Lobbyist’s Gamekeeper Singleton Switches to Poaching

David Singleton who edited Public Affairs News quit as editor some six weeks ago. He is off to WPI Strategy so will no doubt be ethically lobbying on their behalf. He wrote a valedictory piece on his 7 years covering lobbying here. The Dods-owned publication has not been updated since the day he wrote that article on March 8th. Nobody seems to have noticed…

Rumour is that it will be shuttered. Most lobbyists prefer to read Politico nowadays anyway…

Political Publisher Dods Sees Share Price Plummet, Blames Brexit

Political publisher Dods, whose publications include The House Magazine and PoliticsHome saw their shares plummet 33% yesterday, knocking some £7 million off their valuation. In the last 12 months the shares have halved in value. New CEO Simon Presswell is blaming Brexit for an expected profits collapse because of the ‘unprecedented’ political uncertainty. Insiders blame the losses on a lack of customer interest in new products.

Dods bought into Social360 – a social media monitoring service – which has not sold to clients as well as hoped. Many potential clients manage with a combination of Google alerts and Tweetdeck, both of which are free products. The social media crisis solution seems a bit unnecessary, because when you are in social media crisis, you know it without the need for expensive software. Making their database of “Dods People” acessible via a Salesforce CRM plugin seems like a smart idea until you realise public affairs professionals don’t use Salesforce, sales people do. “DODS Signals”, which “enables the tracking of social media profiles and interactions for over 5,000 political influencers”, is essentially a social media list with bells and whistles, which can pretty much be functionally replicated, for free, in Tweetdeck. Unless you don’t know how to search for a hashtag.

None of this appears to have put Dods off expanding, their new CEO telling CEO Today that when it come to prospective mergers and acquisitions:

“we’ve done an extensive study that identifies tens of thousands of organisations that might possess an interest for us. We have defined the criteria of attributes that we look for in businesses that would benefit under our ownership, and we have applied this as a filter across those organisations and have a very specific target list.

If you imagine a 2×2 chart that has two axis [sic] on it, one is complexity, and the other is value. We are able to place our prospects into the appropriate quadrants: those that are high value and relatively low complexity take our priority, those that are high value and more complex take our second priority, and our third priority is on the opportunities that are not yet at high value and are relatively uncomplex. For those prospects, we will be seeking to partner with a select minority of incubators and innovators to bring on board those businesses and technologies in order to amplify them across our network.”

Shareholders, of which Lord Ashcroft is the biggest, might prefer an uncomplex focus on the bottom line…

Dods’ Shard Offices Infested with Maggots

Political publishers Dods – owned by Lord Ashcroft – are suffering a maggot infestation. Must be a metaphor in this story somewhere…

“F*** Dods”

All is not well at the flashy new Shard office of political publishers Dods. A co-conspirator reveals how shortly after a member of staff was given the sack, the words “F**k Dods” were graffiti-ed inside the very expensive men’s toilets: “All fingers of blame pointed at the recently departed. But when another 3 cubicles were done the same the next day, and yet another the day after, it seems to be coming from current staff. Which is unsurprising given morale is at an all time low”. Not much to smile about there at the moment…

Médecins Sans Frontières Objects to ‘Sans Frontières’ Name of Crisis PR Firm

Political publishers Dods Group last year made a small £800,000 profit after years of multi-million pound losses. This was achieved largely by Guy Cleaver halving the bloated sales and marketing headcount down from 119 to 57. Dods celebrated their new found profitability by moving out of their Mayfair offices and into the Shard. Inconveniently situated 20 minutes away from SW1 in SE1.

Dods is lending almost all of that last year’s profits in an unusual investment. It has subscribed for 40% of the issued share capital of Sans Frontieres Associates for a nominal sum and lent it £700,000 to provide initial working capital. Sans Frontieres Associates is chaired by Tim Bell and will do PR and comms work in war stricken hotspots.

Dods reckon that:

“Jonathan Lehrle, CEO and founder has a strong vision for his organisation and the objective to redefine the approach taken to international geopolitical and crisis communications consulting. His vision for his company’s core capabilities and international reach is in keeping with the trends and changing market requirements seen by the Board of Dods.”

The respected NGO Médecins Sans Frontières is less happy. Here’s their spokeswoman Polly Markandya:

“We’d be in the same corridors – us trying to negotiate for humanitarian access and them negotiating PR contracts. It’s too close for comfort. Surely, with their creative brains, they can think of another good name for their venture.”

Other people who wondering about the new comms agency are Dods’ own clients, the comms firms who subscribe to their monitoring services and read their Public Affairs News* magazine. Many may be less than keen on paying monthly subscriptions to their competitor…

*Strangely Guido can not find any mention in Public Affairs News of the launch of Sans Frontieres Associates or the involvement of PA luminaries like Tim Bell and Darren Murphy. Fancy that…

Lord Ashcroft Hires Former Porn Star

dods-porn

Dods Group plc, the struggling political publishing business controlled by Lord Ashcroft, lost another £5 million last year. Ashcroft’s third CEO, Martin Beck on a mere £177,779, lasted only a year before being going. The publisher of The House magazine and PoliticsHome.com among other titles managed to lose £5 million on the back of write downs of asset valuations. Last year the Group reported the loss in earnings before tax of £5 million following a previous loss of £1.5 million in 2014. Guido is at a loss to understand how the firm can lose almost £20,000 per employee. The losses are ongoing year after year to such an extent that one begins to wonder if there is not some tax benefit, or if the balance sheet is being deliberately shrunk. Falling revenues have seen the headcount reduced from 280 to 260 – though the firm still has some 58 managers. The Dods share price is still trading below the price Lord Ashcroft paid in 2011 and the firm has not paid a single dividend since he got control…

Who has Lord Ashcroft hired to turn the firm around? Guy Cleaver, until recently Managing Director of Dods‘ events and training businesses, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer with responsibility for all the group’s businesses. Prior to joining the world of training Guy had a short-lived career in adult entertainment…

Here is a much younger Guy Cleaver starring in Witchcraft X. These are the more family friendly bits:

Hopefully Guy can sex up Lord Ashcroft’s political publishing business…

Kevin Schofield New PoliticsHome Editor

Welcome to the internet to the Sun’s chief political correspondent, Kevin Schofield, who is taking over from Paul Waugh at PoliticsHome:

From “politics without the boring bits” at SunNation, to the boring bits at PoliticsHome…

More Dods Losses: Paul Waugh to HuffPo

Replacing Mehdi at HuffPo is:

Following on from Sam McCrory’s move to the BBC this means struggling Dods have now lost their two most senior editorial staff in two months. Smart move by AOL, Mehdi was more of a polemicist and interviewer than a news man. Comment is cheap and over-supplied, news is in more demand. Waugh has a better nose for news than his predecessor. Congratulations… It’s still Waugh!

Total Politics Closing Immediately

totalpolitics-closed

Ashcroft-owned political publishers Dods are shutting the perpetually loss making Total Politics magazine. There will be no January issue. Just in time for Christmas…

Guido always thought it was brave to bring out a politics/lifestyle print magazine in the twenty first century. Printing being expensive and lifestyle journalism being over-supplied already. It was always going to be a brutal world for a political magazine that was self-described as a “relentlessly positive magazine”. Good news doesn’t sell…

UPDATE: This statement from Dods came in after the above went to pixel:

“Total Politics is moving online-only from 2015 as part of our wider digital-first strategy. Total Politics’ following online is greater than in print, partly a reflection of our younger audiences inside and outside Westminster. Like many media organisations facing the same commercial and editorial realities, we aim to serve our readers in a format that suits them best.”

Dods Posts Losses for Fourth Year in a Row

dods
Dods, the publisher of PoliticsHome, Total Politics and House Magazine has posted its fourth successive year of losses. It is now losing £30,000-a-week or a total of £1.5 million last year, bringing the total losses since Lord Ashcroft took control up to £12 million, about as much as he paid for his controlling share. Subsidiary Dods Parliamentary Communications Limited, which holds the non-print publications and is the online future of the firm, managed to lose £1,624,282. Unsurprisingly the share price is down another 25% on the year and some 75% since Ashcroft bought his shareholding…

For years the business has claimed that whereas the political blogs have scale and a greater reach, their publications such as the House Magazine were read by more MPs – the target market for lobbyists and advertisers who pay Dods to help them engage with MPs.  Survey after survey shows that this is no longer the case. According to independent research more Labour MPs read LabourList, more Tory MPs read ConservativeHome and LibDemVoice is read by most LibDem MPs. Overall more MPs read Guido than the House Magazine, which often goes unread straight into the wastepaper basket…

Dods’ Tweeter of the Year Isn’t on Twitter

Well this is embarrassing. At last night’s Dods parliamentary awards, editor-in-chief Paul Waugh proudly presented the award for Tweeter of the Year to iPad-loving Labour MP Tom Harris. Dods explained that they felt Harris was a worthy winner “for his daily usage of Twitter.” Just one problem: Harris isn’t actually on Twitter

Worthy Winners at PAN Awards

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Two very deserving winners at the Public Affairs News awards last night. Intern Aware and the Taxpayers’ Alliance cleaned up, taking home the Voluntary Sector campaign and In House campaign of the year rewards respectively. Readers will know of Intern Aware for the support they have given to Guido’s stories exposing slave intern hypocrisy in politics and the media – recently infuriating Dods plc, publishers of, errm, Public Affairs News. Worthy winners.

PoliticsHome v Guido: Dods CEO Writes to Staff

politicsKeith Sadler, the new CEO of Ashcroft-controlled political publishing combine Dods plc, has written to reassure employees this morning:

All,

Our results for the 15 months to 31 March 2013 were posted on Friday. The underlying numbers were exactly in line with the guidance we had given to the market the previous year. In fact our cash position was better at £7.0 million.

Our underlying profitability was £0.4 million on turnover of £18.8 million. Guido will point to the loss of which the majority is a non-cash impairment charge (possibly he should worry about why he comes second to Politics Home on the Parliamentary estate).

We have been investing heavily in our technology platforms and continue to do so. This will ensure we will be the market leading political communications and engagement business.

We are adapting to the market much faster and that is down to the talented people who work here. Your hard work will show improved results in the future. This year has begun in line with our budget and we will, together, improve the results of Dods.

I would like to thank you all for the hard work and dedication you show. Any questions please feel free to come and ask me.

Regards,

Keith.

dods

Actually out of the £10.2 million loss the non-cash impairment was a £6.9 million write-off of goodwill. The improvement in the cash position was entirely down to a shareholder injection of a much needed £10 million.  It would not be a surprise to Guido to see Dods delist from the London Stock Exchange once the acquisition spree is finished. The firm has not paid a dividend since 2010 and the share price has fallen 75% over that period.

Keith Sadler, the Dods CEO, suggests Guido should be worried about how PoliticsHome.com is more popular in parliament than Order-Order.com. It is true in so much that it has more page-impressions, rather than actual readers, on the parliamentary estate.  Further investigation reveals this is because it is a specialist politics aggregator with a user-unfriendly redesign generating more links to click on – Dods boast that the total number of page impressions has increased ten-fold since the recent redesign. That ten-fold increase is unfortunately not reflected in a proportionate increase in users. PoliticsHome still has narrow appeal, Order-Order.com has some six times as many readers, which ensures its profitability…

Guido’s understanding is that PoliticsHome and Total Politics magazine remain loss making. Inevitably the synergies between the various Dods titles will see them integrated if not actually merged, Keith Sadler is a savvy, sharp businessman and knows revenue is vanity, profit is sanity. Order-Order.com has been more profitable than Dods for years…

Tory Media Bitch Fight: Peter Oborne v Lord Ashcroft Round II

After round one last year, sometime Cameron loyalist Peter Oborne accuses mischief-making Lord Ashcroft of treachery in an uncharacteristically forthright piece in the Telegraph. Citing twitter, polling and his alleged loathing of Lynton Crosby, Oborne calls for Dave to withdraw the whip:

“This brings me onto the subject of Lord Ashcroft. In recent weeks, the Conservative peer … has been engaged in an open, menacing and extremely public campaign against David Cameron… 

What we can all agree on is that there is something strange about Lord Ashcroft’s conduct. He is, after all, a peer of the realm, a very substantial businessman, and a high-ranking Conservative figure. Yet he is stalking the Prime Minister in a rather cranky way… So here is a word of well-meant advice for Lord Ashcroft: it’s time to quit the Tory party. You are no longer happy in it, and it has never felt entirely comfortable with you. The time when rich men, especially those with a record of (legally) avoiding British tax, could buy a political party has gone. If you want to make persistent, childish and personal criticisms of a Conservative prime minister, it is much better that they should be made from the perspective of a private citizen. And here is a word of advice for the Prime Minister. If Lord Ashcroft carries on using this treacherous and disloyal language, stop pretending not to notice. Strip him of the Conservative whip, kick him out of the party, and set an example.”

Leading to this rebuttal from Ashcroft:

“First, my tweets are occasionally mischievous, and I am sorry if some of them have not been to Peter’s taste. But he overstates their “menace”… if I sometimes link to other articles that make unhappy reading for Downing Street – well, I’m not a Tory press officer. Second, Peter makes the excellent point that Twitter is not the ideal medium for complex or thoughtful arguments.

Quite so – which is why I write at greater length elsewhere, especially on ConHome and my own research and commentary site… I have used my more independent position to conduct political research on a scale which to the best of my knowledge has not been seen before in this country. The results are published for all to read alongside my comment. No doubt some of this is uncomfortable for the Tories but I have often pointed out that it shows Cameron to be the party’s biggest asset – hardly the “vicious and damaging public criticism” that Peter accuses me of indulging in… Overall, my political commentary amounts to a prolonged reminder that the winning party will be the one that pays attention to the voters and their priorities. I hope that party will be the Conservative Party – but I think I’m more use to it as a truth-teller than a cheerleader.”

Seconds out…

Paul Goodman, ConservativeHome editor, says calling the Ashcroft owned-website a “right-wing and often anti-Cameron website” is as fair as calling Peter Oborne a “right-wing and often anti-Cameron journalist”.  There are other similarities; The Telegraph and The Spectator are owned by secretive Tory-leaning offshore billionaires the Barclay brothers. Political publishers DODS, ConservativeHome, PoliticsHome, Total Politics Magazine, The House Magazine, Holyrood Magazine, Public Affairs News, bookseller Biteback Publishing plus a few other specialist political publications and monitoring companies are controlled by the formerly offshore Tory-leaning billionaire Lord Ashcroft. It is little known that Ashcroft was rebuffed by the Barclays when he expressed an interest in buying The Spectator…

Exclusive: PoliticsHome / DeHavilland Merger Monopoly Fears + + + Office of Fair Trading Refers Ashcroft Bid + + ++ + + Competition Commission to Rule on Legality + + +

OFT Statement:

The OFT today referred the anticipated acquisition of the political intelligence division of DeHavilland by Dods Group PLC (Dods) to the Competition Commission. The evidence before the OFT suggests that, as a result of this merger, Dods will not face sufficient competitive constraints and this could result in higher prices or less quality for UK customers procuring political intelligence services.

Political intelligence companies monitor and track political issues on behalf of customers. A wide range of companies, public and voluntary sector organisations, as well as communications and public affairs consultancies, rely on the provision of regular, accurate and timely political intelligence.

The OFT’s investigation found that the merger parties are the two largest dedicated suppliers of these services and that close competition between them is a very important tool for UK customers to benefit from competitive prices and valued services. The merger parties’ competitors are smaller in size, scale and scope. These findings were informed by the OFT’s market investigation and an extensive customer survey submitted by the merger parties.

As a result, it is the OFT’s view that removing such significant rivalry between the merger parties might substantially lessen competition and lead to higher prices, a decline in the quality of those services or both.

Given its concerns, the OFT therefore considers it appropriate for the Competition Commission to undertake a further investigation into this matter.
The OFT further considered whether the case should not be referred to the Competition Commission on the basis that the markets were of insufficient importance, but did not find that the deal met the relevant criteria for such an exception.

Ali Nikpay, OFT Senior Director and Decision Maker in this case, said:

‘This merger would bring together by far the two largest players in the UK market. The evidence also suggests that DeHavilland and Dods are each other’s closest rivals. Based on the information before us we do not believe that this loss of competition would be compensated through expansion by smaller rivals, entry by new players or customers switching to self-supply. As such, we consider it appropriate to refer the merger to the Competition Commission for further investigation.’

Guido warned about this back in February. Lobbyists who are the main subscribers to the monitoring service have been telling Guido they feared a quasi-monopoly would lead to price gouging. So it seems do the authorities…

Exclusive: Office of Fair Trading to Rule on Ashcroft Bid + + OFT Fears Dominance of Political Monitoring Sector + ++ + City Takeover Panel Requires “Whitewash Resolution” + +

Guido reported last month that Lord Ashcroft was adding to his political publishing empire by buying DeHavilland Political Intelligence for £12.8 million. This will give him control of the political intelligence services sector in the UK. PoliticsHome was his first purchase, originally conceived to take on Dods’ established political monitoring business, in the end instead of out-competing the rival Dods, Ashcroft bought and merged the two loss making businesses. PoliticsHome is losing £10,000 a week and the bigger Dods is losing £20,000 a week because their print businesses are, according to the directors “in long-term structural decline”. As a financial imperative the emphasis has shifted onto organising lobbyist’s events and conferences as well as selling political monitoring and intelligence. The event organising business could be hit hard by the statutory registration of lobbyists being coupled with politicians and civil servants having to register their contacts with lobbyists. Politicians will simply stop attending and if they don’t come, the lobbyists won’t pay.

The key growth business is political monitoring, 40% of Dods’ revenues comes from this sector. It had one rival, DeHavilland, founded in 1998 by Adam Afriyie, now Conservative MP for Windsor; he sold it in 2005, to Guardian Media Group owned Emap for £8 million, now they are now selling it on to Ashcroft-controlled Dods plc for £12.8 million. If the Office of Fair Trading nods the deal through it will give the combined group control of the political monitoring sector which is used by corporate and public affairs professionals to keep track of political and legislative developments. The lack of competition will inevitably allow the combined near-monopoly to jack up prices to customers. Ouch.

The takeover deal is being funded entirely by Lord Ashcroft underwiting a share placing that will see his resultant holding in Dods plc potentially go up to 42.9%, way over the 29.9% limit past which the City Takeover Code requires the purchaser to make a full offer to the remaining shareholders to buy them out. Dods are seeking a Rule 9 Waiver on his behalf to allow it to go through without Ashcroft making an offer for the shares he does not already own in Dods, effectively stranding the minority shareholders in the company. Minority shareholders might be looking for an exit given that the illiquid shares have performed badly, more than halving since Ashcroft bought a controlling stake. The Takeover Panel has ruled that Dods need to get a difficult “Whitewash Resolution” from the minority shareholders at an Extraordinary General Meeting to wave the deal through. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem, the EGM is being held quietly and without any fanfare at this very moment in the City offices of the company’s law firm, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP. Shareholder attendance will be very limited…

Can You Belize It: Dods Buys Rival DeHavilland Ashcroft Pours in Another £6m – Increases Stake to 42.9%

In July last year Dods Plc, which Lord Ashcroft controlled 23% of at the time, bought PoliticsHome from two companies owned by Lord Ashcroft. In November Loss-making ePolitix.com and the House Magazine were merged with loss-making PoliticsHome. Today it seems Dods have made a real purchase rather than merely streamlining the paperwork. They are buying their rival DeHavilland Political Intelligence from Emap for £12.8 million. A merger is only a matter of time…

Given that Ashcroft has already made losses in the region of £5 million since his sojourn into the online political world began two years ago, a money-making plan is long overdue:

Dods will be placing two hundred million new ordinary shares at 5.5p each. Ashcroft has already increased his stake in the company to 42.9% by buying over half of them. Another £6 million ploughed in…

ePolitix & PoliticsHome Merge Ashcroft Losses Top £5 Million in 2 Years

The merger announced today between PoliticsHome and ePolitix had a certain inevitability to it as soon as the Lord Ashcroft controlled Dods plc, publishers of ePolitix and the House Magazine, swallowed the loss making website. PoliticsHome lost £500,000 last year, so some rationalisation of what are essentially websites with similar output was bound to happen. Even with the two sites combined Guido doubts they will get a readership of the size this blog reaches, in the press release announcing the consolidation the past highlights of ePolitix’s coverage were a story “revealing that a major section of a speech delivered in the House of Commons by further education minister John Hayes had been lifted from Wikipedia and an article in defence of David Laws. Hold the front page!

PoliticsHome has similar revenues to this blog with five times the head count, that unfortunately is not a commercially viable proposition. By Guido’s calculation Ashcroft has lost £3 million on his purchase of 25% of parent company Dods – he bought the shares for 13.5p and they are now trading at 5p – he paid circa £1.3 million for ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome which together with rolled up losses of over £500,000 means his foray into political publishing has cost him some £5 million in the last two years. A mere rounding error for the billionaire…

Ashcroft Shuffles Pack: Loss Making PoliticsHome Sold for £0.00++ Merges With Loss Making Political Publisher Dods' ePolitix ++

Dods plc, publishers of ePolitix.com and the House Magazine, announced this morning that it had acquired the business and assets of PoliticsHome.com, the political news aggregation website now run by Paul Waugh. The sellers were Political Investments Limited and Politics Home Limited, companies which Ashcroft controls. The price paid was zilch.

PoliticsHome has annual revenues of approximately £100,000 a year and lost £500,000 last year.  Rolled up losses on the balance sheet amount to some £700,000. Waugh’s former home, The Evening Standard, reports that the deal could be worth £2 million. In theory true, but in reality that is if, and only if, certain optimistic synergistic revenue goals are met. It should be remembered that loss making Dods plc is itself also 23% owned by Ashcroft. This is basically an all-paper transaction with Ashcroft shuffling loss making assets around. No money is actually changing hands…

ConservativeHome is not in this deal, its losses are subsidised directly by Ashcroft through Political Investments Limited.  Over on the left-hand side of the blogosphere the unions now fund LabourList, LeftFootForward and PoliticalScrapbook directly, which is why they read like press releases from the TUC. Keen analysts of the online political sphere will note that there is now only one politics-only website pure play that makes money as a commercial proposition. Profits which make us proudly independent…

UPDATE: A bean-counting co-conspirator points out that from a “tax management” point of view it is pretty savvy. The rolled up losses of the acquisition can be offset to reduce the tax on overall business. Now you know why he is billionaire…

Arianna's HuffPo Will Find Us Tougher to Beat

The coming of Arianna’s Huffington Post to British shores isn’t generating much buzz yet. It should, the product is perfect for the internet generation’s short attention span, the connectivity of the site is superbly executed and search engine optimised to make millions in advertising.[…] Read the rest

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