May 3, 2016

A Novel One: Gannett’s “Just Vote No” Campaign = Merger Talks?

Is it novel for a wannabe acquiror to put pressure on a target by running a ‘withhold’ campaign? Yes, it’s very unusual. There may have been others, but not that I can think of. The intro from this WSJ article explains the situation:

Gannett Co. on Monday urged Tribune Publishing Co. shareholders not to back Tribune’s slate of director nominees, in an effort to send a “clear signal” that investors want the two companies to engage in merger talks. Last week, Gannett went public with its proposal to acquire Tribune in a deal valued at about $400 million that would combine titles like USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as the struggling print news industry increasingly consolidates. Getting Tribune Publishing shareholders to withhold director votes is the only way that Gannett can influence this year’s proxy vote. Gannett made its offer public because it was frustrated at Tribune’s lack of response.

I can think of a few proxy fights where the buyer has run board seats like Roche/Illumina or Airgas – or when Valeant solicited consents to get a special meeting called against Allergan. But not a “withhold” campaign against directors. I haven’t looked at the situation that closely, but possibly Gannett is going this route because they missed the nomination deadline for a proxy fight – Tribune’s annual meeting is June 2nd…