Raymond Snoddy on media: Emap's sale brings a tear to the eye

It's really silly to be emotional about a company, particularly a publicly quoted one. Once they move onto the stock market, even well-run organisations, or those with a certain heritage, become mere commodities to be sold to the highest bidder. They dice companies up and call it unlocking shareholder value.

So forgive a small trickle of a tear for Emap, a media company that once had a real knack of identifying gaps in the magazine market and launching titles with style, determination and ambitious marketing.

Somehow along the way, it has all gone horribly wrong. Now Emap is heading for the corporate shredder and the undertakers have been appointed in the shape of Nicholas Shott of Lazard, the merchant bank.

What is under way is, of course, called a 'review of group structure' and, as usual, a supposedly wide range of options, including a demerger, are still being mooted.

Shott doesn't waste his time on reviews. He does auctions and is rather good at them. Which is why, in collaboration with City PR group Brunswick, tales of the sale and break-up of Emap were all over the Sunday press.

That they should all appear at once, following immediately after the announcement of the 'review', is just one of those coincidences of life. Within a fraction of a second all the usual suspects were being lined up as potential purchasers, including the ever-so-busy Future Publishing chairman Roger Parry who nearly, but not quite, managed to successfully bid for ITV.

Then there is United Business Media, and the normal assortment of private equity groups such as Apax, Candover and Cinven. In fact, any old reasonably plausible name that can be stirred into the mix has been deployed to leaven the sense of inevitability about the sale.

The Observer must have cheered the undertakers greatly over Sunday-morning coffee by attaching a whopping £2.6bn break-up price to Emap, way higher than Friday's closing-market value, which itself was boosted by all the excitement about the break-up.

The Emap board said on Friday it was acting only in response to 'various unsolicited proposals'. The company's top brass also thought it clever to send an email to staff, thousands of them journalists, warning there would be lots of 'speculative' press coverage.

As mentioned, the weekend papers certainly were full of speculation over the potential bidders for various parts of the business. However, Morgan Stanley believes that selling off the business-to-business division, which it values at £1.3bn, is the simplest approach. Emap is keen to build momentum behind the sale and is briefing analysts that the offers are 'real', with 'funding behind them'.

It hardly needs mentioning that the board is still searching for a chief executive, following the exit of Tom Moloney whose crime, apparently, was not changing fast enough. It will be amusing to see exactly what kind of chief executive will be interested in managing pension liabilities while Emap is scattered to the four winds.

What is certain is that we are going to get plenty of change. Business to business is the money-making star and will have plenty of suitors. Radio's new convert, ex-ITV chief Charles Allen, will be after Magic, Kiss and Kerrang! Consumer magazines could be the orphans of the process because no one is stepping forward to buy the entire company. This means hundreds of people will lose their jobs and a number of decent magazines will disappear.

But never mind, a lot of other people should make plenty of money.

30 SECONDS ON ... EMAP

- Emap started life in 1947 as the East Midlands Allied Press, a regional newspaper publisher.

- The group now comprises Emap Consumer Media (which produces consumer magazines), Emap Communications (b2b titles), Emap Advertising and Emap Radio. The latter operates seven DAB multiplexes and shares three more with UTV, as well as owning about 40 local commercial radio stations.

- Emap plc's turnover last year was £1.15bn; it has about 5500 employees.

- Emap's first consumer title was Angling Times, launched in 1953. Three years later it acquired Motor Cycle News for £100.

- It created its consumer magazines division in 1978, the year it launched pop mag Smash Hits; the title folded last year.

- The company entered the radio sector when it bought London dance station Kiss FM in 1990.

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