DIAMANDIS GOES HUNTING FOR BIG MEDIA DEALS;PALADIN UNIT HAS UP TO $500 MIL TO SPEND ON ACQUISITIONS

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Media maven Peter Diamandis and longtime business partner Robert Spillane are on the prowl for media acquisitions, looking to spend upwards of $500 million.

"I'm out on the hunt," said Mr. Diamandis, who has formed a new holding company dubbed Paladin to look for media deals. He declined to name his backers but said, "We have piles of money that we want to invest."

The company is named for the dapper TV cowboy whose motto was "Have gun, will travel."

Messrs. Diamandis and Spillane, former top guns at what is now Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, were most recently part of a consortium that sold 50% of Donnelley Marketing to Cox Enterprises for an estimated $250 million.

STILL PRELIMINARY

Mr. Diamandis said exploratory talks are under way with "about a half-dozen people, but it's in the very preliminary schmooze stage. We're looking for deals in the $100 million to $500 million range."

He is targeting profitable communication companies, including magazines, cable TV, radio and new media. "This time we want to be holders and builders," he said.

Last week, Mr. Diamandis had lunch in New York with D. Claeys Bahrenburg, former president of Hearst Magazines, who has recently received backing from Lehman Bros. to pursue magazine deals. Mr. Bahrenburg said it was "a social lunch. We're not doing anything together."

In fact, they may soon be competing with one another for magazine deals.

SUDDEN FORTUNE

Messrs. Diamandis and Spillane achieved fame-and overnight millionaire status-in the late 1980s when they purchased the old CBS Magazines for $650 million with backing from Prudential Capital Corp., renamed it Diamandis Communications and then sold a slimmed-down company to Paris-based Hachette Filipacchi for $712 million. Mr. Diamandis is believed to have personally netted about $20 million in the deal.

The pair left in September 1990 after clashing with their French owners. In 1991, they joined a consortium that purchased Donnelley Marketing from Dun & Bradstreet for $200 million.

The Donnelley units sold in late February to Cox include Carol Wright Consumer Promotions, a co-op mailer that distributes some 330 million envelopes with coupons. The other 50% is expected to be sold or spun off soon.

Messrs. Diamandis and Spillane resigned their posts as vice chairman and president-CEO, respectively, at Donnelley. The company's headquarters then moved from Stamford, Conn., to Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. The pair also served as board members of financially embattled TVSM, publisher of the Cable Guide.

TURNING AROUND

That company was overleveraged and in default on its loans when Mr. Diamandis was tapped in 1992 by the lender to step in as chairman. He said it has recently turned around and is once again profitable, although ad pages are still sliding. In the first quarter, ad pages dropped 27.1% from the same period last year to 64, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Mr. Diamandis said TVSM hopes to do an initial public offering "sometime in the next 18 months."

Mr. Diamandis is also on the board of Big Flower Press, which prints and sells free-standing inserts and Sunday comics. The company, which went public in November, had pro forma revenues last year of $1.3 billion.

Big Flower is headed by former Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. dealmaker Theodore Ammon and counts Apollo Advisors, headed by Leon Black, as a principal investor.

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