PR in the Blood

'SPY' Backer Now Brings You the Learning Annex

"After we sold it, people went their own ways," says Schragis. Carter rose to become editor of The New York Observer and Vanity Fair, while Andersen did stints at Time, New York, and The New Yorker before launching Inside.com. Meanwhile, Schragis concentrated on book publishing. Back in 1989, he had assumed control of three imprints—Lyle Stuart, Citadel, and Birch Lane—under the umbrella of Carol Publishing, named after his mother. Post-SPY, he kept a hand in the hype machine.

Schragis explains, "I never spent a penny on advertising at Carol. I had a big PR staff, and we'd come up with new ways to promote things." Carol was best known for its lowbrow celebrity bios (think Sharon Stone, Calvin Klein), which Schragis says accounted for 10 percent of the business and 90 percent of the publicity."We built our company from publicity," he declares.

After Schragis sold Carol for $2.5 million in 2000, he consulted for Cahners Publishing and taught law in New York and Chicago. It was a dark phase during which he says "I was not happy," so when he was asked to interview at the Learning Annex, he jumped. He wanted the job badly enough to work as a consultant for three months. The low point for his public image may have come when The New York Observer referred to him as the Learning Annex's "booker."

Laugh all you want. In his new gig, Schragis may have even more visibility and patronage than he had at SPY. The only thing he finds odd is that he's not the boss; he reports daily to an "ownership group" in California. But he has no trouble selling the product: "In many ways," he says, "the Learning Annex has emerged as a cultural barometer of what's hot and what's not."

If nothing else, Schragis is living up to one of the rules of buzz advertised in his own catalog: "Develop a winning attitude, persona and image—then market that for all it's worth."


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