One From The Archives: A Look Back at the Batty Old Condé Nast

archive121108 One From The Archives: A Look Back at the Batty Old Condé NastYesterday, the New York Post‘s Keith Kelly reported that Andrea Kaplan, a longtime Condé Nast publicist, was being laid off along with a small handful of others from the magazine publisher’s PR group.

Kaplan, who was once the head of PR for Condé Nast, has had an unusual career at the company.

In 1998, after Fortune wrote a damning profile of Condé Nast’s then-CEO Steve Florio, Ms. Kaplan lost her job as chief PR rep and was demoted.

But that’s where the story gets a bit kooky because Mr. Florio didn’t exactly tell her that he had demoted her. While he was telling her that her job was fine, he promoted Mauri Perl (who still pilots Condé’s mighty PR ship today) to the job as to PR person. After media reporters started making phone calls about it, the truth tumbled out and Ms. Kaplan, furious, resigned—only to rejoin the company later.

It’s a crazy story, and as Condé Nast’s internal culture becomes increasingly Hearstian, it’s an interesting look into the old, batty, Madison Avenue Condé Nast days.

On August 4, 1998, The Observer’s Warren St. John (who left The Observer for a paper called The New York Times) wrote in Off the Record:

If Condé Nast Publications president Steve Florio was hoping to combat Fortune magazine’s recent portrayal of him as a compulsive liar, he did little to advance his cause with his recent handling of personnel changes in Condé Nast’s corporate communications office. Indeed, it seems that Andrea Kaplan, the Condé Nast communications director who had the unenviable job of trying to convince reporters that Mr. Florio was on the level, quit her job because Mr. Florio wouldn’t level with her.

Ms. Kaplan resigned from her post on July 30, just two days after Off the Record called her seeking comment on Mr. Florio’s promotion of New Yorker publicist Maurie Perl to director of corporate communications at Condé Nast-a job description that sounded suspiciously like Ms. Kaplan’s. Ms. Perl’s appointment was news to Ms. Kaplan. According to associates, when Ms. Kaplan inquired about the rumor, she received assurances from Mr. Florio that the report was false. (Ms. Kaplan, whom colleagues said is currently negotiating her severance agreement, declined to comment for this article.) When the news item appeared on July 29, Ms. Kaplan, working off Mr. Florio’s assurances, spent the afternoon doing damage control, calling various Manhattan media reporters to tell them that her duties would remain the same.

But a day later, Ms. Kaplan learned firsthand that Mr. Florio’s word is not exactly his bond; she was summoned to the Condé Nast human resources department and informed of her demotion and Ms. Perl’s new role. The ramifications of the change were apparent simply from the titles conferred on the two women: Ms. Kaplan was a Condé Nast vice president and Ms. Perl was being made a senior vice president. Ms. Kaplan apparently found the slights by her boss too much to bear and resigned later that day.

The entire column is an incredible gem: It starts off with the story of ex-New Yorker editor Tina Brown hiring New York Press media columnist (now Culture Editor at Mr. St. John’s paper) Sam Sifton for a job at a "magazine-cum-movie project" at Miramax. (That would be Talk—ask your parents about it, kids.)