A Summit of Acquisitions
To build or to buy? Such is the question facing many of publishing’s young start-ups like William F. Reilly’s Summit Business Media—a business-to-
business media company serving the insurance, financial and professional services industries. Reilly, Summit’s chairman and CEO and a 25-year veteran of the media industry, opted for the latter. He founded Summit with the acquisitions of Pfingsten Publishing and Highline Media in November 2006, with the financial backing of private-equity investment firm Wind Point Partners.
Since then, Reilly and his team have made two more significant purchases: Wicks Business Information and Agent Media Corp.
“Agent Media is an important investment for Summit because it extends our footprint in the insurance industry with market-leading products that complement our existing product lines, particularly in the life, health and annuity segments,” says Reilly. “We will continue to make follow-[up] acquisitions as appropriate to support our growth strategy, while also providing operating management with the resources and market overview to drive organic growth through new products, line extensions and alliances.”
Today, Summit Business Media’s growing portfolio is home to 15 magazines, dozens of Web sites and electronic products, and seven trade shows and conferences. Publishing Executive spoke with Reilly and Joe Bennett, president of Summit’s SB Media LLC division (formerly the Pfingsten unit), on the strategies behind the company’s first-year growth and what they have in mind for Summit’s future.
Summit Business Media (SBM) has made a number of large-scale purchases since its formation in late 2006. What do you look for when building your company via these kinds of strategic acquisitions?
Joe Bennett: We look for companies that serve industries and markets with good historic-growth records and strong future-growth opportunities. We like companies with leading product positions in each of their markets. To date, synergistic fit between the businesses has been important. Most importantly, we look for companies with strong management teams already in place.
What is the process of identifying a potential acquisition?
Bennett: Acquisition candidates generally come from three sources. First, at SBM, we have a business-development team in place whose time is dedicated to looking for good fits to the business, generating interest and cultivating relationships. Secondly, our experienced management team has developed its list of good add-on acquisition candidates. … Third, we work closely with the investment-broker community, who have their ears to the ground and routinely provide intelligence on companies that they consider good fits for our business. We’ve used all of these resources during our recent acquisition activity.
You [Reilly] commented that Summit “… will continue to make follow-[up] acquisitions as appropriate to support our growth strategy.” Can you be more specific?
William Reilly: While we do not want to telegraph our moves to the marketplace, Summit Business Media is in a growth mode. Growth will come from both organic growth and strategic acquisitions like the Agent Media transaction.
Are there any specific attributes that you look for in a company when evaluating a potential acquisition?
Bennett: Obviously, the industries served need to be able to provide good growth opportunities. Another important factor is how the businesses have performed in down markets. Finally, we like businesses that have good processes in place and display disciplined reporting procedures.
What other kinds of companies are you on the lookout for these days?
Bennett: We are very disciplined in our acquisition approach. We feel there are solid opportunities within the markets we currently serve. Having said that, we also need to be opportunistic and look for companies that meet our acquisition criteria, but may be outside of our immediate market sweet spots.
Where would you like Summit to be in five years?
Bennett: Our goal is to build SBM into a $500 million-plus … media company by adding to our financial services, insurance and professional services assets, acquiring quality assets in non-related industries that share similar traits, diversifying revenue streams with increasing contribution from electronic, database and event products, and efficiently managing the businesses.