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Northstar Travel Media, a leading business-information company serving the travel and meetings industries, has been acquired by the Wicks Group, making it one of the very few successful transactions in traditional b-to-b media in the last several years.
The transaction price was not disclosed, but Northstar CEO Tom Kemp described the EBITDA multiple—a critical benchmark that has been highly anticipated throughout the industry—as “mid-to-high single digits.” That number would put it at or near the top of the successful transactions in this market during the last few years, including the sale of Canon Communications to UBM in 2010 and the sale of George Little Management last year from Daily Mail and General Trust to Providence Equity Partners.
“The pricing reflects the current market and is most directly influenced by the leverage multiples that lenders are willing to put into this marketplace,” Kemp said. “It’s a good sign for b-to-b media that transactions can get done. It has not been a robust market and it has been hard to get things closed.”
In the deal, Northstar moves from one private-equity owner, BV Investment Partners, to another, Wicks. BV is a successor company to Boston Ventures, one of the pioneering private-equity firms involved in b-to-b media. Wicks is a New York-based private equity firm that invests in the media, education, and information industries. One of its early b-to-b media investments dates to the late nineties, when it assembled Wicks Business Information. “The fact that Wicks is interested in writing checks into this market is certainly indicative of the sustainable value of the b-to-b sector,” Kemp said.
Wicks will retain Kemp and his management team.
More than 10 companies participated in the management-presentation phase of the transaction, Kemp said, indicating a strong level of interest in Northstar. “The area that made us most concerned was financing,” he said. “A lot of the lenders still have a lot of distressed properties in these markets.” Industry sources say lenders have dialed back the amount of money they’re willing to loan, down to about three-times EBITDA from historic highs of double that or more.
Northstar, a $60 million company based in Secaucus, New Jersey, serves the retail travel, corporate travel management and and meetings markets. Its brands include Travel Weekly, TravelAge West, Meetings & Conventions, Successful Meetings, Meeting News, Business Travel News, Procurement.travel, and Incentive. It also produces more than 20 face-to-face events, and owns PhoCusWright, a leading research and event producer serving the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, on-line travel distribution.
The Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc., a New York-based investment bank, represented Northstar Travel Media in the deal.
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