The B2B media and information industry let out a collective gasp last Thursday when Informa announced that it intends to acquire Penton for a whopping $1.56 billion--what appears to be a 10x multiple.
Informa has quietly grown to become one of the largest B2B information providers in the world (Informa recently acquired Light Reading in the U.S. as well). Earlier this year at Connectiv Executive Summit, Stephen Carter, CEO of UK-based Informa -- which operates the type of integrated media, information services, events and academic publishing businesses many Connectiv members have or aspire to -- kicked off the Conference with a powerful keynote. He demonstrated how Informa sees data writing its future as an information provider and how the development of an in-house data platform requires both philosophical and financial commitment from the executive suite as well as investors.
“One of conclusions we came to a few years ago the markets that we were in were changing,” said Carter. “We’ve got content businesses, data businesses, conference businesses and expo businesses and all of them are facing a similar set of opportunities. And that is how we take maximum advantage of the specialist knowledge that we have.”
INFORMA'S PRODUCT MIX
Business Intelligence: Includes products such as Lloyds List and Ovum, has more than 30,000 subscribers and generates $425 million or 23 percent of Informa’s total revenue
Global Exhibitions: Drives revenue of $400m or 22 percent of Informa’s total revenue;
Knowledge & Networking: Includes media and conferences and generates $341 million or 18%, of total revenue
Academic Publishing: $680 million (37% of total revenue)
“Four years ago, we started thinking what the next path was,” said Carter. “At the time, we were a big events business (with 15,000 events per year, Informa was the largest events producer in the world). We decided that what we wanted to get into with scale was the expo biz. Branded conferences were the future, but spot conferences were challenged.”
At the same time, Informa saw the genesis of its data business, or what it calls its “Intelligence Business.” “It’s really an assembly of other businesses,” said Carter. “We’ve got good brands, great content and content products, and a backset of data that we were not extracting value from, even on a subscription basis. We had an academic business that we were working on how we drive that faster toward electronic and be subject-specific.”
The Informa Growth and Acceleration Plan, which commenced in 2013 and concludes at the end of 2017 has seen Informa invest $140 million in its infrastructure, including building out data platforms to serve the entire business. “There was no way you could take a business like ours that was historically rooted in volume events, traditional publishing and content-led business information and move it to where we wanted to be without significant investment in data platforms, customer management and the responsiveness of our platforms,” said Carter. “Organic investment is not something that the market instinctively warms to. But we had to make that move. We said that by the time we get to end of 2017, we plan to have best-in-class businesses in our three markets: academic publishing, intelligence/information services, and exhibitions/face to face. The question then is once we achieve that, how do we get the company from good to great?”
For Carter and Informa, what connects all these businesses is data. “We are at the foothills of working out the maximum value from our data collection, our proprietary data, our licensed data, our shared data and then what we do with it in a form that allows us to do more than list and leads,” said Carter. “Nothing against lists and leads—that’s a great businesses if you can make it work. But 90 percent of the available data today didn’t exist four years ago. The drive for contemporaneous analytics is just going to increase.”
Information, Intimacy, Immediacy
Informa is investing in developing more scale on data and subscription capabilities to allow immediate access and use of customer and market information. “We understand that we are in sub-niches—markets that most don’t even know exist—and the value of those sub-niches. We definitely understand the value of tailored, personal, face-to-face connectivity, and we understand the value of building a multiplatform capability,” said Carter. “What we’re doing now is building data platforms that move across the portfolio.”
Culling data from Informa’s existing publishing and events operations is key. “We work in deep contact with authors, researches, etc. but what we collect out of those relationships is hard data,” says Carter. “We’re trying to get that connection of intimacy and understanding of the customer and the analytics and the data to see where it takes us. If you can operate in markets and be a licensed citizen of those niches and identify how you can produce products, services and transaction-based insight that’s valuable to customers, that provides you with huge opportunity.”
Carter explained that harnessing the power of data and information services creates an immediacy in serving the customer that includes:
Real time: Adding a real-time component is the next level for B2B information. “Customers want to access insight and intelligence anytime, anywhere, through any device,” said Carter.
Flexibility: Data and insight that can be extracted, downloaded, integrated, adopted and personalized as added value.
Individual: Direct customer interaction facilitates personalization and strengthens relationships, and stickiness.
Social: Immediacy drives social media interaction and conversations in communities.
Data: The timing, pattern, and frequency of underlying user, audience and community activity is data that has incremental value of its own.
Carter compared the opportunity to the way Amazon tracks purchases against specific demographics and offers other suggested purchased based on that data. “That level of immediacy, speed of response to serve up to customers their previous preferences in any of our markets is a point of differentiation,” he added.
Informa’s Life Sciences unit, specifically its pharma products, is its most immediate opportunity for leveraging data with expertise and knowledge. “Pharma is probably our most unified market—we’re a major publisher, a major events producer, a major provider of information services,” said Carter. “We’re taking various pieces of that category, and working product development off the shared data platform. It’s those data-driven revenue opportunities that we see as the future of our business. That does not replace being an outstanding academic publisher, it does not replace being a proprietary data and information provider in the subscription market, it does not replace the power of the trade show or branded conference. But if you layer on top of that passion to do more and ability to do more powered by data, that’s where we see the future.”