Business & Tech

BOLD TYPES

Celebrity chef aims to know what you want before you know

Chris Morris for The Boston Globe
Christopher Kimball

When he was the face of “America’s Test Kitchen,” Christopher Kimball often determined what to feature in its cooking shows and magazines by the recipes his audience wanted.

But with his new venture, the celebrity chef says he’s trying to figure out what his viewers and readers want — before they know they want it.

“I have to sell them on something they don’t know they want,” Kimball says. “That’s a harder proposition, but it’s more interesting.”

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The media venture, known as Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, just wrapped up its first full year, and the approach seems to be paying off. He says his 32-person firm’s eponymous bimonthly magazine has at least 135,000 subscribers, with another nearly 25,000 copies selling on newsstands. And more than 90 percent of public television stations across the country carried Milk Street’s first 13-episode season.

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Kimball’s parting from ATK in late 2015 was not amicable. The two sides remain embroiled in high-profile litigation: ATK argues that Kimball secretly started working on a rival venture and plotted to undermine the company while still in a leadership role at ATK, while Kimball claims that he was unfairly being pushed out of a company he had helped to build.

Boston-based ATK points to a number of similarities between what Kimball did there and what he’s doing now. But Kimball says he is taking a dramatically different approach by focusing on how cuisines from around the world can better inform the more traditional types of American cooking. “I’m learning how to cook again,” he says.

Milk Street crews have visited 20 countries so far; Kimball flew to Japan last week. His TV shows are filmed either on location overseas or in his Milk Street studios in downtown Boston. His radio shows, meanwhile, are largely recorded at WGBH’s studios.

Among his challenges for 2018: figuring out the best ways to expand the brand, possibly through more licensing deals for products or with cooking schools in other cities.

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“The real trick is to create something that has a personality,” Kimball says. “That really is the hardest and most interesting part of the job.” — JON CHESTO

Full Contact’s ads for car dealers: No crazy driving

Full Contact cofounder Marty Donohue’s ad agency has done some wacky things to promote clients: hiding Patriots star Tedy Bruschi in a trailer outside a Papa Gino’s and commissioning a song and video with David Hasselhoff about the virtues of Cumberland Farms iced coffee.

Donohue is taking a decidedly less crazy approach with Full Contact’s newest client, the New England Honda Dealers Advertising Association. Donohue says the group spends $15 million to $20 million a year on advertising, making the new account one of Full Contact’s biggest wins. He expects 10 to 15 people, of the agency’s 30 employees, to work on the account.

The first Full Contact-designed TV spots should air in early February, in time for the Presidents’ Day sales. They will feature “vignettes of life in New England,” with a goal of standing out from the generic ads typical for the auto industry. Donohue says he wants to highlight how Honda’s reliability and practicality reflect values that are important to New Englanders.

So it’s a safe bet we won’t see the Hoff return on water skis, singing “Thirsty for Your Love.”

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“There’s going to be humor to them, for sure,” Donohue says. “But I think it’s going to be genuine humor that people can relate to.”
— JON CHESTO

Ex-Webster Bank CEO targets Conn. economy

One of New England’s most prominent bankers has an ambitious post-retirement challenge: fixing Connecticut’s economy.

CVS Health just decided to keep Aetna in Hartford, after the drugstore chain finishes its acquisition of the insurer later this year. And Jim Smith hopes there could be more victories for his home state on the way. Toward that end, the newly retired Webster Bank chief executive is cochairing an emergency task force of sorts, charged with delivering recommendations to Connecticut’s General Assembly by March 1 for improving the state’s economic competitiveness and fiscal stability.

Smith cochairs the group with Bob Patricelli, a prominent health care entrepreneur. Other commission members include Eversource general counsel Greg Butler, Stanley Black & Decker CEO Jim Loree, The Hartford CEO Christopher Swift, and Bigelow Tea CEO Cindi Bigelow.

The new commission grew out of talks among concerned business leaders, informally dubbed the Friday Group, Smith says. He says the process underscores the need for the Nutmeg State’s various corporate constituencies to have a more united voice, and he hopes the commission report can provide that rallying cry.

More specifically, Smith says he’d like the group to figure out ways to tackle the perpetual deficits that plague the state budget, a structural imbalance that has long destabilized state officials’ approaches to tax policy. And he wants to come up with ways to improve transportation spending — to buttress the state’s road, rail, and airport infrastructure.

While Aetna is staying put, Alexion Pharmaceuticals will soon follow in General Electric’s footsteps to Boston. Smith knows urgent action is needed to prevent other companies from heading out of town.

“Our view is that we will have, through our recommendations, the potential to change the course of Connecticut’s future,” Smith says. “As much as we’re optimistic about Connecticut and its great assets, we realize our competitive advantages are diminishing in some areas, and our weaknesses are becoming more glaring.” — JON CHESTO

Clinton (as in George) gets funky for new brew

Not every craft brewer can get George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic to come to town for a simple beer launch. But then, Boston Beer is quite a bit larger than the typical craft brewer.

Clinton and his band came to the Royale last week to play in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000 people, to promote Boston Beer’s new Samuel Adams brew, the Sam ’76 — a lighter beer (for Sam, at least) developed for mass appeal.

The crowd, according to a spokeswoman, included distributors, bartenders, retailers, and restaurateurs. Kennedy Elsey, of Mix 104.1’s “Karson & Kennedy” show, emceed.

During the two-hour set, Clinton played classics such as “Give Up the Funk” and his newest track, “I’m Gon Make You Sick.”

It’s safe to say Boston Beer won’t be using the latter song in its new TV ads. — JON CHESTO

Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.