Miller Freeman's push

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Even before last month's announcement that its parent, United News & Media, was buying CMP Media, Miller Freeman had been on a spending spree. In an effort to expand opportunities it can offer business-to-business marketers, the company has been pursuing an aggressive expansionary course in the past year, buying up new publications while jettisoning a few along the way, adding trade shows and exploring global expansion.

It's not alone. In the past few years, trade publishing has undergone a dramatic change marked by mergers, acquisitions and public offerings as companies move beyond their traditional domestic print operations to embrace international opportunities, trade shows and the Web. Sometimes the efforts work, sometimes not, but the overall effect has been a marked change in the nature of trade publishing as a marketing tool.

In Miller Freeman's case, its parent company, London-based media conglomerate United News & Media plc, has invested more than $170 million in its business publishing arm since 1998.

Last year, much of the action was overseas, with deals that included the acquisition of the Stammer Group, an Italian b-to-b publisher; the purchase of Mercofarma, an exhibition for Brazil's pharmaceutical manufacturers; and an alliance with a publishing group that plans to launch an Indian edition of LAN Magazine.

The first quarter of 1999 saw several deals in the U.S. In February, San Francisco-based Miller Freeman announced its acquisition of the Verecom Group, a tech publisher. In March, it announced the purchase of the NSGA World Sports Expo, the National Sporting Goods Association trade show, and Continuing Medical Education, a for-profit provider of continuing education for physicians.

Much of Miller Freeman's growth stems from mergers and acquisitions. In 1985, United News & Media acquired the business publisher. In 1991, Miller Freeman acquired Gralla Publications. In 1995, United News & Media's business publishing property in Asia took the name Miller Freeman. And then, in 1996, Miller Freeman's purchase of the Blenheim Group, a trade show giant, shaped the sprawling business- media company that now comprises about 270 magazines and 370 exhibitions and conferences.

What marketers want

"The [global acquisition] strategy is a long-term one," said Andrew Shanks, Miller Freeman's London-based development director for Europe and Latin America.

"Increasingly our customer base is international companies," said Ed Pinedo, who is slated to become CFO-COO of Miller Freeman later this year. "I think what we provide, in essence, is one-stop shopping."

Miller Freeman says it pursues this strategy of extending its brands -- and extending them globally -- because that is what b-to-b marketers want. Marketers require alternative ways to reach their customers in the U.S. and overseas.

For Miller Freeman, as for many of its competitors, the strategy is to focus on particular vertical markets and to offer marketers a breadth of options to reach their customers, including publications, trade shows and Web sites.

"We are not interested in acquisitions that are purely publishing in nature unless we have an opportunity to establish a trade show or a conference," Mr. Pinedo said.

The brand extension strategy is evident in Miller Freeman's Verecom acquisition. The company published two key magazines, Integrated System Design and Silicon Strategies, and it produced the annual Silicon Strategies Conference. Perhaps more important, Verecom complemented Miller Freeman's existing niche in the computer chip market. Miller Freeman produced several magazines and trade shows reaching the embedded software market for computer chip design. Verecom completed this vertical market, because it reaches the embedded hardware market for computer chip design.

"We felt we could offer a better package to those advertisers and exhibitors trying to reach this group if we joined forces," said John Pearson, Miller Freeman senior VP.

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