George Lynett is a fourth-generation newspaper man. He’s also in the business of billboards, water-testing and, more recently, beer.
Lynett and his cousins own the Scranton, Pa.-based Times-Shamrock Communications Company. It has been in the family since it was founded in 1895. Over the years the company had rapidly expanded to include new markets and radio. George and his cousins took the reins in the mid-2000s, or as he puts it, “right as the world was starting to crash.”
He refers to his uncles and dad as the Bush administration. “The timing was tough for us coming in; there were buyouts, furloughs and layoffs,” he says.
An acquisition team was put in place in the mid-90s with the goal of buying non-core businesses that didn’t rely on ad spending. George jokes that anytime the team found a new, non-core company, they would just buy the local newspaper instead because they knew the business better.
When George took over, he wanted to reduce the debt that had built up from financing the expansion through the years. This meant selling. They sold half of the daily newspapers, leaving the Times-Shamrock with four. They also sold the alternative news weekly groups, which were hit hardest during the recession.
“The goal in the beginning was filling the holes of shrinking cash flow on the media side,” George says. Times-Shamrock co-owner Matt Haggerty reviews deals and decides on worthy investments, reviewing between two and ten deals a day, looking for middle market deals. In 2012 the company acquired a small billboard company and a water testing company.
In March of 2016 came the newest, and perhaps most talked about acquisition: Flying Fish Brewery.
They weren’t originally looking at the brewery, but instead were considering either a sign or tortilla chip manufacturer.
“We know how to run a media company, we don’t know how to run a brewery,” he says, laughing. The brewery’s founder and top sales guy wanted to roll over equity. “It was a sign they have belief in the company, so we bought out the majority. It was a good solid company with a good product, and a process we could understand.”
Times-Shamrock is also able to use some of the media markets for advertising for the brewery.
“If we can add a little marketing power, it’s a plus,” he says.
George says the Times-Shamrock is ahead of the game on investing, but he doesn’t believe any independent newspaper is sticking its head in the sand and not considering non-core businesses.
“We’re very open about our financials and what we’re looking at,” he says. The question remains for all members, “How do we diversify cash flow?”
He says this is the ninth year of declining circulation and advertising numbers. “There’s belief in the future of the industry, but we have to manage the expenses and develop other revenue streams.”