Dec 15, 2020 - Economy

Scoop: David Bradley commits to owning National Journal until 2030

Photo illustration of David Bradley with the logos of the National Journal and Ballast Research

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Marvin Joseph (The Washington Post)/Getty Images

David Bradley says he is committed to owning and growing National Journal — the first media company he ever purchased — for at least the next 10 years, according to a memo obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: Bradley says his family is selling its controlling interest in National Journal's lucrative research business to Falfurrias Capital Partners (FCP), a Charlotte-based private equity firm that invests in growth-oriented, middle-market businesses.

  • Ballast Research was founded by National Journal in 2013 as part of the company's evolution from a pure-play media company to an information services business.
  • Roughly 25% of National Journal's staff (40 people) will go with Ballast as part of the divestiture.
  • Bradley will remain a key investor in Ballast and says his family will still have a significant stake. Michael Gottlieb, who was hired as president and general counsel of Ballast in 2015, will continue to lead Ballast Research under its new ownership.

The big picture: Over the past few years, Bradley has sold either his majority stake or full stake in most of the titles that once made up Atlantic Media Inc., including The Atlantic, Government Executive and Quartz, leaving National Journal Group as the only business left within Bradley's media empire that he still fully owns.

  • At one point in 2013, The Atlantic brought in roughly $43 million in yearly revenue, according to a source familiar with the company's finances. Quartz was making about $5 million, National Journal Group around $37 million and Government Executive around $13 million.

National Journal president Kevin Turpin said that Ballast needed access to resources and capital at a firm like Falfurrias to be able to grow as quickly as it wanted to. "Ballast wanted to accelerate at a pace that required outside capital," he said.

  • Turpin says that moving forward, National Journal will invest in building up more of its own research teams internally. He says he is committed to staying with the company for the next 10 years alongside David.

Between the lines: The smartphone era ushered in a slew of new competitors to the political reporting space that forced National Journal to pivot its business to custom research and consultative services that served Washington opinion leaders.

  • In effect, it started to look more like the DC-based consulting businesses that Bradley originally founded and sold to afford his venture into media.

By the numbers: National Journal splits its revenue between subscriptions and consultative services.

  • The company is profitable, says Turpin, who has been with the company for 15 years. He notes that Bradley has consistently invested in the business since 2016.
  • All of National Journal journalism today is behind a paywall, and the firm makes no money on advertising. Ten years ago, ads were half of its business.
  • The company shuttered its print magazine in 2015 after 47 years. Today, journalism is still a paid subscription service it offers to opinion leaders, but it's no longer the sole driver of its business.

Falfurrias Capital Partners (FCP) is trying to expand its portfolio into more businesses that touch policy influencers. Turpin says the deal "was really a match of values and approach." Falfurrias last year took a majority stake in the DC-based B2B media company Industry Dive.

  • “Through their unique insights and approach, Ballast has played a central role in advancing the world’s policy conversations, and we look forward to helping build on and expand their vision,” said Geordie Pierson of Falfurrias Capital Partners.

What's next: Turpin says that the company is committed to investing in other National Journal research and consultative services, like its stakeholder mapping business called the "Network Science Initiative" and Vignette, a new database of in-depth profiles of policymakers and influencers.

Editor's note: David Bradley is an investor in Axios.

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