A Longer-Term Perspective On Informa - And Frankly, A Lot Of Media Companies

Earlier this month, Informa announced it will divest its Intelligence division, provided a huge boost to its stock price.But it’s also a textbook illustration of the challenges and vagaries of media-industry growth and portfolio management.

There’s a pattern in media that’s existed across decades, and sometimes leaves observers wondering about the coherence of the underlying strategy. It’s characterized by rapid buildups through acquisition — and then equally rapid selloffs.

The most recent example, of course, is the sale of Meredith Corp.’s magazine-oriented media assets to Dotdash Media. Meredith acquired Time Inc. just four years ago in one of the blockbuster transactions of the 21st century. Suddenly, Time Inc., one of the iconic American magazine companies, was no more. Meredith touted the deal in triumphant language, saying it had created a juggernaut. And yet in late 2021, the combined company was being sold to a digital upstart. (Which then used nearly identical triumphant language.)



Before that came any number of similar examples: Primedia. Active Interest Media. Cahners Publishing. Penton Media. Ascend Media.

Some — not all —were driven by the imperatives of private-equity ownership, whose whole model is: Build up fast, add value and then sell.

But Time Inc., Penton, Meredith, Primedia and others were publicly traded companies. So is Informa. So what explains these growth-and-recede strategies? Probably a lot of things, but generally speaking, it means big bets haven’t paid off.

In informa’s case, the company was formed in 1998 with the merger of IBC Group, which published the 224-year-old shipping publication Lloyd’s List, and the science publisher LLP Group plc. Following that was a period of expansion, including the 2004 merger with the publisher Taylor & Francis and the acquisition in 2005 of IIR Holdings.

In 2013, Informa acquired the assets of Elsevier Business Intelligence from Reed Elsevier. In 2016, it acquired Penton Media. In 2017, Informa acquired Dove Medical Press. In 2018, it acquired UBM.

Divestment followed in the subsequent years, with Informa selling UBM Life Sciences in 2019. That same year, it sold 20 brands to Endeavor Business Media and a group of trade shows and B2B brands to Questex. More recently, it sold its asset-intelligence unit to Randall Reilly, and this month, it announced it is selling its divestment of Informa Intelligence business.

The company believes that transaction, which could generate as much as $2.2 billion, will include the nearly 300-year-old Lloyd’s List. In any event, the transaction will likely produce a return of $1.3 billion to shareholders through a stock buyback and a special dividend.

Informa CEO Stephen A. Carter said this month the company will concentrate on just two sectors: Academic markets and B2B markets, where Carter said the company has leading brands and leadership positions of scale. "By concentrating on these growth markets, we will expand our academic and events businesses at pace through focused investment, accelerated digital growth and targeted acquisitions,” he said.

In effect, Informa’s strategy would leave it focused on academic publishing and trade shows and “doubling down” on a recovery in conferences after the collapse in physical events, said Thomas Singlehurst, analyst at Citigroup, via the Financial Times.

But without doing the math on whether 23 years of rapid-fire acquisition and divestment to see whether the company’s actually ahead or behind, the question comes down to one of two things. Is this just prudent portfolio management as markets shift? Or, is it a random scramble for growth — without strategy?


Next story loading loading..