The owners of Talk Business & Politics announced Sept. 1 an agreement is in place to acquire the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal from Gray Matters LLC.
The deal, which will create one of the largest Arkansas media companies focused on business and politics, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Owners of Natural State Media, the parent company of Talk Business & Politics, have worked with Gray Matters owners Darin and Tami Gray for more than two months on the deal. Roby Brock, publisher and CEO of Natural State Media, said he was grateful for their trust and willingness to sell a company they had spent many years growing into a successful enterprise.
“Darin and Tami created a tremendous brand and operation in Northwest Arkansas,” Brock said. “They pulled together great people to help it grow as Darin transitioned to his new career with CJRW. In our early discussions, they made it clear the Business Journal would be sold only to someone who they believed best understood the future of journalism. We’re pleased they placed that belief in us.”
Darin Gray is the chairman and CEO of Little Rock-based CJRW, one of the largest marketing and advertising agencies in the southeast U.S.
He resigned as CEO of Gray Matters on Feb. 10, 2014, and the company became 100-percent owned by The TDG Family Trust. Tami Gray was the sole trustee.
Gray was named president of CJRW on Feb. 19, 2014, and was elevated to chairman and CEO on July 13, 2015.
Gray said he and Tami believe selling to Natural State Media is a “natural progression” for the company they built.
“Over the years, Tami and I have had potential buyers inquire about purchasing Gray Matters and its lead publication, the NWA Business Journal, but in this case it just felt right,” he said. “The approach by Roby and his leadership team to our existing staff and leadership was critical when deciding if it was the right time to sell. Continuing the current leadership team, headed up by Rob Gutterridge, was a critical factor in feeling right about the acquisition. The dedicated staff at the Business Journal deserve the opportunity to continue to play an important role in its future success.”
Continuing, Gray noted: “Tami and I feel that this is a very natural progression in the lifecycle of Gray Matters. We said we never wanted to be the kind of owners that would stand in the way of its long-term success, and we have a lot of faith in Roby and his organization to further the good work of the Business Journal in providing the best business and political news to our long-term clients and subscribers.”
Brock said he and Michael Tilley, executive editor of Talk Business & Politics and a co-owner of Natural State Media, do not have immediate changes planned for either company, but do see many opportunities to build upon the successful elements of a combined operation.
“Talk Business & Politics and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal are doing well, and there is no reason for any immediate disruption,” Tilley said. “However, we have identified areas in which we can improve the quality and quantity of our brand of business and political journalism. There also are areas in which we can improve the business fundamentals through a combined company. We plan to strategically move toward those improvements once the deal is complete.”
Rob Gutterridge, publisher and CEO of the NWABJ, will not only remain with the operation but is to become a co-owner of Natural State Media.
“Rob has excellent sales and leadership experience. Darin and Tami found a great person to run the company for them, and we were happy and relieved when Rob agreed to not only stay on, but to take an ownership position,” Brock said.
The Business Journal acquisition is the second announced expansion for Natural State Media in less than a year. The newly formatted Talk Business & Politics resulted from the October 2015 merger of River Rock Communications and TCW Media (The City Wire).
The new company, Natural State Media, is based in Fort Smith and focuses coverage on business and political news in Northwest Arkansas, the Fort Smith metro, central Arkansas, northeast Arkansas and statewide.
Owners of the company are Brock, Patricia Brown, Chester Koprovic, Tilley, and Bennie Westphal. Gutterridge will become an owner when the deal is complete.