Media Headliner: Sandell says there is life after Gutfeld at Maxim

The consumer managing director must act fast to raise his own profile and that of Dennis Publishing, Alasdair Reid writes.

Given that Maxim is his main charge, Dennis Publishing's consumer managing director, Bruce Sandell, has exactly the sort of background you'd expect. He joined IPC from school and began making his way up the career ladder on the sales side within the company's stable of music titles - first Melody Maker, then Vox, then NME, where he rose to publisher.

At which point, James Brown came into his life. Not for the first time, as it happens - a big fan of 60s and 70s soul, Sandell already had a music collection featuring much of the oeuvre of the Godfather of Soul. The James Brown of more recent notoriety was at this stage the NME features editor and was preparing to launch the epoch-defining Loaded. Sandell joined the launch team and later followed Brown when he branched out on his own at I Feel Good.

It's all there. Boxes ticked. So it's somewhat surprising to find that Sandell has yet to win over great swathes of the ad industry. The kindest way they have of putting it is that he's yet to emerge from the shadow of Maxim's recently departed (actually, he's technically still in the job until 24 May) editor, Greg Gutfeld. Now they're keener than ever to see what he's made of.

Before his recent promotion, Sandell was the group publishing director of a consumer magazine stable including Maxim, Men's Fitness, Viz and Bizarre. Now, with his new job title, he also assumes responsibility for the group's gambling titles. From an inward-facing point of view, it's not much of a stretch; but from a customer-facing, broader-world perspective, it entails a huge leap. He has to raise his and Dennis Publishing's profile - and do it soon.

His priority is the appointment of a new Maxim editor - and he reveals he will be looking beyond the usual suspects who have done time on men's titles. As Sandell puts it: "We have some very strong internal candidates and there are some obvious external candidates but I think the men's magazine market has suffered in the past from not looking further afield."

Agencies say they genuinely miss Gutfeld, if only for the fact he came along to presentations and kept everyone thoroughly entertained. But they also concede that Maxim's problems run deeper than a senior editorial appointment, no matter how inspired.

Under Gutfeld, Maxim went slightly leftfield - fewer nipples, more jokes, a slightly more grown-up approach. But he was invited to move on following a series of circulation setbacks (its July to December Audit Bureau of Circulations figure was 190,438, down 16 per cent period on period). Some observers believe Maxim has not only lost its editor but also its nerve, and will return to a more tried-and-tested formula.

They suspect the nipple count has already begun to rise. That's nonsense, Sandell responds: "The biggest thing to happen recently in the men's market is the emergence of the weeklies. But the way forward for men's monthlies is not to create more (titles in the style of) weeklies. The way forward is to emphasise the differences between weeklies and monthlies."

And he argues that the underlying Maxim brand is remarkably robust - destined to be one of the real winners in the multiplatform digital era.

"It's an exciting time in media," he maintains. "Maxim has already made great strides in the mobile arena and the company now has an international network of websites that lets editors take their pick of material."

And we're not just talking about pictures of girls, important though those will remain - there will be new interactive formats evolving, he promises. He's a real evangelist for this sort of stuff - to an extent that sometimes worries agencies. As one press buyer puts it: "In a recent presentation, I started to get the feeling that Dennis is now far more interested in digital platforms than it is in magazines. Given (Maxim's) recent (circulation) performance, you can perhaps see why. But I hope they're not looking to draw back. I think they need to leverage the two sides - digital and print - one against the other for their mutual benefit."

It's not all about Maxim, obviously - though, again, agencies say market presence is even more of a problem with titles such as Men's Fitness and Inside Edge. "It's a diverse portfolio and, dare I say it, it's a rather odd portfolio," Mark Gallagher, Manning Gottlieb OMD's press director, says. "Its profile isn't high enough - I'll bet you few people can name most of its magazines off the top of their heads. There's a feeling Maxim has lost its way and there's even been speculation that the company might sell its consumer titles. The consumer division needs dynamic leadership - there's a big job to be done."

Agencies hope Sandell can provide that dynamism, though they were disappointed during recent presentations to find him reading rather woodenly from a prepared script. Sandell's message, though, is that no-one should underestimate what the company has to offer.

He says: "We have great brands and Dennis Publishing is well placed. It has the best bits of an IPC and an IFG. It's innovative, entrepreneurial and quick at decision-making. There's a maverick strand traceable back to (the company founder) Felix Dennis. It's a culture we should be proud of and I want to reflect that in what I do."

Age: 35
Lives: Greenwich, London
Family: Married with seven-year-old daughter
Hobbies: Obsessive collector of original 60/70s soul records
Most treasured possession: My record collection - my favourite changes
on a weekly/daily basis
Favourite magazine: Uncut, Mojo, Straight No Chaser, Record Collector,
and I am quite partial to my wife's copies of BBC Good Food and Elle
Personal mantra: "Never go back" works for me. It happens to also be the
title of one of Felix Dennis' poems.