The announced USD 630 million deal for Incisive Media to acquire ALM is unquestionably the strongest acquisition move in the B2B media space in a year of largely aimless portfolio shuffling. Incisive is biting off a huge piece in the process of doing so - they have about USD 280 million in annual revenues - but this is far from your typical "let's balance the portfolio and combine content management systems" deal. In acquiring ALM Incisive walks away with one of the most effectively integrated range of legal publications for an industry vertical that has strong print revenues but also a remarkably strong and progressive online presence.
In addition to ALM's wide range of traditional ad-supported editorial content they have been very active in integrating leading weblogs into their ad network and have gone way deep into their own vertical user-generated content via VerdictSearch, a portal that allows legal professionals to input details on cases and settlements into a database that can be searched or mined by ALM's editorial staff for hot legal stories. Toss on a strong relationship with Thomson West for enterprise integration and a strong events presence and you get a profile that most business information companies would have to work very hard to top.
And that's before you get to the management team. Bill Pollak has assembled a top-notch staff at ALM to help it transition very profitably into the electronic age, holding out some promise that in the merger of these two companies it will be more than your typical "puff and slough" weed-out of mergee managers. Hopefully Incisive keeps much of ALM's team in place to help them assemble more effectively integrated marketing in vertical segments. Incisive's portfolio includes a wide range of titles largely aimed at financial markets that do very well online in many instances, but they have not leveraged new models of engagement for their audiences as effectively as ALM in many instances while some strong Incisive titles seem to be shoehorned in together rather oddly (do ClickZ and Search Engine Watch really belong in the same group as Inside Market Data?).
Conquering both legal and financial markets in one portfolio is a very shrewd move, with the deal flow in these two segments oftentimes creating very complementary editorial and data flows. While the size of this deal may tie up Incisive's cash for a while it would be nice to think about how some further database acquisitions or alliances might help to create some very interesting synergies for dealmaking business information. But in the meantime there's also the complementary presence of Incisive's UK-oriented legal publications and other globally-oriented publications that will be strengthened by ALM's largely US-oriented marketing.
While doubtless there will be some gnashing of the gears as new interests are merged and some cleaning out of questionable rabbit warrens this is a powerful move that draws into focus the increasingly merging worlds of legal and financial interests that will benefit from the combined coverage offered in these two teams. Hopefully this merger benefits the ALM team as much as it appears that it will benefit Incisive. Time will tell.