A prominent topic of chatter among B2B attendees at BIMS, the Business Information and Media Summit, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last week was whether Clarion Events will divest the non-tradeshow assets of PennWell Corp.
Seven different executives, speaking in clusters between sessions and again in direct followups, indicated an awareness that Clarion, the London-based tradeshow operator that acquired PennWell in April, is considering or already is engaged in a process to sell PennWell’s non-tradeshow assets.
An eighth prominent B2B executive who wasn’t at the event also was aware that Clarion is evaluating a divestment of PennWell’s media assets.
A Clarion spokeswoman, Olga King, declined to comment on the BIMS conversations. PennWell CEO Mark Wilmoth also declined to comment, saying that neither he nor senior managers at the company are making public statements about a potential divestment, or even whether such a process exists. When asked directly whether the speculation is groundless, neither King nor Wilmoth responded.
In a sense, it’s not surprising that Clarion would divest some or all of PennWell’s media properties. Clarion is a show organizer, not a full-service media company. PennWell has some of the largest shows in the United States, including the firefighting event FDIC International, which is 34th on Tradeshow News Network’s list of top U.S. shows. In addition, PennWell’s POWER-GEN International is 46th, and the DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition is 101st.
Six PennWell events are included in the top 240 U.S. events. Altogether, PennWell organizes and manages more than 40 exhibitions and conferences, which are estimated to produce more than 50% of the privately-held company’s overall revenue. One knowledgable source put that revenue figure at around $170 million.
But 110-year-old PennWell, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also produces 150 print and online magazines, plus newsletters and an extensive array of websites, research products, digital media, and database services. It serves several sectors, including energy, fire and emergency services, dental and industrial technology, among others.
The question for Clarion is whether the PennWell media assets fit in its portfolio, and according to the buzz at BIMS, they might not.
One industry executive suggested that the current PennWell management team, perhaps in collaboration with the family that owned PennWell until April, is negotiating a management buyout, and that if that process fails, then the media assets will formally go on the block.
Clarion acquired PennWell in April for an estimated $300 million. In June, PennWell laid off more than 100 people, reducing its workforce from 470 to 340.