Media Fortune Fame & Folly

AgriBriefing sells UK for £20m

Former UBM trade show executive Simon Foster’s new company Arc Media Holdings (backed by Eagletree) has completed its first acquisition in the UK – and is known to be in exclusive negotiations for at least two other events businesses.

Arc, which had formed “an exclusive partnership to build a next generation events business” with EagleTree Capital, of New York, has paid £20.5m to acquire Farmers Guardian and the LAMMA annual exhibition from private equity-owned AgriBriefing.

This might equate to about 7 x ‘normalised’ EBITDA or 1.5 x revenue. In 2020, the UK activity of AgriBriefing is believed to have had revenue of £12.1m (2019: £10.2m) and operating profit of £2m (£1.6m).

The deal involves: the information brands Farmers Guardian, Dairy Farmer & Arable Farming; and the events LAMMA, CropTec and the British Farming Awards. In 2020, they accounted for 44% of AgriBriefing’s £27 .7m revenue.

But the fact that 75% of AgriBriefing’s UK revenue has come from Farmers Guardian (much of it from print) has proved to be a stumbling block to earlier attempts to merge the company with other data and analytics providers in food and farming.

That is why we might assume that this sale of AgriBriefing’s ‘home’ business provides not so much the opportunity for the UK-based company to concentrate on the pricing and data businesses it has acquired principally in France and the US, as much as a sign that the rumoured sale of AgriBriefing itself will now go ahead.

CEO Rory Brown said this week: “Increasingly, AgriBriefing – through its global pricing, analytics, forecasting, market data and consulting units – has evolved into a very different type of company. Our premium digital enterprise subscription services Urner Barry; Feedinfo; Stratégie Grains; Agrimoney; Foreign Trade Data; Seafood News; Foodmarket & Obsono provide proprietary data and intelligence on the estimated US$5tn global trade in agricultural commodities, food and biofuel. It is a dynamic and under-served market segment with a great growth trajectory. This is the business we will continue to build both organically and through further targeted acquisitions. We are excited for the future as we grow the largest pureplay independent agribusiness price reporting agency (PRA) and market data business globally.”

AgriBriefing was launched in the UK in 2010 as Briefing Media, by B2B executives Neil Thackray (ex Reed, UBM), Rory Brown (Metal Bulletin, Incisive) and Rupert Levy (Haymarket, UBM). Brown is now CEO and Levy CFO. They eventually narrowed down to become a food-farming specialist after flirting with the medical and international media markets.

Their strategy delivered – courtesy of the 175-year-old Farmers Guardian which pushed up revenue by 57% and profit by 27% in its first four years. The success was consolidated by acquisition of the 40-year-old LAMMA machinery show and the launch of CropTec for arable farming. Then came the climb up the value chain with data-rich acquisitions, notably in Europe and the US.

But their dream deal of creating a food and farming global information leader – by merging with Informa’s then AgriBusiness division and specialist market researcher Kynetic – foundered partly on what the other parties considered AgriBriefing’s low-grade earnings in the UK. Now, that’s out of the way, AgriBriefing’s private equity owners can get a bigger deal done.

Trade show veteran Simon Foster is on his way too – and expects to make more acquisitions soon.