Shenkman bids farewell to Brunico

Twenty-two years ago, Media in Canada's parent company started with a failed bid for a radio license in 1985, recalls our founder and out-going chairman.

Jim Shenkman, founder of Brunico Communications, publisher of Playback, Strategy, KidScreen, RealScreen and ‘Boards magazines – and related online products including MiC, plus events – fondly remembers what triggered his entry into the publishing biz in the mid-1980s. A lawyer by trade, Shenkman was among 22 applicants for a Toronto radio station license in 1985, including the late jazz great Oscar Peterson. But his bid was rejected by the CRTC.

‘I had been frustrated by that,’ he recalls, so he channeled that interest in media towards publishing when he realized there was no business press coverage of the radio industry at the time. ‘There was only Broadcaster magazine, but it was not really talking about business news, it was more about equipment.’

So Shenkman joined forces with former Marketing magazine associate editor Mark Smyka in 1986, and together they launched Playback (a biweekly which now focuses on the business of TV and film in Canada) and its parentco Brunico Communications in August that year. (Brunico is named for a small town in Italy).

‘I was 33 years old at the time and didn’t know anything about publishing or entertainment,’ says Shenkman, smiling. ‘We put a mailing list together and started selling some ads. . . our first issue came out on Sept. 26.’

Shenkman, now 55, celebrated his last day with Brunico on Thursday. He had been acting as chairman since April, when the company was sold to a group of investors led by now-president/CEO Russell Goldstein.

Playback took off six months after the doors opened, according to Shenkman, who recalls that one of the most encouraging signs was a contract ‘out of the blue’ from local TV station CFTO – which meant a year’s worth of colour ads.

Shenkman was itching to take his little company further, and in 1989 launched Strategy, followed by international monthly magazines KidScreen, RealScreen and ‘Boards. The print brands were further expanded to include online publications such as Media in Canada, Playback Daily and Kidscreen Daily, plus industry-leading conferences such as the annual RealScreen and KidScreen Summits in Washington and New York, respectively.

The international brands covering the business of entertainment achieved number-one status in their markets, and Shenkman’s vision and gutsy business style have been key to that success. For instance, KidScreen, which covers all facets of children’s entertainment properties, from TV to consumer products, is a unique international media brand, and while it was launched amid longstanding global competitors, KidScreen flourished and prevailed.

Shenkman never shied away from competition at home or abroad, as evidenced by the start-up of Strategy against longstanding rival Marketing magazine. ‘To this day, we’re one of the few business publications doing international events and magazines,’ he notes. ‘To balance being a Canadian company – and proud of it – with being a global company, and being so small, it’s great to be able to do that.’

His future plans include continued involvement with the International Centre – a Toronto convention facility for which he sits on the board of directors – and is in talks to help produce a conference for an unnamed non-profit organization. Shenkman is also looking for investment opportunities in entrepreneurial companies looking to grow outside of Canada. ‘I’d rather be investing than managing day-to-day,’ he says. ‘After 22 years, I’m ready for change.’

A version of this story appeared in Playback Daily.