Peggy Wilkins <email@example.com>, 14 Jul 2003
Why talk about communication? PEI is a large, diverse corporation with many different facets, and they are physically spread out all over the world. The U.S. edition magazine has its corporate headquarters in Chicago, and I believe Special Editions, foreign editions, and playboy.com are also centralized there. PLAYBOY Editor In Chief Hugh M. Hefner is in Los Angeles, as is Playmate Promotions and PLAYBOY Home Video. The magazine has recently mandated a move of its editorial staff to New York. The many foreign editions have their independent staffs and as far as I know they largely work on their own, though some material may be shared with the U.S. edition. This is a highly complex situation, and such complex situations are naturally prone to suffer from difficulties related to communication of all the parts. I think that a concentrated, deliberate effort to share information at all levels, high and low, could result in some tremendous advantages for all productions of PEI.
First of all I would like to note that there is some real evidence of a lack of communication among the various parts. Consider, for instance, the Cyber Club and the magazine. Here are two things that immediately come to mind:
- It is well known that Lani Todd was scheduled to be a Cyber Girl of the Week on cyber.playboy.com in September 2002. Her pictures were posted and remained in place for a day or two, then were suddenly withdrawn without explanation. It turned out that her CGOW pictures had been requested to be pulled by the magazine, which had scheduled her to be Miss December 2002 unbeknownst to the dot com staff. (I may not have these details precisely correct, but I believe this to be the case.) This resulted in much confusion among PLAYBOY's audience, and was an ill conceived move considering that many Cyber Club members felt unfairly cheated of Lani's CGOW pictures. This action also made PEI look clueless (which it certainly was in this case). The decision to pull the CGOW pictures was very publicly visible and resulted in bad PR for PLAYBOY; it could have and should have been handled better. Perhaps a way could have been found to take advantage of the mistake and make it work for, rather than against, PEI.
- Cyber Club members have been complaining for some time about a significant decrease in the size of Cyber Girl portfolios. In the past, each CGOW would get a minimum of 20 pictures (and sometimes as many as 30), but for many months now most only get 15. It turns out that many recent CGOW pictorials come from Playmate tests. Many Playmate tests consist of the photographer trying to get a limited number of poses, so even though there may be a large number of photographs available to choose from, many of them are so similar as to be nearly identical. This situation results in not having enough variety of poses to use in CGOW layouts, and so limits the number they can use. It also seems that when these test shots are done in Chicago instead of LA, the photographers are more aware of the playboy.com/ cyber club connection and deliberately try to get more poses so they can be used online. If someone could communicate this fact to the production teams in LA, they could also try to get more variety in poses which could result in a larger number of photos in each CGOW layout. This simple effort would make the Cyber Club members much happier and would forestall the public complaints that have been so prevalent.
Both these examples speak strongly for there being more coordination between the magazine and the dot com operations. This is just the beginning; there are many many more opportunities which could be explored here that would result in great possibilities for everybody. Let's look at some more possibilities.
I have been impressed with Special Editions ever since Jeff Cohen took over this division circa 1995. These twice monthly publications have consistently top quality photography and graphic design/layout, and there is ample evidence that the staff both looks for constructive feedback and uses it to improve their publications on a regular basis. They are willing to experiment. They have a strong and impressive stable of regular, popular models as well as a steady influx of new ones. They employ a wider variety of photographers than the magazine uses. The photographic style in these editions is quite different from that used in the magazine; part of this must be the diversity of photographers, but I think that editorial choice must also play a large part here. Special Editions clearly has a top rate graphic design staff. I would like to see some of this SE expertise (photographers, layout/design, photographic style, willingness to experiment) influence the photography and layout that appears in the magazine. Why not employ some of the more modern-looking sets used in SE's for centerfolds? Published comments about Playmate photography often mention the old fashioned look of PLAYBOY's photographic style. The SE photographs do appear more modern, yet they still are entirely consistent with the pin-up tradition that has always been the hallmark of the sophisticated and elegant PLAYBOY style.
The SE photography style could have a very beneficial influence on the magazine, especially in adding a fresher perspective.
In summary, take advantage of the tremendous talent and expertise of the SE staff to work for the magazine. The magazine should utilize the design expertise of the SE staff who have demonstrated such strength in this area. Experimentation with sharing staff in this area could really pay off. Maybe there are even some new opportunities to share material or photographers between these two divisions that haven't yet been realized. The division between the magazine and SE enterprises seems an unneccessarily artificial one; they could be brought closer together to realize advantages on both sides.
According to playboy.com, PLAYBOY currently has 19 international editions. Just think of the wealth and diversity of talent employed in these editions—often they put out a magazine that, while still consistent with the PLAYBOY ideals, is quite different from the U.S. edition. It would be wonderful if PLAYBOY could pull design and editorial ideas from these many editions—whether directly, or indirectly as inspiration. Some that I have seen look quite slick, and quite a bit more up-to-date than the current PLAYBOY—and I don't mean just having more photographs (though many of them do), or more sidebars. There are often some different approaches to layout and design that PLAYBOY could profit from here, using them either as direct models or as fodder for ideas they could develop. For instance, the interviews in some foreign editions are quite differently illustrated than the traditional U.S. edition interview, and some of them look very slick and attractive. Why not consider some of these layouts? Why not take some of the most beautifully conceived and illustrated cartoons, and translate them to English? I'll bet there are some good regularly contributing foreign cartoonists to add to PLAYBOY's repertoire.
The same can be said of photography, cover design, and Playmate selection. There are many sources of fresh ideas that could be taken from this large and diverse pool.
To expand on the above idea, why not share content between the U.S. Cyber Club and some of PLAYBOY's foreign pay web sites? At least a couple of these sites are now in operation, and they have Cyber Girls and feature their own native Playmates just like the U.S. Cyber Club does. Not only would this result in more content for all participating parties, which would make everyone happy, but there are further possibilities as well. For instance, if the Cyber Club started featuring foreign Playmate photography, this could be utilized as a test for a different style of photography and a different type of model. In other words, if response is good to a particular model type, or to a particular style of photography, this information could then feed back into the U.S. magazine such that they could add this to their own photography repertoire. Maybe there will be a good response to outdoor, natural photography; then send Mr. Freytag, Mr. Wayda, et al to more outdoor assignments. This is a ready, cheap way to get some more data on audience preferences without putting a lot of effort into experimental production here in the U.S. The material already exists, and so (assuming it is up to technical requirements) could and should be used in this way.
Similarly, maybe there are some good online layout/design ideas on a foreign site that could be used or expanded on.
In summary, there are many opportunities for bringing together separate areas, not only to improve existing problems, but to work to the benefit of all. With the right coordinator(s), this could really work out well.