Future’s Zillah Byng-Thorne is taking a big risk on buying Go Compare from the wily Peter Wood

Jim Armitage
·2-min read
Newsstand featuring Future magazines (Nigel Howard)
Newsstand featuring Future magazines (Nigel Howard)

It takes a brave investor to take on Zillah Byng-Thorne.

Since her arrival at Future Publishing in 2014, she has turned a struggling magazine business into a fully fledged digital consumer media giant.

She has blazed an acquisition trail that has made bankers wealthy and, so far, boosted its shares three-fold.

Today’s acquisition of Go Compare, though, is of a different order.

This time, she’s going outside of the magazine world and into a completely new, and bloodily competitive, field.

She talks a good talk about how the move will enable GoCo to cut its sky-high marketing costs by piggybacking on Future titles’ high Google search rankings. Obviously, it will also get free ad space in Future websites.

But it’s not entirely clear whether that will significantly cut the amount it has to spend on the expensive TV ads that made Gio Compario the most famous opera star of modern times.

Could she not have achieved similar ends by signing exclusive partnership deals with GoCo without the risk of struggling to bed in the acquisition of such a hugely different business?

One also has to wonder why one of Britain’s canniest entrepreneurs of his generation, Peter Wood, has chosen to sell his GoCo baby now.

As Barclays analysts pointed out this morning, GoCo has lost market share over time to ComparetheMarket.

Its big growth story, an energy switching site called AutoSave, is growing like topsy but yet to make money.

Future will hope to accelerate and expand AutoSave into other products. It may be wildly successful in so doing.

Indeed, GoCo could eventually prove to be a powerful new direction for Byng-Thorne’s acquisition trail.

But, while she’s understandably keen to use her highly valued shares for takeovers, markets will need more convincing that this one can work.

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