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Red Herring Editor Tony Perkins is a self-described maverick, a stylish fast-talker with a knack for making friends and influencing people in the high-tech world. Not bad traits for a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, but are they what it takes to publish a "m

Wednesday, Apr 10 1996
It's easy to determine if Tony Perkins is making a rare appearance at the offices of the Red Herring, the glossy monthly guide to Silicon Valley finance that he launched in 1993. Simply check the sidewalk outside the magazine's headquarters in the refurbished Hamms Brewery Building on Bryant and 15th streets. Rather than lose precious time hunting for a spot in the dusty, condom-littered parking lots out back, Perkins just parks his red Toyota 4Runner -- outfitted with "RED HERNG" vanity plates -- on any available stretch of sidewalk.

Parking tickets aren't a liability for this editor/publisher who rubs elbows with ambitious entrepreneurs and the wealthy venture capitalists who bankroll their high-tech projects; they're assets, announcing to everyone that Perkins is a risk taker whose time is much more valuable than a $25 fine. In fact, Perkins' time is so precious that it's a waste of company resources for him to supervise layout, assign photos, enforce deadlines, or tend to the other mundane concerns of running a magazine.

"It's very important for Tony to be the outside guy establishing relationships, building our image, and pursuing the vision of the company," explains Red Herring co-founder and Managing Editor Chris Alden. "He can't do that if he's in the office all day."

A visionary like Perkins belongs in the air, where he has interviewed software titan Bill Gates during an international flight. Or in New York, where he has discussed the publishing business with Norman Pearlstine, the editor in chief of Time Warner. Or in Cambridge, Mass., where he has chatted up futurist George Gilder. Or on the airwaves, where each Friday he fulfills his role as the "high-tech stock guru" on Digital Jam, a live show on CNN's financial network.

"Publishing is very addictive," says Perkins, who lists his age as 37 and resembles a softer, less intimidating version of actor Tom Berenger. "The thrill is living out a dream you write about every day."

Like any entrepreneur, Perkins never passes up a chance to promote his own creation. When he describes Silicon Valley as the "Athens of the Information Age" and claims that historians are likely to plumb the Red Herring as a reference 200 years hence, Perkins does it with a straight face. He's remarkably buoyant for someone whose first foray into publishing -- at Upside magazine, an earlier glossy guide to Silicon Valley lucre -- was a personal and professional disaster. That same upbeat optimism is reflected in the Red Herring, which celebrates Silicon Valley as an example of everything that's great about capitalism.

Designer Bart Nagel, who masterminded the look behind Mondo 2000, gave the Herring a futuristic sheen when he redesigned it in January. But while the Herring may look like a cutting-edge insider's guide, it reads more like an ingratiating alumni magazine for the University of High Tech. Each issue is planned months in advance around a particular aspect of the computer industry. This month it's "networking" and next month it's "multimedia hardware." Name-dropping columnists keep regular tabs on everything from venture capital to European markets. Friendly Q&A interviews with leading industry figures are often splashed on the cover. Company profiles fill page after page. Read the Red Herring, and one dominant trait quickly emerges -- the issues seem less important than the individuals discussing them.

"The Red Herring is the Rolling Stone of Silicon Valley," offers Anne Russell, editor of Folio, a trade publication for the magazine industry. "Every industry needs its personality-oriented magazine. In a glamour industry like tech, where personalities are such a big part of the mix, people like to see their name in print."

It's an approach that seems to be working. Wired gushes that reading the Herring "is like having a smart, if narrowly focused, investment adviser on your desk every month." Adweek dubs it "a slick yet substantive magazine that caters to the digerati." Responding to a list of e-mailed questions, John Doerr, the best-known venture capitalist in Silicon Valley and a partner at the powerful firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, calls the Herring a "must read."

Not bad for a magazine where the line between editorial and advertising is often blurred, if not erased. The venture capitalist who is the subject of a February profile may become a guest writer with a byline in March. Herring Events, another Perkins brainchild under the corporate rubric of Flipside Communications, presents a series of popular business conferences sponsored by Red Herring and dozens of companies regularly written about in the magazine. And then there's, the newly launched Website that contains Red Herring archives, company profiles, conference information, and more. Perkins invites entrepreneurs and companies to purchase links to their Web pages directly from The magazine's "Editorial Advisory Board," prominently placed in the masthead, is composed of Silicon Valley business types who've purchased the requisite number of ads to qualify. Although none has taken him up on the offer, Perkins even allows young companies to pay off advertising and sponsorship fees with stock, which would give the Herring equity in some of the companies it covers.

When the Red Herring picks a journalistic fight, it's usually with megafirms like IBM, for whom a negative mention in the magazine is less than a gnat bite, or with a company like Apple that is already on the slide.

"The Red Herring is somewhere between a trade journal and a legitimate consumer magazine," says the University of Mississippi's Samir Husni, who publishes an annual guide to new magazines. "What I call 'prostitution journalism' is acceptable in trade journals, but it doesn't go over well in the consumer market. The Red Herring hasn't quite made the transition."

The magazine has made the transition to profitability, according to Perkins, attracting full-page color consumer ads from Stolichnaya vodka and trade ads from the likes of KMPG and Prudential Securities. Perkins boasts that paid circulation is at 35,000 and climbing. Managing Editor Alden corrects Perkins, saying circulation is 35,000, but paid circ is closer to 24,000.

About The Author

Gordon Young


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