Rodale's 'For Sale' Sign Comes With Caveats

Family-Owned Company Looking for Investors

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NEW YORK ( -- If Rodale isn't for sale, the sharks are certainly circling -- and the company is providing bait. Several people said they have seen a black book on the company from JP Morgan, Rodale's bank of record, describing its business and seeking ways to expand.
Rodale President-CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy
Rodale President-CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy

A spokeswoman declined to comment, citing company policy against responding to rumor. A person close to the company said the books now circulating are not "sale books" and that the company is not for sale. "Rodale has had from time to time discussions regarding partnership opportunities but nothing is in the offing right now," the insider said.

Many approaches
And indeed several suitors have approached Rodale, the publisher of magazines such as Men's Health and Prevention, about buying the company this year -- only to be rebuffed by President-CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

But the company is actively looking for help reaching its next phase of development. Observers said it would be unusual to circulate a memorandum if selling an equity stake, or more, wasn't at least an option. "They've got all these relationships with banks and private equity, so if all they want is to get $100 million, it is odd that they went to the trouble of putting out a book," an observer said.

Likely partners -- or suitors -- include the strategic sort, such as Hearst Magazines and Meredith, and private-equity players including Boston Ventures, Catterton Partners, Elevation Partners, Veronis & Suhler and Abry Partners.

Sale rumors
Rumors of a sale have swirled all spring and summer. When Rodale sold Backpacker magazine to Active Interest Media in May, there was some talk that maybe that process had underpinned the rumors. But the talk has all resumed; the New York Post reported July 25 that Rodale is looking for strategic partners.

One reason it makes so much sense is that the company has reached a scale that requires increasing spending to keep growing -- and means that the contributions of its smaller businesses are becoming less influential on the bottom line.

The Backpacker sale suggested as much, said Polly Perkins Johnson, business-development director at AdMedia Partners. "Rodale is at a tipping point, where Hearst was maybe eight years ago, and that is recognizing that they could no longer sustain within their infrastructure and overhead the smaller properties," she said. "Therefore it sold Backpacker, yes to get cash but No. 2 to allow a smaller property to blossom on a smaller platform because the overhead of companies as they grow begins to crush these smaller properties."
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