Mitch Bettis Buys Arkansas Business Publishing Group - Southern Business Review

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Mitch Bettis Buys Arkansas Business Publishing Group

Mitch Bettis, president of Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock, is purchasing the company from a limited partnership led by Olivia Myers Farrell, the two announced Monday.


The sale includes Arkansas Business newspaper, Little Rock Soirée magazine, Little Rock Family magazine and Flex360, a web development company and digital marketing agency, and other print and digital products in the ABPG family.


Financial terms of the deal, effective Feb. 28, were not disclosed.


With the purchase, Bettis will become president and CEO of ABPG, a company Farrell founded in 1995 but whose roots go back to 1984 and the founding of Arkansas Business as part of the Arkansas Writers Project. Farrell, who has been CEO of the company, will retire.


"It became my dream to own a publishing company when I was a paperboy for my hometown newspaper in seventh grade," Bettis said. "To be able to do that here with such an exceptional team and unique products is really a dream come true."

Bettis joined ABPG in 2013 as general manager and publisher of Arkansas Business. Before that, he was regional publisher for publicly traded GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York. In that role, he oversaw GateHouse’s print and digital products in 10 communities in Arkansas and northern Louisiana, including the publishing, editorial and sales efforts of more than 100 employees.


In 2014, Bettis was promoted to ABPG president. Under his leadership, the company has expanded its digital publishing and marketing businesses, launched new live events and grown Arkansas Business' paid circulation to an all-time high. In 2018, the company logged its fifth consecutive year of record revenue or profit.


The company's growth comes at a time when media companies of all sizes are struggling to retain advertisers and readers.


"I know many TV, radio and newspaper peers have had some tough years, but Arkansas Business, Little Rock Soirée, Arkansas Bride and many of our print, digital and event products have had five consecutive years of record growth," Bettis said. "We continue to add staff to support our ongoing growth, and we have an amazing team of people who work hard every day for our readers and advertising partners."


Bettis will be the sole owner of ABPG under his new company, Five Legged Stool LLC. He said the company will continue operating as-is, with no staffing or organizational changes.


The sale caps a 41-year career in publishing for Farrell, who helped build two companies — Arkansas Times and Arkansas Business Publishing Group — into two of the state's biggest independent multimedia firms.


"I could not be more thrilled that Mitch Bettis will be taking over the reins of the company," Farrell said. "He is a uniquely talented leader and businessman and a tremendous asset to our community. This transition will benefit our readers and our staff, and I look forward to seeing the great things the company will accomplish under his direction."


Farrell joined the Arkansas Writers Project in 1978 as an advertising account executive. The company, founded four years earlier by Alan Leveritt, published the Arkansas Times, a scrappy tabloid that eventually grew into the state’s biggest alternative weekly newspaper.


Farrell became a partner in the company in 1982, two years before the launch of Arkansas Business. In 1986, she was named publisher of the Arkansas Times.


That same year, the company launched Southern magazine, a monthly glossy celebrating the food and culture of the South, drawing a national readership that eventually topped 240,000. Southern magazine sold to Southern Living magazine in 1989.

In 1995, Farrell negotiated a split from the Arkansas Writers Project, forming ABPG as CEO and purchasing Arkansas Business, Arkansas Bride, Kids! (which became Little Rock Family) and a host of smaller, annual publications.


Today, ABPG employs 65 people at its office in downtown Little Rock. It produces 30 weekly, monthly, semiannual and annual titles, as well as contract publications and websites. Its products include Little Rock Family, the monthly parenting magazine launched in 1994, and Little Rock Soirée, a monthly magazine covering nonprofits, fashion, food and events in Little Rock launched in 2002.


Other publications include Arkansas Bride, Arkansas Next: A Guide to Life After High School, Arkansas Next Pros, Greater Little Rock Guest Guide and Greenhead. It launched Flex360 in 2004.


Along the way, Farrell championed the role of women in the state's business, political and nonprofit communities.


In 1995, ABPG published the first Top 100 Women in Arkansas guide to 100 Arkansas women who distinguished themselves through professional accomplishments, political and community influence and personal achievements. Farrell devised the publication to "raise the level of awareness and respect for the successes women in Arkansas have achieved" and to serve as a resource for companies and organizations searching for women to fill board of directors positions.


The annual feature inspired Ferrell and Pat Lile to found the Arkansas Women's Foundation, which aims to promote women and girls in Arkansas. The nonprofit celebrated its 20th year in 2018.


"Olivia has left a unique and indelible mark on our state building a unique company featuring niche products that bring high-valued audiences together with advertisers," Bettis said. "Her leadership has been marked by more than 100 national and local awards for outstanding publications.


"She has given her life to building this company, but her community work is just as large a part of her legacy as she has changed the lives of so many people around the state."