B2B. Britain’s acquisitive Mark Allen Group (MAG) is buying 12 predominantly international, controlled circulation (free) magazines from the 28-year-old UKi Media & Events for a price believed to be £5-6m. The B2B magazines are mainly in the aviation and automotive sectors and include: Business Airport International, Aircraft Interiors International, Business Jet International and Vehicle Technology International. They will now be managed alongside the MAG brands Ground Handling International, Ramp Equipment News, and Air Logistics International.
The acquired portfolio is estimated to have total revenues of some £5m and operating profit of about £1.5m. Twenty people will be transferring with the brands. While this latest bolt-on deal cements MAG’s reputation as the UK’s most active acquirer of B2B assets (especially in print), it serves to highlight the almost-secret rise of UKi as one of the country’s leading exhibitions organisers which primarily operates automotive trade shows in North America, Europe and Asia.
The cash-rich company was founded in 1991 by Tony Robinson as AutoIntermediates Ltd, before becoming UK & International Press. By 1997, it had moved into exhibitions. In 2000, it became UKIP and, only recently, rebranded as UKi after several years of being confused with the fringe political party of the same name. In 2017, the company made operating profit of £6.83m on revenue of £33.5m (almost doubled in 10 years), more than 50% of which was earned in Continental Europe, notably from the range of automotive testing, interiors, components, engines and interiors exhibitions it operates annually in Stuttgart, Germany. These shows have been successfully cloned, variously in North America, China, India and South Korea.
UKi employs some 150 people – little changed in the 10 years that operating profits have increased by 500%. It has been listed in ‘fast track league tables’ and its own proud reference to awards made more than 10 years ago contrasts with exhibition web sites that seldom list even the company’s own name. Tony Robinson, the all-action (motorsports and flying) founder-owner almost never gives interviews. In the past, he has said:“We have consistently put people on the phones to research worldwide communities of specialist engineering and technical people. We don’t believe in buying-in data. We want to research it and verify it for ourselves.” The company’s success has been all about organising highly technical exhibitions with great attention to the detail of providing on-site testing facilities, demonstrations and highly-rated conferences.
This brilliant specialisation in technical events across automotive, traffic, marine, and aviation has been clear from the way that some advertisers and exhibitors are said to spend up to 90% of their entire global marketing budget on Tony Robinson’s magazines and exhibitions. In that sense, this disposal of 12 magazines to Mark Allen is no big deal since most are ancillaries to the company’s exhibitions – including Aircraft Interiors whose accompanying show was sold 10 years ago to Reed Exhibitions for an estimated £1.5m.
At this stage, Robinson will be hanging on to all his exhibitions and also to a bunch of magazines (principally in automotive). You wonder, therefore, whether this week’s divestment is motivated by the soaring valuations of exhibition specialists everywhere. Could the deal be a prelude to a sale of the whole business, perhaps to one of the private equity firms which have coveted UKi over the years and are now all over the exhibitions market? The company is only slightly smaller than the similarly UK-based but global Mack Brooks for which Reed Exhibitions paid some £200m in January. What’s next?