Black, Cathleen Prunty

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Black, Cathleen Prunty

Hearst Magazines


Cathleen Black, as president of Hearst Magazines, oversees 16 high-profile titles, including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Popular Mechanics, and Red-book. She worked her way up the ladder in publishing, beginning in advertising sales for New York and Ms., and becoming publisher of New York and then USA Today. She served about five years as the CEO of the National Newspaper Association of America, an important lobbying group, then she took over at Hearst Magazines. Her determination and talent have made her an important figure to working women and a major force in the field of publishing.

Personal Life

Black was born on April 26, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, to James Hamilton Black (a food company executive) and Margaret Harrington Black. She has one brother and one sister. Black grew up in a home where current events were openly discussed, so she was exposed to newspapers from a very young age. Black also had ample opportunities to explore the rich array of arts and entertainment available in her home town.

At age 14, Black was deeply affected when her father lost his eyesight. Not one to give up easily, he overcame this disability. He changed careers and became an investor, continuing to be productive in the face of adversity. "We both have a strong determination to succeed," Black remarked to Paul Farhi in the Washington Post. "We both have outgoing, forceful personalities. I owe him a lot."

Black graduated from Aquinas Dominican High School and went on to get her bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College in 1966. While job hunting, she had an interview at the large advertising firm of J. Walter Thompson. She knew the job was not for her when the interviewer dismissed her question about the executive training program. He "practically tweaked my cheek. He said, 'Why would a cute little thing like you be interested in the training program?'" she related to Kristin Choo in the Chicago Tribune. Black would later break through the "glass ceiling" that was in the path of so many ambitious women.

Black is married to Thomas Harvey, an attorney. They have a son and daughter, and make their home in New York City. The five-foot, eight-inch Black has been described as upbeat and perky; she works out to maintain her slim figure. She is on the board of directors at the Hearst Corporation, IBM, and the Coca-Cola Company, and has a number of honorary degrees.

Career Details

After her disappointing experience at J. Walter Thompson, Black decided to go into publishing and moved to New York City. There, her first job was selling advertisements over the phone for Curtis Publishing. After that, she moved on to sell ads at Holiday magazine, and in 1969, took a similar job at Travel & Leisure. Here, she again encountered prejudice because she was female. Though she sold plenty of ads, she was not given the chance to work on the larger accounts, which usually went to men. After she complained, she received a raise but still earned less than two of her male coworkers.

Black left Travel & Leisure in 1970 to join the advertising department at New York magazine, staying only two years. In 1972 she took over as advertising manager for the recently launched feminist magazine, Ms. She remembered that it was difficult to sell ads for the publication because feminism was so controversial at the time. Many women as well as men felt threatened by the movement, but Black was able to set a reassuring tone. With her relaxed demeanor and dedication to her work, she managed to convince advertisers that working women were a good market, because they had financial power. She was promoted to associate publisher in 1975.

After proving her worth at Ms., Black was recruited to go back to New York magazine as advertising director. She took the job in 1977 with the understanding that if she increased business, she would be named publisher within a year and a half. The timing could not have been worse. Advertisers were scared because Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch had just bought the periodical. Due to Murdoch's reputation for emphasizing exploitational articles, many predicted that New York's content would begin to slant more toward sex and violence. Black overcame this perception, sold the ads, helped the periodical turn a profit, and in 1979 became the first female publisher of weekly consumer magazine. She was chosen Outstanding Woman of Communications in 1982 for her contributions to publishing.

Black's business prowess had been gaining attention, and in 1983, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Gannett Newspapers, Allen H. Neuharth, offered her the position of president at the innovative national newspaper USA Today. The following year, 1984, Black was made publisher and later joined its board of directors. The newspaper offered a revolutionary look and focus: it printed short, easy-to-read stories with a broad interest, used bright colors on the section heads and full-color photos, and boasted more graphically interesting layouts. During Black's eight-year tenure at USA Today, its circulation reached 1.8 million—second only in the country to the Wall Street Journal. "To have taken (USA Today) from the infant stage to a mature product is something I take great pride in," Black commented to Paul Farhi in the Washington Post. "Every cynic wouldn't have given us a prayer to make it to our first birthday."

In May of 1991, Black left Gannett to become the president and CEO of the American Newspaper Publishers Association (later renamed Newspaper Association of America.) Farhi noted that the group enjoyed "considerable political heft, given that the 1,400 members of her organization control the nation's editorial pages." The association vowed to meet the $600,000 annual salary that Black had earned at Gannett, even though the person she replaced had drawn a salary of only $240,000. Black therefore became one of the highest-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., with a salary reaching $885,000 by 1995—a figure that caused some controversy among members.

As CEO, Black's main duties were as a spokesperson and lobbyist. She spent $2.8 million in lobbying efforts, tackling topics such as First Amendment rights, telecommunications, taxes, and environmental issues. She also merged six separate trade groups into one under the new name of the Newspaper Association of America. When she took over the organization, newspaper profits were in decline due to falling circulation and lower ad sales. But Black told Mark Fitzgerald in Editor & Publisher upon her departure in 1995, "Now the association is in strong shape: Membership is up 35 percent, it's totally reorganized and focused on the right issues. In many ways, I feel I have done what I came to do."

Some smaller papers were upset that Black seemed to concentrate her energy on representing the larger daily papers, and others complained that she raised dues too high. Others, however, applauded Black's improvements in the group's structure. One person impressed with her accomplishments was Hearst president and CEO Frank Bennack, Jr., who had recruited her for the position in the first place. He asked her to join the media conglomerate as president of Hearst Magazines.

In 1995, Black took over as the first woman president of Hearst Magazines. In this position, she became responsible for the world's largest publisher of monthly magazines, with 16 titles in the United States and 95 international editions sold in more than 100 countries. The family-owned Hearst Corporation magazines divison includes Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Motor Boating & Sailing, Popular Mechanics, Redbook, Sports Afield, and Town & Country. The well-established firm had been printing some of its periodicals for over 100 years.

Black initially told Ann Marie Kerwin in Inside Media that the Hearst position was "a plum job. The company is well-positioned for where we are in terms of a very competitive and challenging marketplace. It seems to me they are doing the right thing. They have a whole new media division. They have a number of interactive home pages already started. But most importantly, the titles that they represent are some of the finest, exciting franchises that exist, literally, in the world." Despite her enthusiasm, though, Black immediately faced two major challenges: pressure from advertisers in the wake of an ad rate increase combined with rate base cut and the burden of lagging circulation. Kraft, for one, pulled $30 million of its food ads and $20 million of its tobacco ads.

Black defended the company's new ad rate policy, telling Jeff Gremillion in Mediaweek, "The bottom line is that it was a very successful and very important, strategic long-term move for Hearst." Gremillion, however, reported that at least one agency claimed that Hearst had negotiated a lower rate with them while maintaining their hard-line presence in public. And Donald Van De Mark on the CNNfn website asked Black if Hearst was discounting or giving away ad pages, which Black denied. Though total number of pages were down in 1996 from 1995, Black maintained that the magazines were financially healthy, telling Van De Mark in 1997, "We're running over 13 percent ahead in revenue and we're running 8 percent ahead on volume or in terms of advertising pages." The New York Times in 1997 reported that ad revenue under Black's leadership improved at a surprising rate. In addition to her work with advertisers, Black also launched a number of new titles during her reign, including Bob Vila's American Home, Mr. Food's Easy Cooking, and Healthy Living magazines.

Chronology: Cathleen Prunty Black

1944: Born.

1966: Began selling ads at Holiday magazine.

1970: Joined advertising staff of New York magazine.

1972: Became advertising director of Ms. magazine.

1975: Promoted to associate publisher of Ms. magazine.

1977: Became associate publisher of New York magazine.

1979: Promoted to publisher of New York magazine.

1984: Assumed duties as publisher of USA Today.

1991: Appointed CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

1996: Named president of Hearst Magazines.

Social and Economic Impact

Black first entered the workforce during a period of great social change in America. A significant issue was the push for women's rights. Traditionally, women were expected to stay home or to take jobs such as nurse, secretary, or teacher. Women in the workforce had few options for advancement to positions of power in business, since top jobs were usually held by men. But Black persisted in her ambitions and overcame these obstacles to assume a position of great responsibility.

Black's stint at Ms. was difficult at first, with companies reluctant to buy ads in the magazine because they mistakenly believed that feminists were political radicals. Black worked hard to dispel this negative stereotype and succeeded in generating much-needed ad revenues for the publication. Due to her dedication at Ms. and her sub-sequent leadership at New York, she helped promote positive images of feminism. Black also proved that women are capable of leadership roles and blazed the trail for others after her.

Black helped establish USA Today as a publication that would revolutionize the newspaper industry. Initially, many journalists and critics were skeptical of the publication's brightly colored pages, national focus, and shorter stories in simple language. Some even derisively dubbed it "McPaper" and predicted that it would never work. Consumers, though—especially business travelers—enjoyed the publication, and its circulation soared. This led some writers and editors to complain that USA Today's popularity would compromise journalistic standards and eat into the profits of local papers. But eventually, most newspapers began to copy the USA Today format, printing full-color photographs and jazzing up layouts in order to compete for the more visually-oriented customers. Even the "Gray Lady," the New York Times, added color late in 1997.

As CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, Black increased membership and reached the goals of the group which improved the newspaper industry in a variety of ways. In addition to important lobbying efforts, she claimed that over 100 new papers were started during the time she was in charge. As the first woman to head one of Hearst's divisions, she turned around sluggish ad sales and breathed new life into what some thought was becoming a stuffy and old-fashioned business. Hearst Magazines, the biggest player in periodicals today with more than $1 billion in annual revenues, now sets the standard for other publishers.

Black's rise to president of Hearst Magazines was an important step for women as well as for publishing. A Newsday headline went so far as to say, "New Gender at Men's Club," alluding to the fact that Hearst typically had been known as an "old boys' club," where women were excluded from positions of power. Thanks to Black's motivation, she has made impressive gains for women in American society, and her insight and leadership skills have undoubtedly improved many facets of the publishing world.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Hearst Magazines
959 Eighth Ave.
New York, NY 10019
Business Phone: (212)649-2000


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