Inside Blackstone’s $1.3 Billion Bet On B2B Data And Media With IDG

Blackstone made one of the splashiest digital media deals of the past year last week when it acquired the B2B media and mar tech company International Data Group (IDG).

IDG might not attract your average consumer. but its portfolio of some 300 tech and IT publications, including CSO, TechHive and Computerworld, fuels one of the largest B2B data and targeting operations in the world.

The company is split into two business: IDG Comms, which encompasses media and events, and the data and research arm International Data Corporation (IDC).

IDG is the crocodile of B2B marketing. Its basic model has remained unchanged for more than 50 years. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still take advantage of a new environment.

CEO Mohamad Ali was hired two years ago. And though it’s been a tumultuous time, with major upheaval to the company’s cookie-based data set, not to mention a global pandemic. Ali said IDG is well-placed to secure its spot in a new era of data-driven marketing.

And having a billion-dollar backer in Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, doesn’t hurt either.

Ali spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What has your focus been since taking the helm?

MOHAMAD ALI:  Since the internet came into existence, the strength of digital media companies has been measured by these third-party connections.

All of that is changing right now. I joined the company two years ago because there was this trend of third-party cookies disappearing. I knew that the mar tech space would have to completely remake itself and that most of the 7,000 or more mar tech companies would come under great pressure. I joined with the idea that we’re going to leverage a massive number of first-party relationships with, specifically, technology buyers – people who might operate IT departments or spend a million dollars on flash storage arrays.

What does it entail for the media side of the business to transition from primarily third-party data to first-party data?

For a long time we were actually putting first-party information in the open exchange, but we’ve shut that down. The only way to access our first-party audience connections now is through us and our media.

These third-party relationships have already been shut down in FireFox and Safari – and soon Google. It’s also more and more difficult on the mobile side. Any companies that rely on third-party cookies or bidstream data are under increasing pressure. We believe first-party connections are going to become premium again.

We now have the whole technology stack underneath our content harnessing first-party relationships. We have a database of two hundred million first-party relationships, which is powering both sides of the company. On the IDC side, we’ve gone from a static data model to an API that can be consumed on the fly. That’s been a big effort the past two years.

Where can you apply that first-party data, aside from on your own sites?

That’s where you need an ABM platform, which we acquired last year with Triblio. [Account-based marketing is B2B advertising speak for targeting specific tech decisionmakers within large companies].

That’s the orchestration layer so you know the people at a business to target. The question then is, how do you get to that email or pushed into the LinkedIn feeds for those accounts or reach them with banner ads on sites where you know they’re interested?

There was a time when we made our data available in the open exchange. It would go into the bidstream and get stolen. Now it’s only available through us, but there’s this orchestration platform, so you could use it in a targeted way.

What are your thoughts on the ad industry’s identity initiatives as a possible way to extend your ID data and would you integrate with them?

Well, there might be 100 of these unified ID initiatives out there. Some are more prevalent than others. I’m not convinced the plans will work, though. And at this moment, we are not planning to participate.

But we’re not a broad-spectrum player. We’re a vertical player in tech, particularly enterprise and IT. There are only two places that have intent-rich data on those tech buyers, and that’s us and TechTarget. And, so, we don’t need a unified ID that’s going to operate across many different kinds of sites. If we were a horizontal player and did target consumers broadly across the web, that would be a solution I’d be invested in.

Do you plan to combine the mar tech and data licensing sides of the business with the media and ad tech?

There is an opportunity to collaborate, but we’re not doing that right now. We run IDC and IDG Comms as separate businesses. We are building up the tech stack, but the opportunity so far has been to modernize each side of the business. We’re building the data layer, and as we build the IDG Comms data set, we’ll find the synergies between that side of the business and IDC.

What’s the plan now that you’ve been acquired?

Blackstone basically said, “Continue doing what you’re doing.”

But now we have a big checkbook to go out and acquire new parts for the platform.

It was a private equity acquisition, so what’s the next step?

We are currently on a three-year path to be IPO-ready that started at the end of 2019. Our goal is to be IPO-ready the end of 2022.

The successful exit vision, from Blackstone’s perspective, is to own the ABM data layer, and with it you can buy and integrate other pieces that can be fueled by that data.

They aren’t thinking small, like growing a $1.3 billion business to $2 billion. If somebody comes along and has a truly compelling mar tech solution for the B2B upper funnel – that’s a $20 billion business.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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