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So What Do You Do, Hugh Hefner, Founder of Playboy Enterprises?

'The future is bright because of the power of the brand'

By Jeff Rivera - August 11, 2010
Call him a genius, call him a heretic, but don't call him a pornographer. From first bringing bodacious bods to newsstands across America in the conservative 1950s, to later infiltrating cable television, to revealing all in his recent authorized documentary, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, there's always been an air of mystery surrounding Hugh Hefner and his empire. And with news breaking almost daily about the possible sale of Playboy, interest in what could be his next and some say his last chess move for the multimillion dollar company is only beginning to heat up.

Magazines, TV shows, films, even club casinos are just a few of the things Hefner says he envisions for the future of his company. And although some may feel he is in the sunset of his career, the iconic 84-year-old insists he's not going anywhere.

Name: Hugh Hefner
Position: Founder, editor-in-chief and chief creative officer of Playboy
Resume: Hefner worked as an assistant personnel manager for the Chicago Carton Company and as an advertising copywriter for the Carson Pirie Scott department store. He then went on to land a copywriter job at Esquire. But Hefner had his eye on a bigger vision, his own magazine. After failing to raise capital to launch a Chicago magazine, he tried again a year later collecting $8,000 from friends and family to launch the first issue of Playboy. The rest is history.
Birthday: April 9, 1926
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Education: Bachelor's degree from University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) with graduate courses in sociology at Northwestern University.
Marital status: Single
Twitter handle: @HughHefner

When you began Playboy, what was your vision for it and how has the vision changed since its beginnings?
When I started the magazine in 1953, it was a very conservative decade, and I wanted to create a magazine for young single guys that were interested in the outdoor adventure of stag and odyssey, but who really connected to a life lived with a little style. The way you decorated your apartment, the clothes you wore, the car you drove and all of that, obviously connected to a romantic interest in the opposite sex. I think it remains essentially the same, the balance in terms of the heart and soul of the magazine remain essentially the same, but I think that the magazine contains smaller pieces now, less fiction. I think the reading habits of the people have changed.

What do you consider to be your duties as Playboy's editor-in-chief and chief creative officer?
Every day begins in my office here at the mansion in telephonic connection with my editors, my art director, etc. Planning the issue -- rejecting or accepting covers, centerfolds, editorials, features, the layouts, etc. Then the second part of every day is usually involved in interviews, phone or otherwise. And then, in the evening, I spend time with my girls or the girlfriend and friends, and my life is fairly structured in that sense.

Why do you think Playboy would be better off as a private company?
I think it will simply be more secure, that's all. We need more economic stability -- and I just celebrated my 84th birthday and I decided the future is secure.

Describe your personal stake in Playboy. What do you want to see the company accomplish going forward?
What lies ahead is a very exciting time, even though the magazine, like a lot of other magazines and other prints [are] having some economic problems. The brand itself is hotter now on a global level than ever before, and we will be launching in the months immediately ahead a series of Playboy club casinos around the world. We are opening a club in London. We are opening a resort hotel down in South Beach, Florida all within the next year and a half. [There's] Playboy branding, particularly men's and women's clothing and television. We have three television shows going at the same time. They are spinoffs of The Girls Next Door. We are going to be expanding into films, so I think that the future is bright because of the power of the brand.

"The Playboy name represents personal economic and political freedom, and that's an export that has great appeal around the world."

What do you consider to be Playboy's chief asset as a company?
I think without question it is the iconic image itself. That rabbit, that trademark, is one of the most famous iconic trademarks in the entire world, and there is nothing else that really competes with it. There is no other sophisticated adult brand out there. So, we are in a very unique situation around the rest of the world. That rabbit and the Playboy name represents personal economic and political freedom, and that's an export that has great appeal around the world.

You've said Playboy is undervalued. What do you think investors have been overlooking?
Well, [the investors are] probably not impressed by the bottom line. I can't disagree with that. I don't think we've been showing a very healthy P and L here in the recent past, but I also think they don't really recognize what lies ahead.

What do you think of the current bidding war for Playboy Enterprises, including the offer from your competitor Penthouse's parent company FriendFinder Networks Inc.?
That's all nonsense. That's simply their attempt to get some press. Absolutely nothing to that -- whatsoever. I am not selling my part of the company. I am buying shares.

Should one of them actually buy the company, what other criteria for the new company besides money would you like to be considered?
I would be considering partnering with people that supply synergism to what we are already doing. The businesses that compliment the businesses that we are in.

"My life is rather like a Rorschach test. I think people project a great deal of their own particular fantasies, dreams, and prejudices onto my life."

After speaking with a few colleagues of yours, I understand that you're an avid art collector, as well as a philanthropist. What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions about you?
The misconception depends on who the person is. I think that I've said on more than one occasion, my life is an open book with illustrations. Some people know who I am very well. Some people have their own particular perceptions, fantasies, or prejudices to get in the way of their perceptions.

The documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is the first time you've authorized such an in-depth look at your personal and business life. What do you think will be the most surprising to viewers?
It would depend very much on the viewer. I think that I expressed it a long time ago, that my life is rather like a Rorschach test or like an ink blot test. I think people project a great deal of their own particular fantasies, dreams, and prejudices onto my life. So, what a person gets out of this documentary and indeed what a person knows about my life depends on the individual. One of the virtues of this particular documentary we've made is that it focuses on the more serious side of my life, and I do think that it is done in such depth and done so well that even people who think they know me well are going to come away with some new insights.

You have had the image of a "playboy" for most of your career. How important has branding yourself in a certain light been in marketing the magazine?
I don't think that the public image happened by accident. It certainly was a conscious connection to that and I don't think [there was] any question with what the lifestyle reflected in the magazine. The more serious aspects of my life and the more serious aspects of the magazine tend to get hidden in the glare of the attention played on the pretty ladies.

One of your first jobs was as a copywriter for Esquire. Media has changed so dramatically since you began, what advice would you give the younger generation who are interested in delving into today's marketplace?
The future of communication and entertainment obviously is very much connected to the Internet and if, for example, I was starting today, I would probably be doing something relating to the Internet rather than print. It's a sad thing to say because I do think that we are a little less because of the way we get our information now. There are great virtues to the Internet, but we've also lost something. Young people don't have much of a sense of yesterday.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
I'd like to be remembered as somebody who played some positive part in changing social sexual values of my time, and I think I am pretty secure in that.

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Jeff Rivera is the author of Forever My Lady (Grand Central) and a regular correspondent for GalleyCat and The Huffington Post.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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