a category."

For his part, Clinkscales remains surprisingly sunny in the face of professional disappointment. He went out of his way to praise the magazine's editorial and marketing staffers as well as Vanguarde's primary backer, Provender Capital Group. "They deserve kudos for sticking with us as long as they did. Obviously they helped us get through one of the worst media times ever." While he hasn't plotted his next move, it doesn't seem likely that he'll exit the business anytime soon.

"To build something like this and get it to this point but not get it all the way home, it's very frustrating," he said. "But there's a need for these magazines."

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