Doubts grow about UK ad magazine Campaign’s publisher Haymarket

Haymarket Publishing, publisher of Campaign, Marketing, Management Today and Brand Republic in the professional sector and What Car, gadget paper Stuff and football mag FourFourTwo has taken a fearsome hammering in the recession.

Its profits have dropped from £44m on £147m turnover in 2007 to £8m or so annual losses on a declining turnover, currently about £118m.

Which is, more or less, what it owes to long-time banker Royal Bank of Scotland.

When founder Lord Heseltine, Michael Heseltine as he then was, left government with John Major’s defeat in 1997 and reclaimed the family company from its minder directors including Lindsay Masters and Simon Tindall, the company launched an ambitious overseas and digital expansion strategy.

That looked to be paying off handsomely in the early part of this decade but things have turned rather sour since, margins in the UK being eroded while overseas expansion, for the consumer side of the business particularly, remained promising but expensive.

In January 2010 Lord Heseltine handed over control of the business to son Rupert (pictured), having bought out the shareholdings of Masters, Tindall and co who were gently retired. But the writing was on the wall already by then and Haymarket had to make swingeing redundancies and mortgage some of its property assets.

Rupert Heseltine had to undergo a particularly gruelling interview about all this at the hands of the Guardian recently.

Now if Haymarket was a public company, or a private one with a wider shareholder base, this might not be a problem. What are shareholders for if not to provide more funds in your hour of need?

But Michael Heseltine’s strategy has always been to return the company to 100 per cent family ownership, which doesn’t leave many places to go. Even Rupert Murdoch and family only own 38 per cent of News Corporation (rather bigger admittedly).

So Haymarket has a few problems.

Heseltine senior has never been one to duck a challenge. But it looks as though his grand strategy, ultimate family ownership of a big media player, has been confounded by the recession.

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