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How to find local mergers and acquisitions stories

September 8, 2016

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Deals apply to Main Street as much as they do Wall Street.

When I was hired to work for “The Deal” a decade ago, I thought that mergers and acquisitions was limited to the mega deals that made the international headlines. The big deals were AT&T buying BellSouth and Royal Dutch buying Shell.

These billion-dollar deals were often complex, involving layers of bankers and lawyers at major firms. The companies were public and also involved high-powered board members and shareholders. Their structures could be intricate too, as with leveraged buyouts or hostile takeovers. I associated deals strictly with Wall Street.

But after returning to local reporting in recent years, I discovered that the M&A model is applicable to community news too.

First, deals come in all sizes. There are mega deals such as Microsoft snapping up LinkedIn for $28.1 billion, or sexy deals such as Apple buying Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics, but there are many mid-market deals and small deals. Mergers and acquisitions also boil down to people as they can impact the workforce and the economy.

There is an untapped treasure trove of deals that await to be unearthed regionally and locally. The Pittsburgh Business Times, for example, has a whole section for local deals. Here is an example of a recent M&A story I did in Salinas, Calif., where I’m based.

There are at least four techniques for getting the gems.

Hunt for publicly traded companies

Why publicly traded companies? They are easier to cover in many ways because they are required to report their financials to the SEC, which is easily searchable through the EDGAR database. Contrary to public opinion big cities aren’t the only places with publicly traded companies. For example, Constellation Wines, which owns Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, is based in Rochester, NY. Constellation, which is traded on the NYSE, is in the business of potentially snapping up more brands to add to its portfolio.

Pursue private companies, too

Cracking private companies will put your source building skills to the test. True to their name, private companies are often very private and aren’t required to divulge their financials or their business strategy. Some private companies are players in billion-dollar industries. For example, Salinas is home to produce giants Taylor Farms, one of the country’s biggest fresh-cut vegetables firms. Is Taylor interested in making any acquisitions? There are many smaller private companies that may be merging or buying other businesses as part of their business strategy. When interviewing local CEOs don’t forget to ask whether they have plans to merge or acquire.

Don’t forget the banks

Most communities are home to local banks, which release quarterly earnings and may see some mergers and acquisitions too. Make connections with their marketing gurus and get on their list for mailings and press releases.

Trace the impact of big deals

Mega deals can also have a ripple effect on local communities. They can mean layoffs, consolidation or the change of the company’s name or even headquarters. After Walgreens snapped up Rite Aid for $17. 2 billion in 2015, the company said it might need to close 500 stores to finalize the deal. A local business story post-deal could include interviews with the local store manager, staff and customers.

In the end mergers and acquisitions may sound as complex as brain surgery, but it’s a wonderful way to add to the depth of business coverage in communities. After all, a deal is a deal.

Reporter’s Takeaways

• Don’t be intimated by the mergers and acquisitions jargon. M&A boils down to two companies coming together like a marriage. And like a marriage, they can end up happy or hostile.

• Numbers are your best friend and should always serve as a backbone. How much is the deal worth in total, and how is it broken down?

• The best M&A stories come from private companies. Get to know what companies matter in your company and make it a point to meet their CEO.


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