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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Small biz

By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

Divorced and a single mother with four children, Elisabeth Familian was in a jam. The socially prominent divorcee suddenly had to get a paying job for the first time.

For 27 years, Familian had been married to multimillionaire Gary Familian, whose grandfather founded Familian Pipe and Supply Co. and whose father owned Price-Pfister Inc., one of the nation’s largest plumbing supply companies. That marriage afforded Elisabeth Familian a lavish lifestyle and prominent social position, but it all came crashing down in a 1990 divorce.

Familian had never worked at a business before, although she had experience running a household. Her activities on the L.A. civic scene also taught her a few lessons about being financially responsible.

“I was a founding trustee of the Children’s Museum, which had an operating budget of $1 million,” she said. “People don’t realize that, being a volunteer, you can learn more about business than you can in business school.”

Familian’s volunteerism led to a career in publishing. As president and publisher of Trio Communications, Familian now puts out three publications Los Angeles Masterplanner, New York Masterplanner and Inside Events.

The two Masterplanner monthlies are essentially listings of all the political, cultural and civic events scheduled to be held in those cities. Inside Events is a four-color, glossy quarterly magazine with articles on entertaining, social protocol and cultural venues.

While married to Gary Familian, British-born Elisabeth frequently appeared in local society columns for her civic work with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s Political Committee, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Music Center.

Familian frequently had to decide which of several conflicting charity or civic events to attend. Others in her circle also complained of scheduling conflicts. Among them was Jackie Applebaum, a public relations expert.

The two huddled and a business was born the Los Angeles Masterplanner. That was in 1986 and, money aside, Familian recalled the importance of landing a career.

“I wanted my children to have a role model,” said Familian. “I wanted them to see someone getting up every morning and going to work.”

The two women scraped together $15,000 as seed money for their start-up, some of which came after Familian sold a portion of her art collection.

The incipient publisher began asking advice from friends like former Mayor Tom Bradley, former NBC Chairman Grant Tinker and Marc Nathanson, chairman of Falcon Cable.

“I think it is a very clever idea and I wish it was my idea,” said Andrea Van De Kamp, chairwoman of Sotheby’s West. “For years people have asked, ‘Where is the central spot for what is going on in the city?’ This is the one spot where you get a clue. She knows a lot of people involved with charity work and is well connected, and has put it all to good use.”

“It is almost like the Yellow Pages,” said Bruce Corwin, a local philanthropist and chairman of Metropolitan Theaters. “You let your fingers do the walking. It’s the first place you turn to when you want to see what the competition is doing on the charity/political fund-raising circuit.”

Familian started the business when a friend offered her free office space at the Bank of Los Angeles. A prototype for the Masterplanner was created and mailed to 12,000 people. Inquiries followed from companies and ad agencies interested in buying space, but Familian and her partner did not know what rates to charge.

“We pulled numbers out of the air,” she said.

She found that working for a living wasn’t easy. “After 18-hour days, I began to ask myself what was I doing,” she said. “But a lot of people had put their faith in me, people like (SunAmerica Inc. Chairman) Eli Broad and Ramona Ripston (head of the ACLU in Los Angeles). I didn’t want to give up.”

Familian handled the day-to-day operations of the new company, especially the editorial side, while Appelbaum, who left the company first in 1987 and finally in 1993, focused on marketing and publicity.

“We had to establish guidelines for the events,” Familian said. “We would only include major political, civic or cultural events. Later we added events that were by invitation only, so people might inquire about how they could get into them.”

In its first year, Masterplanner revenues were $50,000. Last year, they climbed to $600,000, and for 1998, Familian estimates revenues will exceed $800,000.

Current rates for the monthly guide are $125 for a six-month subscription or $225 for a yearly subscription that includes quarterly issues of the glossy Inside Events.

Subscribers include Walt Disney Co., the William Morris Agency, Creative Artists Agency, Mike Ovitz, the Los Angeles Times, Esquire magazine, Gov. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis.

“It is very accurate and stays up to date,” said Stanley Sheinbaum, former president of the L.A. Police Commission. “A lot of people swear by it when they plan their own events as I do.”

In 1992, Arthur Levitt, founder of Levitt Media, met with Familian and planned a merger. His company published theater guides in New York, Washington and Chicago. The two worked out a business plan that would also include a glossy magazine supplement, Inside Events.

The plan also included development of Masterplanner publications for New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The day before the two were to meet in New York to finalize the deal, Levitt phoned. The good news was that he was going to be named chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bad news was that all his assets were to be placed in a blind trust, and he could no longer make any acquisitions.

“I crashed,” said Familian. “It was tough.”

But she still had Levitt’s plan. Familian reorganized her company under the name Trio Communications, and she plunged ahead. Inside Events was launched and drew such advertisers as Absolut Vodka, Loews Hotels, Giorgio Armani, Paramount Pictures and Disneyland.

“We turned a profit after our second issue,” she said.

The New York Times now carries it as an insert in Southern California editions four times a year. Regular subscribers of the Masterplanner also get it.

“We are planning to do stories by a psychologist about the stress of planning a party and the tension of being a guest,” she said. “We are very focused on being a narrow publication. You have to know what you are.”

Familian also started a New York edition of the Masterplanner last year. Among her 2,000 subscribers are Richard Gere, David Rockefeller, Ann Bass, John Guttfreund and Bryant Gumbel.

Coming soon, Familian said, will be a Masterplanner Web site that will provide up-to-the-minute updates on events and classified advertising plus links to other areas of interest. There are also plans to launch a Masterplanner for Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, and Dallas.

“We finally got the kinks out,” she said.

Year Founded: 1986

Core Business: Event-planning information guides

Revenues in 1986: $50,000

Revenues in 1998 (projected): $800,000

Employees in 1986: 2

Employees in 1998: 6, plus freelance writers

Goal: To grow the company by creating a network of event planning information guides for other cities.

Driving Force: Need for one-source directories on cultural, political and civic events.

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