June 6, 2017 Last Updated 11:51 am

Tuscaloosa-based B2B publisher Randall-Reilly acquired by Aurora Capital Partners

The publisher has been a heavyweight in trucking and construction, and for many years was owned by the Randall family, before being acquired by a private equity firm in 2005, then another two years later

Yesterday, the B2B publishing firm Randall-Reilly was sold to the private equity company Aurora Capital Partners. The deal is not surprising as the company had been acquired by another PE Investcorp in 2007 — so as far as these things go, the sale was overdue by about five years.

Randall-Reilly is based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and is strong in trucking and construction, publishing leading titles in both fields, Overdrive and Equipment World. Founded in 1934 by Henry Pettus Randall Jr., by the time I became the publisher of a national B2B construction magazine the company was run by his son H. Pettus Randall III.

The company competed in some tough markets, but Pettus was quite a personality, and his charm and aggressiveness paid off in keeping Equipment World competitive against Cahner’s powerhouse Construction Equipment. Both magazines were run by competent publishers who were smart enough to stay personally involved in their industry. Back in the mid ’90s, the heyday for B2B magazines in the US, publishers were seen as irreplaceable leaders, ones expected not only to manage sales and editorial, but be willing to management the title’s relationships with the important trade associations tied to the industries their magazine served.

Equipment World was launched in 1989, but by 2000 it surpassed Construction Equipment because Cahners had morphed into Reed Business Information and management musical chairs had led to a talent vacuum.

Pettus died in 2002 and F. Michael Reilly assumed the role of president. A year or two later I remember approaching Mike about whether the company would consider a sale as I had someone looking for a good opportunity (I was working in media M&A at the time). He said the company wasn’t interested, but it must have gotten them thinking in this direction as Wachovia Capital Partners came into the picture in 2005, then in 2007, Investcorp arrived. (Later, in 2011, Brent Reilly was named President of the company.)

Since I stopped being a B2B publisher in the construction industry, Randall-Reilly picked up a number of other, smaller construction titles including Better Roads and Aggregates Manager. Better Roads had been the rival to my own magazine, but I’m afraid we really beat it up badly. Just before I left (to join Cahners, ironically) it was taken over by the former publisher of Construction Equipment (who had left Cahners) which gave it instant credibility and new energy. It was then acquired by Randall-Reilly, but being owned by a PE company meant that it now would have to be consistently profitable, and by 2015 the company decided it would be best to integrate it into Equipment World.

B2B peaked by 2000, had a bit of a comeback in the years after 9/11, but since then it has been all downhill. Though many in the industry blame digital, the fact is that the entry into the industry of private equity companies who managed based on fees, debt, and five year horizons, have doomed the industry.

One knew the end was near when publishing companies began to think that it would be a good idea for a publisher to handle more than one magazine title, forcing them to forget attending events or serving on industry committees because there simply would be no time. Now, many have eliminated the position altogether. So smart.

(In my last B2B publisher role I was hired to run four titles, when I left I was responsible for nine different magazines – yes, that is crazy.)

Another problem, one that was not seen at Randall-Reilly, is the habit of many B2B publisher to make editors interchangeable. I was shocked to see that near the end of my time at Cahners, then RBI, that HR would advertise for editors to run titles, but not require any knowledge of their industries. You can see that today all over B2B, including in media where editors and reporters who have never actually run a newspaper or magazine, or sold an ad, or been editor-in-chief of a publication, are tasked to provide perspective regarding what is going on in publishing. It drives me crazy, but it has been this way for over a decade now, so it is what it is.

Randall-Reilly, I must say, was one of the best in B2B, however. I was asked a couple of times to consider a move to Tuscaloosa, but it felt like a mismatch (the first thing I do when considering a relocation is to check if wine can be shipped in, Alabama is one of the very few states where direct shipping is prohibited).

But those of us that competed with their titles always respected just how aggressive and competent they were. Many felt that they were especially good at the old fashioned style of selling involving back-slapping, hunting trips, and gifts, but none of that is illegal, immoral or out of bounds. We simple were jealous that the company cared that much about the business that they would do what was necessary to win over clients. And Randall Publishing, as it was known then, looked like they were having a good time doing it, as well. We wished our owners were as interested as those that ran Randall.

Here is the announcement for the acquisition by Aurora Capital Partners:

LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK — June 5, 2017  — Aurora Capital Partners, a leading middle-market private equity firm, today announced that it has completed the acquisition of Randall-Reilly, LLC , the leading provider of B2B data and data-driven marketing services, media and events for the trucking, construction, agriculture and additional industrial markets. Aurora acquired Randall-Reilly from Investcorp, a global manager of alternative investment products. Key Company leadership, including CEO Brent Reilly and COO Shane Elmore, will remain in their respective roles. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 1934 as a print media business, Randall-Reilly has evolved and emerged as the leader in data-as-a-service and data-driven marketing solutions for industrial end markets including heavy duty trucking, driver recruiting, construction equipment, agricultural equipment and machine tools. The Company’s unique data assets and highly customizable digital marketing solutions enable clients to identify and target prospects efficiently. The Company serves a blue-chip customer base of more than 4,400 clients, with its top 100 clients averaging more than 13-years in relationship tenure.

“Aurora’s operating resources and experience with companies in the software and information services sector make them an ideal partner for Randall-Reilly as we continue to evolve our business model and add new capabilities for our clients,” said Brent Reilly, CEO of Randall-Reilly. “We are tremendously proud of our team’s track record of innovation and believe the Company is at the cutting edge of data and data-driven marketing services in our industries. We look forward to working with Aurora to invest further in technology, talent and processes to generate best-in-class insights and outcomes for our clients.”

Randall-Reilly’s proprietary data and data-centric approach to creating value for clients position it to benefit as more companies embrace data and analytics to drive business performance,” said Josh Klinefelter, a Partner at Aurora. “The Company’s market leadership, strong culture and reputation for delivering innovative solutions to its partners have fueled impressive growth and client loyalty. We are thrilled to be working with Brent and team to continue building out the Randall-Reilly platform.”

Houlihan Lokey served as financial advisor to Randall-Reilly and Investcorp, while Reed Smith LLP served as legal advisor.

William Blair & Co. served as financial advisor and Kirkland & Ellis served as legal counsel to Aurora.

Antares provided senior debt financing for the transaction.

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