In 2012, Neil Thackray and Rory Brown, co-founders of TheMediaBriefing website and events, acquired two rather unloved print titles, Farmers Guardian and Pulse from UBM for £10m. A couple of years later they had divested media and medical activities to focus exclusively on the huge agribusiness sector. Their strategy of growing Farmers Guardian by moving to membership, acquiring and launching events and adding in data services paid off, with a big hike in revenues and profits.
In the next three years, they made three big acquisitions in international agricultural data services: Agrimoney, FeedInfo and Urner Barry. This has taken the AgriBriefing Group up the B2B value chain into high value, global, subscription-driven information businesses.
Group revenues are now approaching £30m, with half coming from outside the UK and over half from subscriptions. Margins are high and the audience is close to half a million agricultural professionals worldwide. According to media commentator Colin Morrison, that adds up to a valuation of £150m – not bad in less than a decade.
I spent the better part of an afternoon listening to CEO Rory Brown explain his philosophy of how to build value in B2B media, how they pushed the Farmers Guardian team to think bigger, and how they stalked and won a series of acquisitions, then systematically added value to each new business.
The AgriBriefing story is shaped in part by its sequence of private equity backers, each of whom are focused on backing the management team to grow the value of the business over what is typically a 3-5 year time horizon. That obviously encouraged the team to focus on growth at pace – both organically and via a series of strategically important acquisitions in sectors of the market dominated by subscription revenue, unique IP ownership and, increasingly, agricultural commodity price discovery services. But the approach they took could apply to media businesses operating at a slightly less breakneck speed.
Rory is speaking at Making Publishing Pay in February, and will be shedding a little more light on what the team did to get to this position:
- How they turned Farmers Guardian into a membership business and grew revenues for a 175 year old specialist newspaper
- How they grew a portfolio of leading events in agriculture through acquisition and launch
- Why it is so crucially important to research customers and understand their pain points before launching any media product
- What skills and new talents a media business has to acquire to make a success of premium data and intelligence services
- How to create a strong culture that will persist as a business grows and becomes more international
- Where a leader needs to look for best practice
- How to find acquisitions and how to persuade owners to sell to you
Delegates will have plenty of opportunities to ask questions about the process and understand how they could apply a similar approach to their own media business.
Making Publishing Pay is a conference for independent publishing and media businesses that will inspire with stories of innovation and provide real-world practical tips on how to diversify revenues and build value within a media business.
See the full agenda here.
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