“So I thought part of the reason that the conglomerate made sense was that you could share a lot in terms of back office and operations and transportation and that kind of stuff,” Doug Wooden of Fort Warren Capital said to RR Donnelley’s executives during the company's quarterly earnings call. “Is it going to be difficult to separate into these three businesses given sort of integration that I thought was in the business?”
His fellow analysts (and some of my publishing colleagues) seemed especially surprised that RRD’s logistics arm would not end up in the same company as the publication-printing plants. They understand that, when everyone has basically the same presses, dropshipping and other logistics services are a major competitive battleground and point of differentiation for printers of catalogs and magazines.
Like Tuesday’s press release announcing the break-up, the explanations of Donnelley executives were barely intelligible except to native speakers of Corporatese. But amidst such happy-talk phrases as “more focused brand strategy” and “greater flexibility to execute tailored business strategies,” a few important clues to the break-up emerged:
Do you think of Donnelley as a high-tech company? No? Well neither does anyone else, including Wall Street. That’s why RRD wants to spin its “financial communications” ventures off into a separate firm that for now is being referred to as FinancialCo.
FinancialCo brings in about $1 billion annually from managing data, generating complex financial reports, translating documents, and providing similar services to the financial sector. But Wall Street still associates it with the dying business of printing prospectuses, quarterly reports, and other ink-on-paper reports than with its services like Edgar, a popular online repository of corporate financial filings.
“You look at FinancialCo and you think about what some of their trading comps might be,” said CEO Thomas Quinlan. “I mean some of those comps are trading at two plus times where we trade today as one entity.”
Translation: Though it represents less than 10% of Donnelley’s annual revenue, the equity value of a spun-off FinancialCo might exceed the value of all current RRD’s.
Today, FinancialCo venture is locked up inside what Wall Street views as a print-centric manufacturing company where “successful year” means “no decrease in revenues.” But as a separate company, FinancialCo would be able to attract money from investors willing to make risky bets on high-tech companies with strong growth prospects.
Besides FinancialCo, the other company that will be spun off has the sexy temporary moniker of PRSCo, for Publishing and Retail-Centric Print Services Company, which will print and distribute “periodicals, catalogs, inserts, books, office products and directories.”
“PRSCo is going to grow through making the supply chain more efficient for publishers, merchandisers and retailers and through acquisitions,” said CFO Daniel Leib.
Consolidation is a textbook strategy for gradually shrinking industries, but Donnelley has a problem: As by the continent’s largest printing company, acquisitions of other printers are likely to face increasing scrutiny from and interference by federal regulators.
But though it would still have a sizable presence in certain corners of the publication-printing industry, a spun-off PRSCo would be less of a target for the antitrust police, who don’t necessarily understand that there are a wide variety of printing markets rather than a single market.
Debt and Pensions
Donnelley has more than $3 billion in debt and estimates its pension and other retiree benefits are underfunded to the tune of $677 million. Those obligations will stay with the company that will remain after FinancialCo and PRSCo are spun off, which will be known as CMCo (Customized Multichannel Communications Management Company).
That means that, like its high-tech peers, FinancialCo won’t be weighed down by debt or defined-benefit pension obligations. And PRSCo will be able to take on a lot of new debt to pursue acquisitions.
Through aggressive acquisitions, Donnelley has brought a wide array of printing ventures into its tent. It prides itself on providing a one-stop shop that can – and does -- meet diverse printing needs of the most complex organizations.
But like many other producers of direct mail and short-run commercial printing, the “CMCo” part of Donnelley has branched out into offering email marketing, website management, and other services that don’t involve ink on paper. Some of CMCo’s competitors in the commercial printing arena have even dropped the “printer” moniker and call themselves "marketing service providers."
FinancialCo has morphed even more radically from its printing roots. It’s not even clear whether what’s left of Donnelley’s financial-printing plants will be part of FinancialCo or will instead go with one of the more print-oriented sister companies.
With both shopping-mall-sized printing operations that produce millions of copies and living-room-sized pressrooms with print orders of 1, having such a wide variety of printing operations in one company has always been a bit of a stretch.
And now that they are they becoming less about printing and more about “omnichannel,” the various parts of RR Donnelley are finding they have even less in common – and fewer benefits from being under the big Donnelley tent.
“Printing conglomerate” is no longer a logical organizing principle for a multichannel communications company.
Other articles about R.R. Donnelley:
- A Transformative Separation: Jim Hamilton of InfoTrends provides details on Donnelley's plan to split into three companies.
- Rival Print Giants Donnelley and Quad Not Looking To Get Hitched
- R.R. Donnelley Ready To Deliver When the Postal Service Doesn't