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Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day 

Completely off topic, but Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all. While this day of boozing and corned beef and cabbage is largely an invention of Irish Americans (and adopted now as a tourism strategy by Ireland itself), it does make a nice Spring celebration for anyone who has a little Irish in them (and given what I know about the Irish, the odds are pretty good that most of you have an Irishman or three somewhere back in the family tree).

In honor of this day, I present my Grandmother's family recipe for Irish Coffee, a drink that has the beneficial effect of keeping you awake throughout your heavy drinking.

Make a double or triple strength pot of coffee. It's got to be strong.
Use Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey (my grandfather's favorite).
Make fresh whipped cream, but don't whip it fully, and use half as much sugar as you normally do--or better yet, none at all.

In a glass, place two teaspoons of brown (never white!) sugar, and whiskey to taste. Stir and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the coffee.
Layer the half-whipped cream on top (achieving an effect similar to a well poured glass of Guinness.)
Sip away.

The strong coffee, brown sugar and half-whipped cream make all the difference.

Here's to you, Grandma! (Still with us, thankfully, in her 80s).

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Let the Dogs Out 

If you manage multiple media properties, or plan to, then this article from Booz Allen Hamilton's Strategy+Business ("Love Your "Dogs") is worth a read.

We all tend to invest time, effort and resources in our biggest and best performing assets, and shortchange those properties that we see as dogs. But as the authors conclude, that's not the best way to create maximum return.

Using the tools of behavioral finance, which "is founded on the precept, as economist James Montier puts it, that 'not only do investors make mistakes, but they do so in a predictable fashion,'" the article analyzes the stock market and finds:

Investors overvalue “glamour stocks,” those in vogue as evidenced by their high market-to-book value ratios or high price-to-cash-flow ratios. And they undervalue “value stocks” — identified by such measures as low market-to-book value ratios or low price-to-cash-flow ratios — even though a vast amount of research conducted over the past few years has shown conclusively that a portfolio of “value” stocks will consistently outperform their more popular “glamorous” counterparts.

and

Automatically directing resources to businesses with the highest accounting returns, for example, may not be the best strategy. Selling your dogs may be counterproductive. Instead, resources should be allocated to those businesses that offer the greatest future increase in shareholder value.

I find two interesting connections here. One is to an excellent post by Kathy Sierra on "How to be an expert."

She summarizes:

Most of us want to practice the things we're already good at, and avoid the things we suck at. We stay average or intermediate amateurs forever.

While Kathy is focused on the dedication required if we want to rise above amateur status in anything we do, I think there's a lesson here for corporate strategists and investors, and some strong support for the theory that you should love your "dogs" and focus effort and time on them.

Another connection is to the tendency of larger media companies to avoid making smaller M&A deals, under the theory that tiny acquisitions take as much time, effort and pain as larger ones (I've felt this way, as well) but aren't as rewarding. See my recent post on "Little Deals." In this era of front-page b2b media deals, maybe we'd all be better served by looking for those deals that fly way under the radar horizon?

As the Strategy+Business article finds:

• Buying and fixing someone else’s dogs will produce more shareholder value than buying stars

Adding value to an overvalued business is a tall feat, especially on top of the premium that acquirers typically pay for a controlling interest in an enterprise. It is no wonder that two-thirds of acquisitions fail to add value for the acquiring shareholder. The right dogs, on the other hand, could offer a company focused on operations wonderful acquisition opportunities.

Far too often, senior executives attempt to diversify out of their core businesses, selling underperforming business units and buying their way into businesses that appear to be more attractive. The beneficiaries tend to be the private equity firms that are usually the buyers of these “unattractive” businesses. Those companies that have done the opposite — concentrated on their underperforming core business units — have tended to perform much better.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Moveable Feast 

Nice meditation on Johannes Gutenberg and e-paper, by Bruce McCabe in The Australian. While it's speculative--who knows what Gutenberg would think these days?--I liked it anyway.

Grab:

He was an inventor at heart, and would have seen the development of e-paper as a natural extension and improvement upon traditional paper, just as paper was a natural progression from vellum, papyrus and clay tablets.

Nor would he have been nostalgic about the displacement of traditional books in the way that many people (including me) would feel today.

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Blog Cruise 

Blogonomics is hosting a "business blogging conference cruise" October 5-9. Early bird discounts end today.

I've had some experience using cruise ships for business conferences. It'll be interesting to see how this particular event comes off. (Note: October, Caribbean...hurricanes). Which explains the attractive rates, I guess.

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Open Source Search and Cool Search 

If:Book's Bob Stein worries about Google:

do we really want to give this much power [to collect data] to a private corporation whose first allegiance is to shareholders rather than the body politic?

and then wonders:

what i can't figure out is: why isn't there a movement to develop a nonprofit, open source search engine? we have mozilla, we have wikipedia, we have linux. where is the people's search engine? isn't it time?

In the meantime, Content Matters points to Rollyo, which allows you to "roll your own" search engine, creating a focused (Yahoo) search of up to 25 websites. I tried it out, and of course found that this was old news to Rex Hammock, who created this Rollyo magazine resources search.

I put together a Rollyo search of some of my favorite b2b media-oriented sites. You can see the search box up at the top right of this blog, or you can click here.

While a targeted search doesn't answer fundamental questions about privacy and data collection, it's certainly cool. You may want to consider adding a Rollyo search to your magazine's or trade show's website.

Update: Rollyo has caught Dave Jung's eye, as well, in this post entitled "Fix Google, please."

Grab: The search world is getting some potentially better choices and I don't own any Google stock to worry about. I've already changed the default search tool on Firefox to ASK at work and Yahoo at home

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Little Deals 

This blog has been on a massive M&A jag recently, but while the big M&A deals seem to get all of the press, most of us tend to do smaller deals.

"Small" is in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure that for a big b2b company, small might be a $10-$15 million (or higher) acquisition.

The biggest deal I ever did was valued in the $30 million range. The majority of my acquisitions were far smaller--in the $500k to $3 million ballpark. And those kinds of deals are different.

For an excellent overview of "The Art of the Small Deal," see this month's Folio:. Broker Michael Kreiter, of W.B. Grimes & Company, lays out the issues and expectations from both the buyer's and seller's perspective.

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Trans World Publishing 

From the New York Post's Keith Kelly:

Art & Antiques is on the block and sources say that "Wild Bill" Curtis, head of CurtCo Media is closing in on a deal.

The current owner, Doug Billian, owner of Trans World Publishing in Atlanta, declined to return a call.

Most of Billian's magazines are business-to-business titles and the A&A magazine has been something of stepchild.


I point to this for several reasons:

1) CurtCo has built an excellent stable of specialty high-end, high net-worth properties.

2) I wasn't familiar with Billian Publishing or Trans World Publishing. They also produce Boating World, Textile World (with Chinese and Latin American editions) and Billian's HealthDATA Group.

3) It seems as though print media M&A continues to flourish at all levels.

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M&A: Reed Elsevier Weighs In 

Not to be left out of the Euro media M&A boomlet, Reed Elsevier plans to make some decent acquisitions this year, according to BtoB Media Business.

Grabs:

"Our acquisitions have ranged broadly from the $50 million to $500 million sort of range," [Reed Elsevier CEO Clive] Davis said during the conference call. "I would anticipate that being the scale of acquisitions going forward." He said the priority acquisition targets would be in the legal, health care and b-to-b online markets but said no major deals were on the horizon.

but

One media-investment banker, who asked not to be identified, said there's been speculation in M&A circles that Reed may want to unload Reed Business Information. The unit recently put its 23-title New Products Division and portfolio of North American industrial and manufacturing events on the block. "But his recent comments make that less likely," the banker said.

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