What’s behind the Gatehouse biz newspaper strategy
Adam Reinebach is the chief executive officer of BridgeTower Media, which is part of Gatehouse Media, a newspaper company that owns more than 100 newspapers across the country.
BridgeTower Media is the subsidiary that operates Gatehouse’s business publications.
In 2015, Gatehouse acquired the business newspapers previously operated by Dolan Media for $35 million. Those include 39 business, law and politics titles in 17 markets such as Long Island Business News, New Orleans CityBusiness, Arizona Capitol Times, the Daily Journal of Commerce in Oregon, Finance & Commerce in Minnesota, and the Idaho Business Review.
Since that time, the company has acquired other business news operations, including NJBiz.com, the Rochester Business Journal and the Central Penn Business Journal. Earlier this week, it acquired Color Magazine, which focuses on diverse workplaces.
The operation changed its name from Dolan to BridgeTower Media last year.
Reinebach joined the company in early 2016. He previously ran Responsive Partners, a consulting firm he founded that catered to business-to-business media companies. Before that, he was a managing director at SourceMedia, the parent of American Banker and The Bond Buyer, where he handled the paid subscriptions business. He started his career as a reporter for Investment Dealers’ Digest and The Jersey Journal.
Reinebach spoke Tuesday afternoon by telephone with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.
What attracted you to this job running business publications?
When I joined, the parent company of BridgeTower, Gatehouse had just acquired a company called Dolan. And I was somewhat familiar with that company because I had looked at it with a private equity firm earlier in 2015. When I had conversations with [Gatehouse CEO] Kirk Davis, he said there was an interest in b-to-b media and an opportunity to grow, and we need someone to develop this niche. It was a nice mix of subscription, events and advertising revenue, and I was familiar with that type of business.
Dolan had come out of bankruptcy and a private equity ownership, in a batten-down-the-hatches mode, so to be able to come on board with a mandate for growth was an intriguing opportunity.
Why has the company been buying business publications in the past year?
The first one that we did was Journal Multimedia. We ended up closing in May. It was a number of business journals and a couple of magazines and an events unit. I was also familiar with that company, and I knew some of their brands.
We see an opportunity to develop a large b-to-b media organization that leverages core competencies in digital, research and marketing solutions. It’s been highly enjoyable so far, and we have a hard-working team. Including Dolan, we have done four deals in 13 months.
And in August we did a re-branding because the Dolan name wasn’t really relevant any more. We wanted to get to one corporate brand without taking anything away from the local brands.
Are you still interested in being an acquirer, and what do you look for?
Yes, we are still looking for acquisitions. Our M&A strategy is to acquire high-performing b-to-b products and people and give them in-house knowledge and resources in areas like thought leadership and audience development.
About six months ago, we established an inside, centralized sales team in Illinois. And that has grown. Subscriptions make up close to one-fifth of BridgeTower’s revenue. If we invest in areas like inside sales, which can benefit the entire organization, our belief is we can improve the performance of the companies we purchase.
In terms of verticals, we like the legal space. We like the business space. The bulk of our titles are in the legal and business arena. We also like construction. We have a few brands that cover that market, such as Portland, Oregon, which covers and serves contractors. Portland also provides a data product that is geared toward contractors. It’s basically a way to alert them to when there is a construction bid and can be tailored to their parameters. We’re trying to explore ways of doing that in legal and general business as well.
What about starting a business publication from scratch in a market?
We would consider launching something new. But we don’t want to create a me-too product. We’d want something that was a bit unique. We’d want to make sure that we’re providing something of real value that is better than what is already out there or is fulfilling a neglected niche.
Business weeklies owned by other companies such as Crain and ACBJ have seen an increase in circulation. Is that true for you too?
It is true. And we’re seeing it in a couple of areas. We’re seeing it with paid subscriptions and our e-newsletter circulation. Audience development is a big area of focus for us this year. It’s an example of where some of the brands that we acquired had not made a big investment in audience. We are actively acquiring more professionals who are interested in our relevant content.
What’s the strategy behind growing this business?
One way is by acquiring high-performing assets in areas where we currently do not have a presence. Certainly in tandem with that, we believe there is an opportunity to grow in the subscription arena. Some of that is better blocking and tackling. Some of it is looking at product development and how we can better serve the readers of our websites and publications within their workflow.
Another important growth area is digital advertising. The whole print to digital advertising migration is nothing new. But with these particular products, there is still a lot of runway there. We’ve trained all of our sales people on programmatic advertising, and in a lot of areas that they previously weren’t as well versed in. Now, being part of a larger organization, these publications have the ability to fulfill just about any digital ad campaign.
The other big area for growth is thought leadership. If you are a law firm or accounting firm or any sort of professional organization where it’s important for you to demonstrate your expertise, thought leadership is a way for you to show that.
How important are events to this business?
In our events business, we tend to get the right people in the room. We really are the connective tissue in these communities. We hear that from attendees and sponsors all the time. Events are a place where you can not only network but find new, local business opportunities.
We don’t do multiple-day trade shows. When we do an event, it is very focused and may be from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. We’ll do awards dinners that may be three or four hours. But we don’t go much longer than that because everybody has their day jobs. We do close to over 150 events across the company every year.
We’re also looking at how we can select topics that are highly relevant but may be under served. We just did a morning event in New Jersey last week where we focused on transportation and logistics. That’s a very important topic for these local economies, but it’s not an area that gets covered very much. Because we have an engaged readership and good editors who understand the markets that they cover, we can drill down on a topic like that and have 100 people show up and walk away saying, “OK, I learned something.”
Is growth potential different for the legal publications than the business publications?
It’s hard to say whether one has more growth potential than another. But the way that you grow for a general business publication, there are certainly more options. You can go deep in many different niches.
In the legal space, you can do that as well, but you’re covering one group of professionals, so perhaps it’s a bit more limited. Having said that, as we get larger, we have launched a couple of national newsletters in the legal space that have been very well received. And we are taking a hard look at some national opportunities that look appealing as we expand.
What’s the one thing that most people in the media business don’t know about business publications that’s important?
Most people undervalue the intricacies of local and regional markets. What works in New Jersey or Portland might not work in other markets. When you visit these communities, you can see the nuances.
There is a lot of variance. There are markets where business relationships are more territorial than others. Each economy or community has its own flavor. Covering the ins and outs of Missouri law or the latest energy bill in Oklahoma City is not easy to do.
We have a number of reporters and editors with law degrees, and really smart journalists. I’ve been consistently impressed in talking to subscribers and hearing about the importance of our role in these markets. We certainly want that to continue.