CASE STUDIES

Mergers & Acquisitions

Chris Ferrell, Chief Executive Officer — Endeavor Business Media

June, 2019

Chris Ferrell, CEO of Endeavor Business Media, recently spoke with MediaGrowth about his experiences in acquiring multiple B2B Media properties.

MediaGrowth:
You’ve made many acquisitions since 2017 when you started Endeavor Business Media.  What advice do you have for executives who want to acquire properties in today’s rapidly changing B2B media market?

Chris Ferrell:
There are a lot of good opportunities out there today.  A lot of properties of various sizes and configurations are available.  You can buy viable assets at low prices and finance them with debt because the multiples are not very high right now.  But, of course, not everything is going to be a good fit, so I think the most important advice I can give someone is to make sure they have a very clear rationale for why they are purchasing a particular property and a way of communicating that to all stakeholders.

MG:
Can you give us an example of a rationale for one of your acquisitions?

CF:
I try to buy properties when I know we can add value, but also, when they can teach us something that they are doing well.   We bought Gallo Business Media because they had a very successful buyers conference model that I wanted to replicate across all of the content areas where we had relationships.  Their challenge was scaling infrastructure to grow, and I knew we had the back-office ability to do that on a large scale.  We could add value by introducing them to industries in which we had relationships and they had a really good business model that we could replicate.   Our rationale is always more about sharing best practices back and forth to create value as opposed to acquiring properties to strip out a lot of cost and create profit that way.

MG:
So, after communicating a clear rationale, what’s next?

CF:
The other advice I would give would be for them to make sure their team is well-prepared with a clear integration process.  Uncertainty makes everyone nervous, so we assign an “Acquisition Sherpa” when each acquisition closes to facilitate communication and make sure that all team members know who to talk to about what.  In our case, we have people scattered all over the country and they are interacting with people they are not seeing face-to-face on a regular basis, so knowing who to talk to about any challenge that may arise is one of the keys to making it all function.

MG:
What challenges have you faced during the integration process?

CF:
Any time you’re integrating a new property into an existing company, you’re talking about a lot of change.  At Endeavor, we wind up migrating pretty much every system the acquired property has been operating on to ours; from accounting and payroll to websites and email platforms to audience development and order entry. When you’re changing all those systems there are going to people who have questions about how the new systems work and things that might even break.  Everyone must be prepared for the trauma of change and committed to continuing to put out publications, serve clients and do their jobs during the inevitable disruptions.

MG:
What about merging different corporate cultures, has that been a challenge?

CF:
That is one of the great challenges of building a company through acquisitions.  We now have a dozen offices around the country and the culture in each is unique based on the people who work there and how long they’ve been together.  Therefore, we begin by talking about Endeavor Business Media’s core values and the systems we use that are not negotiable.  Then it’s a matter of continuing to talk about what we want the values of the company to be.  We have a realistic view that the culture of an office is not going to change overnight — and we may not even want it to.   If there is a good working group in an office there is not really a reason to disrupt that.

MG:
Is it fair to say that among the many companies you have brought together, there may be times when you’ve just let a new office be?

CF:
(Laughs) Not exactly, but you have to be realistic in your expectations about how long it takes a culture to shift.  We have acquired water related brands from three different companies and those teams are now working together as a single division of Endeavor.   That requires more change than groups that are basically continuing to work with the same people that they’ve worked with in the past.

There may be times when the culture of the acquired company was different than ours, and in those cases, we just focus on core values and systems rather than trying to change everything.  We have a culture that I like to say is high in autonomy and high in accountability.

MG:
You mentioned core values.  What are some of the core values of Endeavor Business Media?

CF:
We give our business units a lot of autonomy and we demand a lot of accountability.  We place a high value on meritocracy.  When we have openings, I prefer to promote people from inside, based on their abilities and their successes in doing the things we’ve asked them to do in the past.  I really want Endeavor to be a place where people feel like their careers are being developed.  Talent is one of the most important resources we have, so giving people opportunities to improve themselves through training or through taking on new responsibilities and tackling new projects – this is something that is really important to me. That’s why I recommended Mike Ring, who was our Digital Business Development Manager and is now Vice President Digital Business Development, to speak at MediaGrowth Summit 2019.  He was doing some really good work for us.  I wanted to give him the opportunity to get up in front of peers in the industry and talk about that.  That was something that he had not gotten the chance to do before.  We try to look for opportunities like that.  One of our editors on our Fleet Maintenance publication wanted to get her license to drive a commercial truck so she could better understand the audience that she was writing to.  We made arrangements for her to take the time to do that.  Looking for opportunities like these where we can help our colleagues get better at what they do to move their careers along and better serve our clients is important to us.     

MG:
Executives at MediaGrowth Summit 2019 said that they benefitted from the breakout discussion on Mergers and Acquisitions that you led.  Is there other advice or ideas that were discussed in those sessions that you might mention?

CF:
I enjoyed those discussions too.  We talked about making sure your team and your infrastructure are prepared to do an acquisition because it can be a very disruptive process.  Being able to move everyone through it efficiently and get them to the other side can be a real challenge.  Making sure your team is prepared for that challenge and that you are not going to disrupt your core business by onboarding the new acquisition is one of the real keys to success.

We also discussed the fact that because print is so devalued in the financial industry right now, this actually creates a lot of opportunity for those of us who know how to run media properties.   We recently acquired a really strong print brand whose company didn’t have the array of digital products that we can offer.   So, we could take this team that clearly had relationships with the industry they served, teach them these digital products and roll them out to create a lot of upside for them and for us.

There are a lot of properties of all sizes on the market at the moment; one and two publications… one and two shows… all the way up to large groups that are carveouts of big enterprises.  It is possible to find those which are the right fit at the right price – the opportunities are out there.

MG:
Thanks, Chris!