At the 10th annual DeSilva+Phillips Media Dealmakers Summit earlier this month in New York, the challenge of retaining creative talent following an acquisition took center stage. It was a timely discussion in light of the recent surge in b-to-b media deals.
“Talent is a keen asset in everything that we buy,” said John Zieser, chief development officer and general counsel at Meredith Corp., which has been one of the most active players in media M&A in recent years. Regardless of the type of transaction, if the acquired company has a successful track record and a thriving culture, buyers should not “mess” with it, he said during a panel discussion.
“When we pursue acquisitions, investments or partnerships, many times it's around the creative culture; and we have to be very careful about tinkering with that creative culture in a way that can become counterproductive,” Zieser said.
Miles Nadal, chairman-CEO of MDC Partners, a media holding company that owns stakes in 50 agencies, said he takes a “facilitator” approach with newly acquired companies.
“People have been successful in running their own businesses. They know their own competencies; they are fiercely independent,” said Nadal, whose company acquired media agency RJ Palmer last month for a reported $25 million. “So you need to go gingerly with how you're going to act with the new company on a day-to-day basis.”
The mood at this year's summit was decidedly upbeat. Unlike some recent gatherings, there was hardly any talk about how to manage publishing portfolios in a down economy and much more discussion focused on how media companies can adapt to a digital age.
“We've changed the culture from essentially monthly to daily and are making a commitment to have very relevant and fresh content and providing lead-gen and ROI for advertisers,” said Richard Reiff, CEO of Advantage Business Media, which was formed in 2006 through the acquisition of several titles from Reed Business Information.
Reiff said digital advertising now accounts for 44% of Advantage's overall revenue, up from “single digits” in 2006, with print generating most of the rest.
“We made sure we didn't abandon print while we worked on this transition,” he said. “It's time we start putting money back into print because it feels like it's stabilizing for us.”