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Observations From Abm Top Management

Tony Silber By
11/17/2006 -03:00 AM

Thoughts from O’Hare as I’m heading back from the American Business Media Top Management Meeting. (It’s 5:30 a.m.—surprise, surprise: My flight was cancelled and spent the night in Chicago.)

First, I should have blogged AT the event, but that’s not the way it worked out. Folio: had a show daily to produce, and because of that, there was not much time for all the other things we needed to do: Pay close attention to an excellent program, develop story ideas, spend time with the many top managers and key suppliers (D+P, JEGI, RMS, Foster, Cadmus, American Press, Quebecor World, NXTbook Media, Publishers Press, Berkery, Noyes, Omeda Communications, Computer Fulfillment, CDS, ARGI, and plenty more) at the event.

I ended up spending much of the time not in the sessions, but trolling the reception areas looking for that big story. It didn’t come.

My view of show dailies is pretty emphatic: They need to NOT be about the sessions and speakers that everyone sees and hears anyway. They need to be about the buzz. They need to be conversations starters. As in, “Can you believe the management team at Penton is getting $12.5 million?” Or, “Did you hear VNU may be changing its name?” Etc. This is the lifeblood of a good daily in this space—Peter Craig called our daily a “rag,” but he’s wrong.

This is especially true of the TMM, which is all about high-level networking, with a bit of content mixed in. It’s about CEOs, CFOs and suppliers, especially bankers, brokers, lenders and private equity.

So anyway, I spend the day Wednesday looking for the next big breaking story, and didn’t get it. And near the end of the day, I reset my thinking. What ARE people talking about, if not the next big deal? And smart lenders like David VanderLugt of Goldman Sachs, Seth Rosenfield of BMO Capital Markets, David Harrington of GE Capital and others led me to the story: The world of b-to-b publishing is awash with easy money, which is helping to fuel all the M&A activity over the last year or so.

What the heck, rates are at historic lows, and lenders are willing too extend far out on the limb, providing much of the leverage for private-equity buyers. But some lenders are talking now about excess, about the climate not being sustainable. Once one or two loans default, they say, watch out.

Not to say more deals are coming fast: Look for Ziff Davis too be broken up in the months ahead and perhaps for Advanstar to come out again next year.

Meanwhile, some of the other blogs were weighing in on the conference, including a brief but typically insightful and humorous post from Rex Hammock and the ABM’s own Steve Ennen on Mediapace.

And I’m hoping my capable colleagues Matt Kinsman and Bill Mickey will be weighing in soon on the actual sessions.

Tony Silber By --

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