How do you build a global, subs-led B2B intelligence business in a decade?
AgriBriefing is a B2B media and intelligence business serving 500,000 professionals in the global agriculture sector. It has been built through acquisition and launch over the last eight years. I interviewed CEO Rory Brown at Making Publishing Pay about this journey and the lessons for other B2B media businesses.
Turning a print title into a membership business
The start of this story is the acquisition of Farmers Guardian from UBM in 2012. It was then a weekly print newsstand title, full of classified advertising, with a loyal audience of farmers.
Shortly after the acquisition, Rory announced to the Farmer’s Guardian team that the paper was due to close, and that they needed to think about what other services they could offer that would help farmers run their business better. The team generated lots of ideas over the weekend.
Of course, they didn’t close print, but converted the business into a membership proposition. This includes a subscription to the publication and services like a grants checker, market prices database, newsletters and intelligence guides.
Events built up industry presence
The next step was acquiring LAMMA, an agricultural trade show with scope to grow. The events portfolio was expanded by launching CropTec and the British Farming Awards, establishing the group as a major player in the industry and attracting new sponsors as well as generating a strong profit.
Growing premium subscription products
Being VC backed, the focus is on generating value, so the emphasis has been on premium subscription products. Key to this was the acquisition of Feed Info, followed more recently by Urner Barry.
With experience of both launching and acquiring intelligence products, Rory prefers to acquire if possible. It takes many years to build up a reputation in an industry as an authority on data and pricing, so launching is a long haul. But with an acquisition, there is scope to continually talk to customers and identify additional services that will make their lives easier and can justify a premium price.
Maintaining a strong relationship with customers and understanding the entirety of their world and the information sources they use is crucial to developing valuable subscription services. And whilst premium subscription services of this type are often called data products, the data is not in the public domain. Instead it is frequently unearthed thanks to the personal relationships within the industry established by the team, making it harder for competitors to displace.
Building a global culture
In the last few years, AgriBriefing has become a global business, following acquisitions in France and the US. Following an acquisition, Rory’s first step is to meet with all the existing team, to understand their skills and ideas for the business. Only after this is the strategic plan developed, so that the incumbent team feel a real sense of ownership.
Finding great acquisitions
AgriBriefing has developed a skill in identifying “under the radar” acquisitions. A key approach is to commission exhaustive research, trawling an industry sector and uncovering the organisations which are sources of important data.
Convincing owners to sell to you is a definite art, fully understanding their motives and intentions for the business, and demonstrating that you would be a suitable owner. Rory has often used owners of past acquisitions as references to prospective acquirees to endorse them as a good buyer.
Some excellent tips for B2B media owners here, from researching customers thoroughly to empowering teams to identify new services that will help the audience in their businesses. And a recognition that both in collating data and closing acquisitions, personal business relationships are the key.