One of the stand-out findings from the latest Media Futures research, unveiled earlier in September, is that 2019 has been a tough year, but that publishers are bullish about 2020. This just goes to show that publishers are perennial optimists, because I seem to recall reporting last year that 2018 had been a tough year but publishers were upbeat about 2019, and something similar the year before. Plus ça change.
One of the trends highlighted in the research was the continuing fragmentation of the industry with huge variations in publishing models between consumer, B2B and news media, and also within each of those verticals. There is no single template for success. We are all making it up as we go along, and success comes in many shapes and sizes.
Another key finding was the big increase in M&A activity in the publishing sector. 50% of the benchmarked companies in the research were looking at some kind of M&A activity in the next twelve months.
At the September briefing, hosted by Jim, Colin Morrison was invited to give his perspective on M&As. Listening to Colin, it occurred to me that, if business owners were looking for a sense of direction, then they could do a lot worse than prepare their business for sale. Even if they had no intention of ever selling their business, the steps needed to make their company an attractive acquisition prospect represents a pretty good publishing strategy in its own right.
According to Colin, purchasers typically look for evidence of strong recurring revenues and significant / growing market share. This will typically be underpinned by intellectual property ownership, a strong foothold in live events (the occasional breakfast briefing or webinar doesn’t count – owning the industry exhibition does), a big subs base (not necessarily paid subs, free registrations also indicate that your audience has bought into you) and high frequency of customer contact that proves you’re part of their lives (at its basic level, a weekly is better than a monthly, which is better than a bimonthly etc etc).
Tick all these boxes consistently over a number of years and you will find publishing success. It’ll also mean that, if you do change your mind about selling up and moving to the south of France, you’ll be well-placed to do so.
If you’re actually serious about selling your business then Colin had some other top advice: make your company visible, be transparent and offer up a clear strategy for the future. Telling a prospective buyer that you’re “looking for someone to take it to the next level” is lame. Your corporate website should include your strategic objectives, market share, details of financial performance, key achievements and star performers and ownership details. All of this information will probably be in the public domain somewhere, so why make prospective purchasers dig for it? Give it to them on a plate.