Me­dia Peo­ple


WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY KARI HAMANAKA

Cooper Hefner on Play­boy for the new gen­er­a­tion.

It's been less than a month since Play­boy En­ter­prises Inc. moved onto Wil­shire Boule­vard, up to the 22nd floor of a West­wood high-rise.

A bar and so­cial area for staff will be built out on the floor be­low. There are still boxes strewn about the of­fice of Cooper Hefner, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer and youngest son of founder Hugh Hefner. A white board serves as vis­ual ev­i­dence of the heavy brain­storm­ing and plans the youngest Hefner has for the sto­ried brand.

He called the move a fresh start that will even­tu­ally con­sol­i­date the com­pany's Bur­bank of­fice there and keeps the ball mov­ing on a brand that's helped gen­er­ate $1.5 bil­lion of re­tail prod­uct sales glob­ally. The pri­vately held firm de­clined to say what it does in com­pa­ny­wide an­nual rev­enue, but it's the brand and its in­ter­sec­tion over the years with ev­ery­thing from po­lit­i­cal to so­cial and cul­tural is­sues that in­spired the 26-year- old to join the busi­ness in 2016. The aim? Not only to pre­serve and push for­ward the brand built by his fa­ther, but have it speak to a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers and con­sumers.

Hefner sat down with WWD for a wide-rang­ing con­ver­sa­tion, touch­ing on where the Play­boy brand cur­rently sits, where it's go­ing and, of course, its role in a num­ber of hot-but­ton is­sues.

WWD: Let's start with the new tag line for the mag­a­zine, “En­ter­tain­ment For All,” which de­buted for the first time on the May cover. What was the think­ing be­hind the move away from “En­ter­tain­ment For Men”?

Cooper Hefner:

Re­ally, the idea be­hind it was a sym­bolic ges­ture. The state­ment we wanted to make was that we un­der­stand the good old boys club as well as the brand talk­ing to only a par­tic­u­lar con­sumer, which was a het­ero­sex­ual male, was not ac­tu­ally re­al­is­tic when we took a step back and eval­u­ated the breadth of the busi­ness. The com­pany does $1.5 bil­lion of re­tail prod­uct glob­ally and a sub­stan­tial amount of that prod­uct is for women and is for dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics — both male and fe­male — that tran­scended the good old boys club of “En­ter­tain­ment For Men.” So I took a step back and said, “What's the next it­er­a­tion of Play­boy and how can we make sure that we're invit­ing to dif­fer­ent sexes and dif­fer­ent peo­ple?” The “En­ter­tain­ment

For Men” to “En­ter­tain­ment For All” seemed like an ap­pro­pri­ate and nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion.

If I walk into a Play­boy Club, why is it not ap­pro­pri­ate for Ellen DeGeneres and Por­tia de Rossi to be sit­ting there and hav­ing a drink?

WWD: When you look at the read­er­ship across digital and print, is it still pre­dom­i­nantly men?


The read­er­ship for dot com is pre­dom­i­nantly men 18 to 34 and then the read­er­ship for print ac­tu­ally skews older just be­cause it's a legacy publi­ca­tion, so its 40-plus. From a prod­uct stand­point, 50 per­cent of our prod­uct glob­ally is pur­chased by women. There is an in­her­ent fas­ci­na­tion that women have with the brand based off the fact that just be­cause we are a con­tent com­pany that pre­dom­i­nantly fo­cuses and talks about male in­ter­ests, we're ac­tu­ally not a brand that has in­ter­ests that only speak to men, mean­ing that the brand re­ally does rep­re­sent a phi­los­o­phy. It's a cel­e­bra­tion of sex and free­dom, the right to choose the way you want to live. And that is not some­thing that is only de­sired by men.

WWD: How do you see the gen­eral me­dia busi­ness evolv­ing?

C.H.: I see the me­dia land­scape go­ing through a re­mark­ably in­ter­est­ing evo­lu­tion that I think a lot of peo­ple saw com­ing a long time ago, but a lot of other peo­ple didn't. Ex­am­ples of that are Vice miss­ing their rev­enue by $100 mil­lion; Sports Il­lus­trated re­cently laid off about 100 of their em­ploy­ees; Buz­zfeed missed their rev­enue again by over 20 per­cent. The point and the com­mon theme be­ing that there are these con­tent providers and brands that re­ally took ad­van­tage of the free me­dia land­scape and pro­duced con­tent and, re­ally, the busi­ness is fall­ing through the floor.

The me­dia land­scape is go­ing to con­tinue to change. I think we're see­ing the end of the era of these sites that built ad­ver­tis­ing busi­nesses when in re­al­ity they're not able to com­pete with Google or Face­book, or any of the other gi­ants that are ac­tu­ally col­lect­ing most of the ad rev­enue. You're still see­ing sites and will con­tinue to see sites, I sus­pect, that have ban­ner ads and ad­ver­tis­ing on site, but even ad­ver­tis­ers are more so­phis­ti­cated than just want­ing to spend dol­lars on im­pres­sions that don't ac­tu­ally add up to any­thing. ►

I don't know nec­es­sar­ily where it lands. I just know we're for­tu­nate to be in the sub­scrip­tion busi­ness and it has cer­tainly taken quite a bit of time to have se­nior man­age­ment pivot back to that. Play­boy ac­tu­ally in 2013 and '14 was re­ally also step­ping into that busi­ness model which, re­ally, you're not go­ing to build a lot of busi­ness. You're go­ing to do $5 [mil­lion] or $10 mil­lion of rev­enue, but it's not a sub­stan­tial bulk of the busi­ness.

WWD: Do you think there is still a case to be made for print?


I do. I do think that there is an op­por­tu­nity for print to come back. I just think it re­quires peo­ple to re­ally take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the busi­ness. So news­stands, I think, are a dis­as­ter. Most mag­a­zines have to buy back what you don't sell. The print in­dus­try as a whole is also in the same boat, to a cer­tain ex­tent, as the digital me­dia land­scape, al­though very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. A lot of pub­lish­ers will spend on bulk­ing up their cir­cu­la­tion so that they can get ad­ver­tis­ers, so they'll give their mag­a­zine for free es­sen­tially. They're pay­ing to have their mag­a­zine in den­tists' shops and other places and, what we're find­ing and what other pub­lish­ers are find­ing, is that you're es­sen­tially spend­ing more money to run an ad busi­ness than you are ac­tu­ally mak­ing the money on the ads.

I would love to see print find a place where it makes sense in the same way vinyl records have to a cer­tain ex­tent. Does print be­come a cof­fee-ta­ble lux­ury for the gen­er­a­tion that fol­lows, you know, Mil­len­ni­als? I don't know.

WWD: What's been Play­boy's gen­eral ex­pe­ri­ence with hav­ing a pay­wall on­line, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing a base of con­sumers that have been con­di­tioned to ex­pect the con­tent they view on­line be free?


The re­sponse has been very pos­i­tive but we have sev­eral sub­scrip­tion busi­nesses, not just in pub­lish­ing, and we have dif­fer­ent plat­forms.

Play­ in par­tic­u­lar has been chal­leng­ing to the note that you sug­gest which is, is there a con­sumer out there that you can con­vince to pay for con­tent, and I think there cer­tainly is. Look at

The New York Times, right? I think they have gone through an amaz­ing re­brand of mak­ing them­selves rel­e­vant to the old and young, while ac­tu­ally build­ing a sub­stan­tial busi­ness be­cause they de­fined a clear prod­uct be­hind the pay­wall.

What is re­ally im­por­tant for us to do is de­fine a prod­uct that our fans are will­ing to pay for and we're try­ing to un­der­stand what that bal­ance is and, again, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion why peo­ple have his­tor­i­cally in­ter­acted with the brand on the con­tent side. It has been for the life­style and so­phis­ti­cated con­tent and it has also been be­cause they want to in­ter­act with the brand and cel­e­brate sex and arousal in a way that most other com­pa­nies don't. I will tell you in real time we con­tinue to have that con­ver­sa­tion be­cause there are real-world im­pli­ca­tions to the busi­ness. The me­dia side is one por­tion. It's 50 per­cent of rev­enue. The other 50 per­cent is li­cens­ing and joint ven­tures and we have to be mind­ful of how those two in­ter­act with each other con­stantly.

WWD: Does the com­pany like hav­ing rev­enue split 50/50 like that or does that change mov­ing for­ward?


The ben­e­fit of grow­ing li­cens­ing is that your mar­gin is so high, you're not spend­ing a lot on ac­tu­ally run­ning the busi­ness. The chal­lenge with me­dia is that your con­tent is very ex­pen­sive. So a li­cens­ing busi­ness is more ap­peal­ing if you look at the num­bers, but the me­dia busi­ness is what is con­stantly com­mu­ni­cat­ing what the voice of the brand is. So it's just a bal­ance.

I cer­tainly see an un­be­liev­able amount of po­ten­tial to not just grow li­cens­ing but also grow me­dia. It's just, again, there has to be a de­fined prod­uct on the me­dia side that res­onates with an older and a younger con­sumer, which is a com­pli­cated recipe to fig­ure out with a brand like ours be­cause you have a lot of young peo­ple that want to in­ter­act with the brand through prod­uct like the Supreme col­lab­o­ra­tions and Anti So­cial [So­cial Club], which sell out in min­utes. But you also have a legacy con­sumer and fan that wants a dif­fer­ent type of Play­boy. I mean, look at the an­nounce­ment we made with our nam­ing our first trans Play­mate. The LGBTQ com­mu­nity re­sponded pos­i­tively. Our sub­scriber base was up in arms. Ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue was im­pacted, so there are chal­lenges just based off of be­ing a legacy me­dia com­pany that we're deal­ing with ev­ery week.

WWD: A while back you posted on In­sta­gram a re­sponse to a tweet from some­one who ac­cused Play­boy of up­hold­ing so­cial gen­der norms. In your re­sponse, you men­tioned a move­ment afoot led by Mil­len­ni­als that in­tends to put sex back in the closet. Why do you be­lieve it's Mil­len­ni­als driv­ing that?


The woman who wrote it was a Mil­len­nial and the point she was try­ing to make was Play­boy is very re­gres­sive and doesn't rep­re­sent progress. To me, I take a step back and just find it ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing that there's a move­ment among young — I don't even want to say thought lead­ers — but just young folk that seems to be very anti-sex. There's so much con­ver­sa­tion be­ing had, which is so im­por­tant, around con­sent and mak­ing sure women feel com­fort­able in life, in the work­place and at home and are pro­tected, and con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der iden­tity and just a lot re­volv­ing around sex. And, for what­ever rea­son, as we're ex­plor­ing these, it seems like a lot of young peo­ple are giving sex a bad rep, and I find that bizarre.

I think Face­book and these plat­forms that have been built off of some of the most bril­liant Mil­len­nial minds of a gen­er­a­tion are very anti-sex, very anti-arousal. There are a lot of, I think, women who la­bel them­selves as fem­i­nists that look at Play­boy as an en­emy and I find that fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause what the brand has tried to do since its in­cep­tion has been to bring sex out of the closet and say this is not some­thing that we should be ashamed of. The act is the rea­son why we're here. The act is what al­lows us to con­tinue. That should be cel­e­brated. That should not be crit­i­cized. I try to en­cour­age the ed­i­to­rial team to dis­cuss that at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity and there seem to be a lot of peo­ple who want to dis­cuss it.

WWD: Is it con­cern­ing to you, within the con­text of Play­boy En­ter­prises as a busi­ness, this idea that an anti-sex move­ment is afoot?


This is the rea­son why I would have a tough time step­ping into the role of chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer here be­cause I of­ten­times don't think about the busi­ness de­ci­sion. I think about the so­cial im­pli­ca­tions first of what we're do­ing.

I re­ally do be­lieve the rea­son peo­ple con­nect with Play­boy is be­cause they be­lieve in the phi­los­o­phy and, of course, I care about the bot­tom line. I care about the so­cial piece of this and the im­pact the brand makes in that way more than, of­ten­times, how the busi­ness is ac­tu­ally per­form­ing. So do I worry about it from a busi­ness stand­point? I don't be­cause the fas­ci­na­tion with sex and the fas­ci­na­tion with Play­boy rep­re­sent­ing Amer­i­cana isn't go­ing to go any­where for the next 50 or 60 years. Do I worry about it from a so­cial stand­point? Yes, of course. I do not think it's healthy. I think sex be­ing led into the closet or be­ing crit­i­cized or how we ap­proach sex should be talked about and crit­i­cally dis­cussed, but to make the act the en­emy is what leads to a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and abuse when it comes to women. It leads to abuse in the LGBTQ space. The fact that peo­ple don't see that con­nec­tion is fas­ci­nat­ing to me, and I don't think that they do a lot of times.

WWD: There's ob­vi­ously a lot of trac­tion right now with the MeToo and Time's Up move­ments. When the dust set­tles on all of this, will we have made some real progress to where they are not sim­ply so­cial me­dia hash­tags?


I see the fact that it's a so­cial me­dia hash­tag as ac­tion­able. The fact that we are talk­ing about it is tak­ing ac­tion and the idea of men tak­ing a step back and lis­ten­ing to the women in their lives is re­ally im­por­tant, but also the women in their lives hav­ing the courage to talk about it.

I gen­uinely took a step back when I had heard about ev­ery­thing that was tran­spir­ing with Har­vey We­in­stein and then a lot of these other fig­ures in so­ci­ety who are or were in­cred­i­bly in­flu­en­tial and suc­cess­ful. You saw them fall­ing from grace for good rea­son. I took a step back and thought, how far does this go? I re­mem­ber just be­ing ab­so­lutely shocked by it and I re­mem­ber talk­ing to my sis­ter about it at din­ner. We never had these types of con­ver­sa­tions, but she had opened up to me and said, “I re­ally can't think of a sin­gle woman in my life that has not in some ca­pac­ity in­ter­acted with sex­ual as­sault or ha­rass­ment” and I was so taken aback by that. I started to have the con­ver­sa­tion a lot more with my fi­ancée and as much as I was proud of the fact that we were hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion per­son­ally I was ac­tu­ally re­ally up­set that my grandma and my mom and other women in my life had not ap­proached that con­ver­sa­tion with me be­fore.

So, for me, I think we get to the right place in the short term by con­tin­u­ing to have the con­ver­sa­tion. Mothers talk­ing to their sons, talk­ing to their broth­ers, talk­ing to their hus­bands. It re­ally is an op­por­tu­nity for women to talk to men who did not know that this was hap­pen­ing or were sit­ting by and let­ting this hap­pen. And that is very pos­i­tive.

This is re­ally a move­ment that was and it cer­tainly has, I think, changed more in so­ci­ety in a shorter amount of time than any­thing I can ever ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber, specif­i­cally in the U.S.

WWD: You have a re­ally strong sense of his­tory and pol­i­tics that comes through to any­one glanc­ing through your so­cial me­dia feeds. Could you ever see your­self get­ting into pol­i­tics at some point?


I have a chal­leng­ing time imag­in­ing not be­ing here, but I think that cer­tainly what I en­gage in out­side of Play­boy I'm in­her­ently in­ter­ested in gov­ern­ment and his­tory. As much as I like the idea of go­ing into pol­i­tics, the older I get, the more it be­comes clear to me you don't have to go into pol­i­tics in or­der to make a dif­fer­ence. I sit on a cou­ple non­profit boards and like to en­gage as much as pos­si­ble in that par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity, the com­mu­nity be­ing ser­vice. I'm in a fairly ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stance. I don't know why any­one who is in a po­si­tion to do good things would not want to try and make life bet­ter for other peo­ple, not just them­selves. So that has al­ways been of in­ter­est to me and I will do that, whether it's at an­other place or whether it's here.

WWD: Have you al­ways had that in­ter­est in gov­ern­ment and his­tory?


I've al­ways since high school had a love for his­tory. I was a his­tory ma­jor for a pe­riod of time but ended up grad­u­at­ing with a mi­nor in his­tory and a ma­jor in film. I don't nec­es­sar­ily know where the pas­sion comes from. I've just al­ways been in­ter­ested in peo­ple, can­didly. You ►

don't know who you are if you don't look at where you came from, and his­tory tells us where we came from. I'm not talk­ing about the bi­ased his­tory that you learn about in high school. I'm talk­ing about real his­tory, see­ing dif­fer­ent sides.

WWD: When you look at where so­ci­ety sits to­day are there par­al­lels you see to past pe­ri­ods in time?


Ab­so­lutely. I see a lot of con­nec­tions to the Fifties and Six­ties. The na­tion­al­ism that is tran­spir­ing be­cause of [Pres­i­dent] Trump I think there's a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties to McCarthy­ism. Even later than that, up into the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion of the fake news and the White House try­ing to bash the Fourth Es­tate and dis­credit it is deeply con­cern­ing.

It's pretty wild. His­tory seems to be re­peat­ing it­self a lot.

WWD: It al­ways does. C.H.:

It does. The dif­fer­ence is the new move­ment, which is the iso­la­tion­ism piece. There seems to be this mind­set that is com­ing to the fore­front of a lot of Amer­i­cans' minds that is be­ing driven by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and that is that iso­la­tion­ism is the best prac­tice. And I say, “OK, well, that's re­ally a scary thought to think that a lot of Amer­i­cans feel that way” and the Amer­ica First slo­gan is re­ally “Let's look in­ter­nally and stop fo­cus­ing on what our role is in­ter­na­tion­ally as a su­per power.” The idea be­ing that if you have in­flu­ence, then you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to do cer­tain things and the idea that there are a lot of peo­ple that are not ac­tu­ally see­ing that as an obli­ga­tion is re­ally ter­ri­fy­ing.

What's even more scary is you take a step back and you see, wow, this is not just a pat­tern and a theme that Amer­i­cans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, but it's a theme that is hap­pen­ing in var­i­ous coun­tries around the world with the U.K. I don't know what the fu­ture of the United King­dom is. We cer­tainly don't know what the fu­ture of the Eu­ro­pean Union is. We don't know the fu­ture of these other agree­ments that have held us to­gether for a long time that have al­lowed us to step in a di­rec­tion that puts glob­al­iza­tion and a global com­mu­nity as some­thing pos­i­tive hu­man­ity's work­ing to­wards. That's not some­thing that is at all con­nected to what was hap­pen­ing in the Fifties and Six­ties. That's rel­a­tively new.

WWD: Mov­ing back to Play­boy, where do you fo­cus your en­er­gies now in the short and long term?


My short-term goals are to launch a few new plat­forms that re­ally speak to new con­sumers and peo­ple who are fans of the brand that want to in­ter­act with the brand, but we're not do­ing a re­ally great job of fa­cil­i­tat­ing a con­tent and life­style of­fer­ing for them.

The larger op­por­tu­nity re­ally and what's of in­ter­est is just con­tin­u­ing to com­mu­ni­cate this sex-pos­i­tive piece of the brand that has his­tor­i­cally been as­so­ci­ated with it since its be­gin­nings for a younger gen­er­a­tion. What's amaz­ing to me is you have 17-, 18- 19-year- olds buy­ing the Anti So­cial So­cial [Club] prod­uct be­cause of a fas­ci­na­tion with the rab­bit head, and they don't have the hangups or the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the “Girls Next Door.” That's re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me. Just grow­ing the busi­ness and brand. We're so lucky. You're talk­ing about a com­pany that has 97 per­cent global aware­ness, which is pretty wild. It's hard to find a place in the world where some­body doesn't know of the rab­bit.

WWD: So the new plat­forms you're think­ing about here—


You could imag­ine them, and I don't want to give too much un­til it's in­tro­duced, but you can al­most imag­ine it to a cer­tain ex­tent like Vice in the sense Vice has chan­nels or Gawker had Jezebel and other chan­nels. What we have done an amaz­ing job of is we've told our brand story from a prod­uct stand­point, but Play­boy's a much larger brand to just be the only plat­form that peo­ple in­ter­act with, es­pe­cially when women have an in­ter­est in ac­tu­ally in­ter­act­ing with Play­boy. But Play­boy's still re­ally carv­ing out, for the most part, a male het­ero­sex­ual 18- to 34-year- old point of view.

What does it look like if you start to craft a chan­nel for this con­sumer or this fan as well as this fan as well as this fan? So it's un­der­stand­ing that you pro­tect the moth­er­ship brand but there's a larger op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate these sub­chan­nels that re­ally talk di­rectly to a Play­boy fan that is re­ally just in­ter­act­ing with a piece of prod­uct to­day.

WWD: Did you al­ways know you wanted to be a part of this or­ga­ni­za­tion?


Hon­estly, I didn't. When you're an 18-year- old, you're think­ing about what do I want to spend my life do­ing? I played with the idea of join­ing the Peace Corps and then also played with the idea — it sounds like such a ridicu­lous thing to sug­gest — but I was very se­ri­ous about con­sid­er­ing join­ing the mil­i­tary.

WWD: Why's that ridicu­lous? C.H.:

A lot of peo­ple I'm say­ing would take a step back and not nec­es­sar­ily re­late to the idea of to serve when you have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that were af­forded to me. A lot of peo­ple en­list in the mil­i­tary be­cause of the op­por­tu­ni­ties the mil­i­tary pro­vides — ed­u­ca­tion, the op­por­tu­nity to travel and see the world, the struc­ture. So I think a lot of peo­ple might take a step back and ask why would I want to do that but that was al­ways some­thing that was of in­ter­est to me — serv­ing and be­ing a part of some­thing that was larger than self.

The ded­i­ca­tion.

I ac­tu­ally watched a doc­u­men­tary on HBO that a woman named Brigitte Ber­man did on my dad, which was called “Hugh Hefner: Ac­tivist, Play­boy, Rebel” and it fo­cused a lot more on the ac­tivism side of the brand rather than what typ­i­cally is talked about in pop cul­ture. I just dug into all this re­search and learned about all of these amaz­ing — speak­ing of his­tory — his­tor­i­cal notes that my dad and the brand had hit at par­tic­u­lar mo­ments in time. My dad held onto notes that he and MLK Jr. and Jesse Jack­son put to­gether in the Chicago man­sion in the early years with the Civil Rights Move­ment. Or, he kept notes of him ex­chang­ing let­ters back and forth with Pres­i­dent Rea­gan of what the sex­ual norms should be in the U.S. and this doc­u­men­tary told that story and I was ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nated with it and thought I get to be an­other chap­ter in this amaz­ing legacy.

WWD: Did you have the op­por­tu­nity to speak with your fa­ther about Play­boy from that ac­tivist stand­point, or was it not un­til that doc­u­men­tary you re­ally had a sense of that?


It re­ally was not some­thing that we spoke about, ac­tu­ally. He wasn't a braggy per­son, so I ac­tu­ally got up­set with him af­ter I had watched the doc­u­men­tary and just had sug­gested, why would you not talk about this stuff? And he said, “Well, I didn't think it was im­por­tant.” I was like, “Im­por­tant? This is the most amaz­ing in­for­ma­tion that you could have ever told me.”

We cer­tainly had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions about pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment and had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions about the brand and sex­ual norms. All those things con­nect to the com­pany and what he was try­ing to ac­com­plish in his life.

Cooper Hefner

Play­boy's May/June 2018 cover fea­tur­ing Play­mate of the

Year Nina Daniele.

From the Pride Pa­rade in West Hol­ly­wood in June.

Joyrich x Play­boy fes­ti­val cap­sule for spring 2018.

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