Ocean Thrive

For someone about to be surrounded by a sea of barely clothed models, all preening for his attention, you'd think Glenn Albin would sound a little cheerier. As editor in chief of Ocean Drive, it's his task to preside over the magazine's annual Volleypalooza beach volleyball tournament, where teams of female models strip down to their skimpiest bikinis, their male counterparts strategically tug their shorts below their chiseled hipbones, and then the competition's on for -- well, no one's quite sure what the final prize is. But with so much eye candy bouncing around the sand off South Beach's Eighth Street, squealing and grunting as they dive for the ball, athletic prowess is the last thing on anyone's mind.

Except Albin's. "Some of the agencies always try and throw a ringer onto their teams," he sighs in the world-weary way of someone heading off to the salt mines. He's pretty sure he spotted one of last year's presumed "models" while watching the summer Olympics on TV. And though the fashion world's by-laws on amateur volleyball are still a bit vague, Volleypalooza is for Albin much more than another day at the beach, just as he sees his editorship as infinitely more complex than merely selecting pretty faces to fill Ocean Drive's pages.

"We're never oblivious," he says. "We can't expect to be the only party in town. But Ocean Drive invented this market and we're going to stay the best party around." To the 46-year-old Albin, who cut his publishing teeth as an editor with the New York City-based Interview, his own magazine's monthly paean to all things fabulous follows a highly scientific course. "There's a unique formula that we've got firmly etched in our brains at all times."

Do tell.

"Are you crazy!" Albin laughs. "I'm not going to give it away to you!"

Albin's fears are well grounded. There are no fewer than seven other Miami-based lifestyle mags now circling Ocean Drive like sharks, each trying to steal away -- or at least peel off a chunk of -- that publication's lucrative advertising revenue: Ego Miami, Florida International, Lincoln Road, Loft, Miami Living, Nikki Style, and Vis.a.Vis. And those are just the English-language glossies.

Indeed at that Volleypalooza event last month the advertising sales reps for several of those titles could be spotted taking copious mental notes on what was shaping up to be a shrewd exercise in branding. To the spellbound crowd of onlookers the event may have been an adolescent fantasy come to life, but it was one that was simultaneously plastering Ocean Drive's name on a host of local TV newscasts, as well as garnering it free plugs on national shows such as CSI: Miami, which, thanks to the affair's skewed model to civilian ratio, was hungrily trolling for background footage.

Kulchur spied one ad rep counting off the corporate sponsors present -- from Absolut vodka and Corona beer to the Dodge Viper sports car and the Crunch gym chain -- each paying $20,000 and up for a bannered courtside booth. Midway through the arithmetic he paused, turned to Kulchur, and shook his head with a mixture of disbelief and awe: "Now this is how you run a business!"

"Everybody thinks they can get a piece of you," grumbles Jerry Powers, sitting inside his Ocean Drive office above the Beach's Washington Avenue. More than a decade on from its January 1993 debut, Powers, Ocean Drive's publisher and majority owner, says the magazine saw 2004 revenues of $14 million with a profit of $3 million, up 30 percent from the previous year. Clearly those numbers, inflated or not, are inspiring a fresh legion of celebrity-chasing hopefuls.

Kulchur begins ticking off the names of Powers's current competition, all seeking to attract and chronicle the city's glitterati via a similar template: On the cover, feature a model offering up her best "come hither" gaze, follow it with an interview of a B-list starlet, then a chat with the C-list actress whose publicist you had to appease to land the B-lister, sprinkle in a few risqué fashion layouts, add a full brace of party pictures, and voilà! You're a Miami publishing mogul!

"Well, it's not that easy!" Powers protests. He has his own list of names to reel off, twelve years of failed rivals such as South Beach, Fashion Spectrum, Channels, and Miami Metro. "I've got copies of them all that I keep at home," he adds pointedly, conjuring up an image of glossy corpses mounted like stuffed trophies around his living room. "These people roll into town, think you can just hire a writer, grab some models, and then go out and sell ads. It doesn't work like that."

Except that's exactly how Ocean Drive began in 1993, when Powers says he and co-publisher Jason Binn launched with $27,000 in seed money and little else but chutzpah. "We didn't even have an office then," he recalls. "We planned the whole first issue at the back table of the News Café." Growing excited at the memory, Powers, with a youthful energy that belies his 58 years, jumps up and retrieves a tattered mockup of his second issue from behind his desk. Its pages are entirely blank except for penciled-in names: Betsey Johnson, Diesel, the Strand, the Spot -- clothing lines, restaurants, and nightclubs he was sure would be clamoring to advertise. With that attitude, he hit the tony boutiques of the Bal Harbour Shops, schmoozing and wheedling his way into their managers' checkbooks: "We so believed in the vision of this magazine that you were either going to call the guy with the dogcatcher net to come take us away, or you believed right along with us."

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Brett Sokol
Contact: Brett Sokol

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