The two new PE backed businesses in the UK both made landmark acquisitions this month.
ROAR B2B was formed at the end of 2019 when Apiary Capital backed former Clarion executive Duncan Kirk and his team for the acquisition of several shows from Prsym Group. COVID meant that, 21 months on, the company is only now running their first events. Apiary kept the faith and ROAR has now added the Environment Media Group (EMG) to their portfolio. EMG has been around for more than 20 years providing information and events for the waste management and environment sector through their LetsRecycle event. The original Prsym deal included RWM, the leading UK exhibition for the recycling, resource and waste management sector so this is a synergistic add-on and Rob Mowat, the founder of EMG will head up the combined environment business.
Arc was formed in May this year when EagleTree Capital backed former UBM executive Simon Foster. We have had to wait until now to find out what their first deal is – and it’s in agriculture – acquiring the events and publishing assets of Agribriefing. AgriBriefing (formerly Briefing Media) was formed in 2012 by Rory Brown and Neil Thackray following the acquisition of Farmers Guardian from UBM with the acquisition of LAMMA – the tradeshow for agricultural machinery – quickly following. Croptech and the British Farming Awards were subsequent launches. Over recent years Agribriefing has developed into price reporting, news analysis, data and market intelligence to over 500,000 professionals in 200 countries.
Agribriefing is owned by Horizon Capital and ARES Management Corporation after backing a management buyout in 2019 and the sale of the publishing and events assets to Arc allows them to concentrate on their core subscription services. Arc meanwhile has the first deal under their belts in a deal rumoured to be around £30m and representing 8.5x multiple of 2019 operating profit. It has been reported that 70% of the revenue comes from the Farmers Guardian publication but we should expect the balance of Arc’s portfolio to swing from publishing towards trade events as they run the rule over several additional potential acquisitions in a variety of sectors.
Future Plc, the UK’s largest magazine group, has agreed a deal to acquire Dennis Publishing for approximately £300m representing a multiple of 15x 2020 EBIT. Dennis publishes The Week, Money Week, Kiplinger Personal Finance and Science & Nature as well as several tech brands such as IT Pro, Computer Active and PC Pro. The origins of the company, created by Felix Dennis in the 1970’s, lie in Kung Fu magazine and computer enthusiast publications. While I was working at Blenheim, I negotiated the purchase of Computer Shopper exhibition for Blenheim and I remember Dennis arriving unexpectedly at the Blenheim offices in Chiswick in his gold Rolls Royce and being a bit miffed that there wasn’t room for his driver to park it. He died in 2014 and the business was acquired from his estate in 2019 by Exponent private equity for £167m with proceeds of the sale going to Heart of England Forest charity which Dennis established himself. Back in 2010 Future offered to acquire Dennis Publishing for £400m but were turned down.
This is the third big deal that Future has announced in the last 18 months following the acquisitions of TI Media (£140m) and GoCompare, the price comparison website, for £594m earlier this year. Future’s expertise in the tech publishing sector is well documented and Dennis Publishing’s revenue is 56% USA based giving Future the opportunity to grow faster there. Overall 76% of the revenue comes from subscriptions which provides Future with a robust model. Not all the Dennis assets are included in the transaction – Viz, Fortean Times, Cyclist and Expert Reviews have been retained by Exponent, probably to be sold separately. Prior to this transaction, the Dennis motoring e-commerce and media business was de-merged to create Autovia which itself could be worth as much as Dennis Publishing meaning that Exponents payback on their 2019 acquisition will be substantial.
Informa has acquired 6 Wizard World’s events in the USA through its Fan Expo HQ division. The events in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Portland, St Louis and Cleveland will be rebranded as Fan Expos, joining their existing portfolio of 11 fan conventions. Fan conventions have been a rapidly growing business and both Reed and Informa have invested heavily in this sector with Informa acquiring Hobby Star Marketing, organiser of Fan Expo Canada back in 2013. Reed has also made several acquisitions including MCM Comic Con in the UK in 2017.
It’s been great to see the photos of busy September events on Linked In from around the world and to hear about the business being done face to face with relieved exhibitors and eager buyers. As this month’s analysis of deals illustrates, M&A is definitely back and, as I have mentioned in previous columns, the pipeline of transactions is very healthy meaning several more announcements this year and into early 2022. However, for all the successes there are inevitably challenges. Event suppliers who haven’t had the benefit of advance payments that have enabled organisers to weather the storm are particularly susceptible to continuing postponements, especially in countries where low vaccine take up means yet more lockdowns. So it was sad to see the announcement that Freeman Company was closing the Sydney headquarters of their event registration and technology subsidiary company Info Salons Group as a result of the financial challenges of COVID. The Info Salons international rollout was so successful that the original Australian business only accounts for 13% of their worldwide business and the international business will continue.
I first met Info Salons founder Jo-Anne Kelleway at a lunch during the SISO conference in the USA in the early 2000’s. Since then she has grown the company significantly, achieved a fantastic global footprint and moved with the times as event tech became a key tool in data capture and management before selling to Freeman in April 2018.