Note: this post was updated on March 19, 2021.
In the course of putting together the monthly PR technology summary (PR Tech Sum), I’ve realized that no news site has compiled a complete list of all the acquisitions around Cision.
Oh, sure, there are bits and pieces, but even the Wikipedia entry, at the time of this writing, is woefully incomplete. Some articles I’ve read cite 11 acquisitions in its recent history. While that’s arguably true, depending on when you start the timeline, the reality is there were several more involved in the formation of the company as it stands today.
It’s hard to believe, the company’s roots can be traced back to those old Bacon’s books printed in Chicago, or even a press clipping service out of Sweden, before that. Today, the company is perhaps the largest of its kind, and I think understanding how it got to the place it is now, offers an interesting window into the world of PR and the evolution of technology for the digital PR community.
And so, for reasons that are equal parts public service and personal interest, I’ve combed through countless articles and announcements, and put together a chronological listing of the M&A transactions that have transformed Cision into the public or privately traded entity it is today.
1) February 18, 2014: Enter GTCR
Cision is publicly traded on the Swedish stock exchange. A subsidiary of the private equity firm GTCR subsidiary, called Blue Canyon, makes a public offer of 775 million in Swedish Krona (SEK) to for a majority stake in Cision, a provider of PR software and services such as, media monitoring, media list building, distribution and analysis. Exchange rates at the time indicate the offer was worth about $120 million (US). Rival Meltwater, which owned a minority stake in the then publicly traded Cision, makes a counteroffer to shareholders of $137 million. This initiates a bidding battle. In April, the Cision board votes for the GTCR offer, which ends up at being valued at about $170 million. Keep in mind, for the next few years, Cision is a privately held business owned by a PE firm.
2) April 7, 2014: Vocus
Vocus, a provider of cloud-based PR software, which was formerly traded on the NASDAQ under the ticker VOCS, announces it will be acquired by GTCR for $447 million. Vocus had, in years prior, acquired brands including PRWeb for $28 million in 2006, Help a Reporter Out, aka HARO, for an undisclosed sum in 2010, and iContact, for $169 million in 2012.
Disclosure: I served as the director of PR at Vocus for three years from 2009-2012.
2a) June 2, 2014: Vocus + Cision
GTCR announces plans to merge Cision and Vocus.
2b) September 8, 2014: Outmarket
Cision spins off Outmarket, which had previously been the Vocus Marketing Suite. The suite was the weaving together of tools Vocus had acquired into a product aimed at the small business market. It included email (iContact), press releases (PRWeb), media relations (HARO), and social media (North Social and Engine 140), bundled in what was pitched as an easy-to-use and all-in-one product. Vocus had bet its future growth on the product, but it never really gained traction. What survived of Outmarket was eventually folded back into either Cision or iContact. Cision would sell iContact to J2 Global in 2019.
3) September 15, 2014: Visible Technologies
Newly combined Vocus-Cision acquires Visible Technologies, a provider of social media analytics. Terms are not disclosed; records show Visible Technologies had raised $83 million through venture funding and debt financing.
3a) October 14, 2014: Cision Name with Vocus Technology
Cision drops the Vocus brand name, but the underlying technology that all foreseable future Cision development will be based on Vocus technology.
(Sources: GlobeNewsWire, interviews with people familiar with the decision, and a sales product demo).
4) October 22, 2014: Gorkana
Cision acquires Gorkana, a UK-based provider of media intelligence and news. Terms were not disclosed but the Wall Street Journal reported a price tag of about $240 million.
5) March 23, 2015: Viralheat
Cision acquires Viralheat, a social media management platform with monitoring, publishing, and analytical capabilities. Terms were not disclosed but Viralheat had raised $4.3 million venture funding in two rounds.
— WooPitch (@WooPitch) March 30, 2017
6) December 15, 2015: PR Newswire
Cision announces the acquisition of PR Newswire, a press release distribution platform, for $841 million. The acquisition includes brands PR Newswire owns like ProfNet, a competitor to HARO, and the satellite media service MultiVu. Cision purchased those assets from UBM, a publisher and events company.
In what could be deemed an intersection in time and the beginning of a period of transition in PR – the rise of content marketing and the fall of press releases – UBM would acquire the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) for $17.6 million about six months later. CMI is a publisher, training and events company dedicated to the specific discipline of “content marketing.” Semantics matter, because “content marketing” is not the same thing as “marketing content” and the background PR has in working with editorial contacts is well-suited to content marketing.
6a) June 6, 2016: DOJ Rules on PR Newswire
The US Department of Justice rules that “GTCR must divest Agility to Innodata Inc., or to another buyer approved by the United States,” if the acquisition of PR Newswire is to proceed. Agility is the media database owned by PR Newswire. Today, Agility PR Solutions is a subsidiary of Innodata (NASDAQ: INOD).
7) March 27, 2017: Bulletin Intelligence
Cision announces the acquisition of Bulletin Intelligence, a Reston, Va.-based provider of briefings for corporate and government executives, for $71.8 million.
8) June 13, 2017: L’Argus de la Presse
Cision announces the acquisition of Paris-based L’Argus de la Presse, a French media monitoring service, for roughly $12,000,0000.
9) June 19, 2017: Capital Acquisition Corporation III
Cison announces it will begin trading on the public markets, through a “blank check” merger. In essence, the privately-held Cision plans to merge with a publicly-traded company called Capital Acquisition Corporation III, which was set up for this exact purpose (special purpose acquisition company, SPAC and before SPACs were cool).
Capital Acquisition Corp. III had raised $325 million in an IPO about two years prior. Cision will glean a capital infusion from the merger, and the unified entity, then valued at $2.4 billion, will be traded on the NYSE under the ticker: CISN. This method of listing on the public market avoids the level of publicity – and the analyst scrutiny that usually comes with the traditional route to an initial public offering (IPO).
10) December 20, 2017: CEDROM-SNi
Cision acquires CEDROM-SNi, a Canadian provider of digital media monitoring solutions. Terms are not disclosed.
11) December 26, 2017: Prime Research
Cision announces the acquisition of Prime Research, a PR measurement platform that uses a combination of consulting and technology. Terms are not disclosed. The press release, issued at closing, indicates Prime Research, which is headquartered in New York, NY, has 700 employees around the globe.
12) July 30, 2018: ShareIQ
Cision acquires ShareIQ which “discovers, analyzes and indexes original pieces of visual content.” Terms are not disclosed, though records show the company has raised $5.2 million in funding.
13) January 3, 2019: Falcon.io
Cision acquires Falcon.io, a Copenhagen-based social media platform. Terms were not disclosed, but TechCrunch cited two sources that put the deal at an estimated price tag of between $122-$222 million. Falcon.io raised $40.7 million in venture funding and debt over four rounds.
14) January 23, 2019: TrendKite
Cision acquires TrendKite, an Austin-based media monitoring platform for $225 million. TrendKite had raised $47.6 million in seven rounds of venture funding. According to a presentation Cision created for investors, TrendKite finished 2018 with $25 million in revenue and 144% CAGR growth over the last four years. Cision paid $225 million to buy the company and put the sales multiple at 7x forward earnings (~$32m).
15) January 25, 2019: iContact to J2 Global
Cision sells the Raleigh-based iContact to J2 Global (NASDAQ: JCOM), an internet information and services company based in Los Angeles, for $49 million. Keep in mind, prior to the merger with Cison, Vocus acquired iContact for $169 million.
15a) March 4, 2019: Market rumors the company is shopping for a buyer
Reuters reports that Cision is shopping for a buyer. According to the financial news publication, “The Chicago-based company, which is partly owned by private equity firm GTCR LLC, is working with an investment bank to reach out to potential buyers, the sources said on Monday, cautioning that there is no guarantee that the preliminary discussions will result in a deal.” No deal emerges immediately following that rumor.
16) October 22, 2019: Platinum Equity to acquire Cision
Cision announces it will be acquired by Platinum Equity in a cash deal for $10 per share which values the transaction at $2.74 billion. The deal is to close in 2020.
16a) January 31, 2020: Platinum Equity closes Cision deal
Platinum equity closes the Cision deal with an “all-cash transaction valued at approximately $2.7 billion.” So after going public and trading on the Swedish stock exchange, then being acquired by a PE firm and going private, and later merging with a SPAC (before SPACs became so popular) and go public again, Cision is again owned by a new PE firm and is again a private company.
In a press release, Kevin Akeroyd, the then CEO of Cision comments, “As a private company, Cision is well-positioned to meet both our financial and business goals. The Cision management team looks forward to partnering with the experienced and talented group of professionals at Platinum Equity.”
About two weeks later, Mr. Akeroyd steps down. Over the course of about a year, the 12 senior leaders – including the President, COO, CTO, CFO, SVP of Sales, VP of Comms, will leave, or otherwise be replaced.
16b) September-October 2020, Rumors of mergers and spinoffs swirl
The Business Insider reports two market rumors that Cision is aiming to buy its largest rival today in Meltwater and considering spinning off TrendKite. The reporter covering the story for Business Insider — Sean Czarnecki — used to be a tech reporter for PRWeek and has covered Cision for years.
However, a few months later Meltwater quietly goes public on the Swedish stock exchange. People within Meltwater tell me the company had no plans to merge with Cision and Swedish laws, which are quite different from those in the U.S., mandated their silence around the public listing for a period of time after being listed.
Further, Meltwater started trading publicly on December 3, 2020, on Euronext. According to public rules published by Euronext, a company that’s planning to list typically kicks off the process 4-6 months earlier. So, the minimum time for Meltwater to being the listing puts it at August 3, 2020, and before those rumors of a Cision-acquisition was reported. It seems more plausible that Meltwater was planning an IPO all along.
Separately, insiders tell me that de-coupling TrendKite from Cision at this point would technologically impossible. TrendKite is now central to the media monitoring capability, what it calls Cision Impact (see this product briefing).
(Sources: Business Insider).
17) February 26, 2021, Cision plans to acquire Brandwatch, which also owns BuzzSumo
Cision announces it’s acquiring Brandwatch “for $450 million, in a combined cash and shares deal,” according to TechCrunch. Brandwatch provides “social listening” which is industry jargon for social media monitoring.
The U.K.-based Brandwatch has raised about $65 million and previously made an acquisition of its own. In 2017, the company acquired a then buzzy new tool called BuzzSumo, which is also based in the U.K. It later merged with near-peer Crimson Hexagon in 2018 and acquired Qriously, a survey tool, in 2019.
Over the course of its acquisitions, Cision has purchased at least four other companies with overlapping social media monitoring capabilities. Brandwatch claims it uses “artificial intelligence” to analyze social media.
AI is something that, at this time, is missing from most of the incumbent PR software tools. However, a number of startups are beginning to use AI in new PR technologies, including PRophet, Propel, and SignalAI. There are also a number of more established companies, like Talkwalker and Isentia, which trades publicly on the Australian stock exchange, are using AI for media monitoring, including social media.
TechCrunch points out “Brandwatch was recently named a leader in Forrester’s guide for buyers of social listening solutions.” The full Forrester report was published in Q4 of 2020 and Cision is noticeably absent from the “Wave” graphic while competitors are represented.
“The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021,” according to a press release.
* * *
Where Cision goes from here it’s anyone’s guess. It sure seems like a hot potato that’s getting passed around. Still, it started out as a $170 million acquisition, and after a boatload of money and mashups, its valuation has to be somewhere north of $3 billion in 2021.
Candidly, to this date, I think the consolidation has been anything but good for the PR market – it’s removed competitors, squandered its dominant position and drifted away from its core customer base. Over the last several years, it’s done a lot of sexy deals that got headlines, but its ability to execute is still outstanding.
But one thing is for sure: there’s a lot of money riding on it. Maybe all it takes is just a little bit more.
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