The Exit Interview with Details’ Dan Peres

by Ashley Baker
Dan Peres

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After what he describes as a “mourning period,”
Details dude Dan Peres is entirely focused on—what else?—the future. But before he delves in too deeply, we required a bit of reflection.

Did you hear from Annie Flanders when the magazine closed?
I didn’t. I’ve had conversations with Annie over the years, and she had been incredibly supportive. Obviously, Details has had a very rich history, and Annie is a huge part of that. Every time that she and I did connect, it was a really pleasant and entertaining conversation.

Were you surprised by the outpouring of support on social media?
No, and I was pleased to see it. I think a lot of people—myself included, of course—were sad to see this magazine go away. No doubt that Condé Nast was sad to see it go away.

To The Wall Street Journal, Bob Sauerberg said, “Consumers love the magazine. It’s not fair or right.”
Some of it was rather touching. We spent 15 years building this brand for a specific audience, and we made a very strong connection. It would have been really disappointing if they weren’t upset.

Is there any way that Condé Nast or someone else could have possibly saved the Details brand?
I can’t say. It’s such a tumultuous time for our business; tons of it is positive change. Condé Nast—Bob in particular, and certainly Si [Newhouse] and Chuck Townsend—have been so supportive of this brand. We were the little engine that could—we had spectacular audience development, we were growing our rate base, our digital numbers were absolutely spectacular. The support was there—I felt it every time I sat down with those guys; I really did. But you have to make tough decisions in changing times.

Was this the first time you felt like the end was really coming?
I felt something was coming. Listen—I’m not deaf. The rumors had been there for 15 years. We had an amazing run, we really did. What we did over the course of the 15 years—I stress what we did—is extraordinary. We entered a market that was dominated by the lad mags—FHM, Maxim, Stuff, GQ, and Esquire were the elder statesmen of this category—and we came in and shifted direction and started to build content and market to a different type of guy. And it worked. This is the guy who’s now sounding off on social media about the loss of this magazine. But we had a great run. There was incredible energy around what we were doing.

I’ve heard that you were a one-man HR department for a lot of your staff.
We have a lot of people out of work with a move like this—people who were incredibly loyal to the brand, and to me, but beyond that, are brilliant at what they do. I did everything I could—and still am, to some degree—to help connect them with new opportunities.

Who were your longest-tenured staffers?
Rockwell Harwood was our creative director; he was there from the beginning. Andrea Oliveri, also there from the beginning, was initially our entertainment director, then transitioned into other roles. In the past couple of years, Andrea had a consulting position with us but was still booking our covers. Both are incredible, and dear friends. [Fashion Director] Matthew Marden was there for a very long time. [Managing Editor] Diana Benbasset, our copy and research chiefs, they were all there from the very beginning. We’re a family. Dysfunctional, certainly, but a family nonetheless.

How did you guys toast the end of the magazine?
Just before Christmas, we all had cocktails with editors of Details past. We took over some bar in the East Village—James Truman came, and a number of others. It was great.

What did it feel like to win those National Magazine Awards?
Recognition from your peers is amazing. It was an extraordinary recognition of the hard work our team had done—Rockwell in particular, with respect to the ones that we won. There were 10 or 12 nominations, including several for General Excellence over the years. It doesn’t bring readers or advertising, but it’s a really, really nice acknowledgment of what I believed was an extraordinary effort.

Do you think that the game so many of us are playing, to court these luxury advertisers and get them into print magazines, is a losing proposition?
It’s evolving. You have to take a holistic approach to the relationship with the luxury advertiser or any marketing partner, and start to sit down with them and have conversations about what their needs are. I think the old model is gone. Old rules should be broken. It used to be silo-ed—there was editorial, there was marketing, there was advertising—those barriers need to be destroyed. I’m not talking about sacrificing journalistic integrity, and I’m not talking about pay for play, but I’m talking about coming to the table with your marketing partners and figuring out the best possible way to achieve what you both want to achieve.

Are you down with native advertising?
I’m fine with it, but instead of saying, This is the branded content portion of our magazine, website, or social media platforms, we have to scrap that, and get smart about how we integrate what has traditionally been seen as advertising into content. We saw this with Details.com and across our social media platforms—if it was appropriate for our audience and was labeled “sponsored,” that didn’t bother people. The model is changing. I’ve had lots of conversations, both when I was at Details and certainly since leaving, with people on the brand side about what their needs are, and how they should be approaching this thinking. You want to sit down and build a 360-degree approach to creating content and integrating marketing messages. When both sides are able to come together and figure out how to build communities around a brand, the energy is greater, the opportunities are greater, and the end result to the audience is more impactful and meaningful.

What was your favorite part of helming Details?
Working with the team. When you’re surrounded by very smart and witty people, any conversation can become brilliant, whether we were brainstorming ideas or figuring out what we should get for lunch.

Okay, it’s time for a lightening round. Favorite cover?
Mike Tyson. He was on our cover in the aughts, and it was one of the riskiest ones for a variety of different reasons, not the least of it was that he had come out of prison. I went up to Harlem on a rooftop where he was wrangling pigeons. It was an extraordinary moment—we shot him breaking a piece of fake glass. At print order meetings, in which we would present the issue to Mr. Newhouse, the executive committee, and the people from circulation and consumer marketing, the room was silent. Then Si was like, “I love it.”

Cover that got away?
A million covers got away. When we relaunched the magazine in October 2000, we shot Robert Downey Jr. for the cover. Not that they’re connected in any way, but like Tyson, he had just come out of jail, and had essentially been doing sit-ups and push-ups the whole time. He was totally shredded. Steven Klein shot him shirtless, and it was an incredibly impactful image. We also had a terrific interview. But we could not, for some reason, get Robert Downey Jr. to be on the cover of the magazine again—and it wasn’t for lack of effort.

Most painful interaction with a publicist?
There were many. I had an argument once, years ago, over the telephone with Pierre Rougier that I would hope he doesn’t remember.

Your worst close?
The first year was tough. I had very limited management experience when I was given the job.

You were 28?
Something like that. This isn’t false humility: I should not have gotten the job. I’m super grateful to Patrick McCarthy and Mary Berner and Si Newhouse for letting me have it, but I think they were probably nuts to give it to me.

Favorite driver, back in the town car days?
While I had access to, and certainly did use, those cars, our business model was a little leaner than a lot of the other brands. I was, and still am, a walker, a subway taker, and a Metro-North rider. That’s not to say that those guys who have been driving for the company a long time weren’t awesome, because they are. I’m convinced that they are also responsible, to some degree or another, for so much gossip that gets out. I was always really aware of what I would say out loud in one of those cars.

Enough with the lightning round. Obvious question: What’s next for you?
Look, this was sad; it took a minute to turn the page. But after a mourning period, it’s turned out that this has become one of the most exciting times of my career. We’re at an intersection of content, commerce, and marketing, and the opportunities to build powerful brands—and communities around them—are there for all of us. It doesn’t serve me in any way to kiss their asses—I’m done, I’m out—but it bears mentioning that there was a lot of learning from people like Anna Wintour, David Remnick, Graydon Carter, and a spectacular corporate team over 15 years. I’m going to take all that and bring it to a new evolving landscape. I’m not ready to talk specifically about where I’m going, because I’m not there yet, but the conversations are exciting. I think I’m done with traditional media, but never say never.

If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
I’d love to write a book about fear. I had an amazing conversation with Tom Hardy, the actor. He was on the cover of our magazine, and he’s a challenging guy to work with—or at least that was the perception. It bared itself out with respect to the photo shoot. I got on the phone and spoke with him, and we had a very nice conversation. He came back and, through his publicist, said, I want to do the interview with the guy I talked to last night. I did not want to do this interview, and there were far more qualified people to do it, but he was fairly insistent, so I went to Calgary, where they were shooting The Revenant, and we sat down and had an amazing conversation. It came up in the context of me saying, “You’re aware, of course, that people are terrified of you.” So we had a conversation about moving forward despite fear, which has often been a definition of courage. Much of the conversation didn’t make it into the piece, but hearing from people about how they deal with fear is really interesting, and in many ways, empowering.

What are you reading these days?
Right now, The Gay Talese Reader. “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” is the classic magazine story from perhaps the most defining era in magazine journalism, published in one of the great magazines of all time, Esquire. As I transition out of journalism—I’m loathe to use the word pivot—I want to be in touch with what I fell in love with.

The advent of mobile phones has really thwarted our powers of observation.
There’s no question that we’re better off because of the mobile devices we’re carrying around, and there’s no question that our lives will continue to be centered around them with regards to just about everything. However, yeah—instead of sitting in a train station waiting for the 5:16 and looking around at the characters floating back and forth, trying to overhear conversations, you have your nose in your phone. We’re missing out on so much, but it’s a choice. I try to be very mindful of it when I’m around my kids, but all the content we’re talking about is coming to your phone. Every now and then, it’s nice to take a second and observe what’s going on around you.

Real life is pretty interesting…
Real life is certainly the most interesting thing in the world.

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1 comment

Tom Quinn November 17, 2016 - 5:03 PM

A few typos: Okay, it’s time for a lightening<<lightning<< round.
I’m loathe<<loath<< to use the word pivot

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