Alison Fahey, the longtime editor-in-chief and later executive director of content at Adweek, has been let go after nearly 15 years as a senior editorial manager at the magazine, according to The New York Post.For many, she was the face of the publication during its glory years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Her Rolodex of ad agency CEO contacts is unmatched in the business.
She stopped running the editorial side in 2010, to shift to the publishing side. Nonetheless, the idea of Adweek without Fahey is the trade publication equivalent of Vogue without Anna Wintour.
Her profile at the magazine became even lower immediately prior to the disastrous tenure of Michael Wolff as editor.* Wolff was let go after just a year on the job. Under Wolff’s direction, Adweek alienated the ad agency business by shifting its coverage to mainstream media stories — such as the phone hacking scandal at News Corp — instead of the adbiz news its subscribers expected.
Current executive editor James Cooper defended Wolff in an email to Business Insider, saying, “In fact Wolff had the guts, vision and passion to fight to secure the funds needed to relaunch Adweek as a viable media brand in the modern digital era. Prior to that, Adweek, as you well know since you worked here, was badly neglected by previous owners. Hardly a disastrous tenure to have saved something from certain extinction.”
Fahey began working at Adweek as a reporter early in her career after a brief stint as an agency exec at Ammirati & Puris, sometime in the mists of the late 1980s/early 1990s (her LinkedIn profile begins, coyly, with her ascent to the editor’s office in 1998).
Once atop the magazine, she became a force of nature on Madison Avenue. CEOs alternately begged to meet her, and then — if she became annoyed with them, which she frequently did — trembled through her tirades. She labelled favoured executives “smart.” The less favoured ones were “chuckleheads.”
More seriously, Fahey’s Adweek exposed corruption in the agency business going back to the early 1990s, and won a Neal award for an investigation of bribe-taking at Wells Rich Greene, the agency founded by ad legend Mary Wells in the 1960s. At least one executive was convicted on federal charges in that scheme.
Fahey also had a flair for the dramatic. Once, while attending the Cannes Lions festival in France, she insisted on travelling to the resort via helicopter — an expense that achieved the intended effect, which was to get people talking about it. (Oddly, she’s press shy when it comes to her personally, and she hates photographs of herself.)
Her departure will be greeted with mixed feelings by those who worked for her. She was a hard-charging boss who did not suffer fools gladly. She fired staffers as frequently as she promoted them. After she became editor, she vexed staffers by declining to make story assignment decisions until Thursdays — even though the magazine needed to be transmitted to the presses on Friday evenings in order to meet its Monday delivery date. Working until midnight to close pages for Fahey was, at times, a commonplace.
But she also ran an operation that batted far above its weight, editorially. Under her supervision, Adweek frequently bested Advertising Age, even though it had a smaller, less well-paid staff than its more established arch-rival.
And, if you passed muster with Fahey, she became intensely loyal. Many of her staffers were shepherded, or shielded, by her through divorces, deaths in the family, cancer and any number of other personal problems.
In recent years, Fahey took a step back from running the magazine on a day-to-day business, and concentrated on management issues and sponsored content. She also devoted considerable time to rescuing sex slaves in Cambodia, using her own money to rent apartments for them while they retrained for normal life.
Her departure was not unexpected. She survived five or more different owners of the magazine, all of whom came on board with a new vision for the title (whether or not that vision was rooted in reality). She was known to be keen to seek new challenges outside of Adweek (hence the Cambodia thing).
Fahey leaves the magazine having seeded the ad agency business and the media that cover it with dozens of her former proteges and colleagues, including WPP spokesman Kevin McCormack, Ad Age columnist Michael McCarthy, DraftFCB spokesperson Jennifer Comiteau, Bloomberg legal reporter Greg Farrell, and myself.
*Correction: This post originally stated that Fahey was technically higher up the masthead than Michael Wolff but had less oversight over its content. Adweek’s James Cooper tells us, however, that Fahey “was in fact much farther down on the masthead than Michael and had zero oversight over editorial and hadn’t since the summer of 2010.” We regret the error.
Disclosure: The author is a former managing editor of Adweek from 1996 to 1999, and a former senior writer at its sister magazine, Brandweek, from 2004 through 2007.
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