Media Fortune Fame & Folly

Something to Think about

Sometimes the best research is the stuff that wasn’t intended for you. You can learn the most from surveys that were neither tailored to your specific interests nor affected by your prejudices. In the desperate race to understand how the pandemic may have affected the latent appetites of consumers and business people, we can productively pore through the findings of some recent research into the thinking of over 200 membership organisations in the UK.

These groups – including charities, arts and conservation organisations, unions, and sporting bodies – were polled by the UK-based ThinkPublishing, producer of print and digital media on behalf of membership organisations. It sounds a very specific target group but the breadth and diversity of these organisations might inform the thinking of B2B media companies. The key findings are:

  • More investment is planned in virtual events, video and audio; less in face-to-face events, digital magazines, and print mailings
  • Email newsletters are the most used communications channels
  • Members (still) rank printed magazines as having the highest perceived value

ThinkPublishing, as the survey’s sponsor, may have been relieved that printed magazines (like those it produces) have a high perceived value even though its business is increasingly email newsletters, video, audio and virtual events.

But it is interesting to reflect on the apparently popular combination of magazines and virtual events. Not page-turning digital products (almost nobody seems to like them) but good old-fashioned print plus the ‘new’ media of virtual events, video and audio. Will trade show and B2B media companies be prompted to consider what that might mean for the emerging generation of hybrid digital-live events?

More interesting, though, is the 22-year-old ThinkPublishing itself. It diversified into travel publishing four years ago with with the acquisition of Wanderlust (the magazine brand that everyone thinks they know). Think owners Ian McAuliffe and Tilly Boulter bought it for about £100k in 2017 and managed to treble revenue to £2.8m in three short years.

Eighteen months before the pandemic, they sold 40% of Wanderlust Publications to the US-based Morris Communications Inc. for $1.5m to create a 60% subsidiary Think Travel Media, including worldwide rights to Morris’ Where tourist brand outside North America. Then, mid-pandemic, they flipped a 90% share in Wanderlust for an estimated £1m, to George Kipouros. (In 2017, Kipouros had – with Daniel Pitchford – sold the £4m-revenue AI Summit and associated events to Informa Plc for some £15m.)

The Think owners now plan to concentrate on the digitalisation of Where, a brand once best known as a magazine on the desks of hotel doormen in the world’s major cities. Perhaps they should talk to the £100m London listed Time Out Group which has a long-established portfolio of city guides – and a great worldwide brand. A sale-merger-JV with Where could create real growth potential as the world returns to travel and tourism. It would also free Time Out’s management to concentrate on its ambitious food markets roll-out across the US, UK and the Middle East.

Any discussions might even trigger the eventual sale of ThinkPublishing itself, a brilliant ‘knows-itself’, membership services company with 40 clients divided evenly between B2C and B2B. Its reputation was built on winning awards for stylish consumer-like member magazines. It had 2020 revenue of £12m and 10% EBITDA. McAuliffe and Boulter might be in a for a busy year.