There’s a lot that’s happened over the last month among vendors that make technology for public relations (PR) professionals – and I can’t wait to show you this month’s summary of news from the PR technology community.
For reference, I’m tracking 27 different vendors and if you work a vendor, this page has everything you need to know about how to get tracked, how this works, and how to get in touch to share news and views.
But before we dive in, please allow me a quick plug:
Richard Carufel, the longtime editor of Bulldog Reporter, moderated and recorded the session on media relations in challenging times. Panelists included yours truly and alongside these illustrious PR experts: Sangeetha Sarma; Shalon Roth; and Curtis Sparrer.
The company has aggregated a stellar roster of contributors to produce a number of sessions on earned media. Best of all, it’s free with registration. It’s going to be a fantastic professional development opportunity for you or your PR team – so check it out.
And now, onward with this’s month’s PR Tech Sum…
1) OnePitch set to roll out premium offerings
OnePitch is a new startup in PR tech that has been running a free beta program since September 2017. Next month it’s gearing up to unveil premium offerings. OnePitch has set out to be a pitch broker between PR pros and reporters.
It currently works as its name implies. PR pros can submit pitches to OnePitch through an online template that includes required fields and character limits. It walks you through a series of steps to choose the right categories and tags that help describe the content of your pitch.
Then OnePitch vets these pitches to ensure they meet the basic requirements reporters ask for (thing pithy 5Ws). If your pitch passes muster, the company includes it in a single daily email sent to journalists that have subscribed to those categories.
The system gives PR pros basic analytics such as how many reporters opened the message, clicked through on your pitch, and saved the message. I’ve used it three times and you can see a screenshot of the analytics below.
On the receiving end, reporters are able to select categories they want, and then receive a single email with all the pitches in that category for the day. Instead of 20 emails with pitches sent separately from PR pros, they can get one email with 20 pitches and skim through it for things that pique their interest.
Here’s what OnePtich said in an email it sent to users:
“Since then, we’ve seen nearly 2000 publicists and journalists join us, over 1000 pitches submitted, and over 100 success stories celebrated. We’ve received countless pieces of valuable feedback from each and every user and have created over 50 new features and enhancements, and this is only beginning.”
I asked co-founder and COO Jered Martin about pricing for the new model and here’s what he said:
“We are launching our pricing plans starting in September and will offer four tiers: free, beginner, professional, and enterprise. Each will have access to features currently available on the service as well as a number of new features we’re preparing for the launch. Those new features include a pitch approval tool, social listening dashboard, location targeting/filtering, an enhanced analytics dashboard including placement tracking, and a pitching coach composed of current editors and journalists who write for top tier publications.”
I also asked him about milestones he thought the company had achieved so far and he pointed to three:
a) “To date, we’ve had over 1,000 pitches submitted through the service and identified key characteristics of them. There have been over 130 connections through the service and an unidentified number of placements secured – partly because we don’t hear from users every time their story is published. We’ve seen open rates upwards of 25% and click rates close to 7%. Response rates have also teetered between 10-13% on average.”
That’s pretty good by current email marketing benchmarks where open rates range on average between 16-21% and CTRs come in between, barring anomalies, 2-3%.
b) “We launched our first podcast season last in March titled, Coffee With A Journalist, which has over 1,500 views and over 820 unique downloads. We’ll be launching season 2 in January with a new question format and all new guests.”
In my mind, OnePitch has something like an inverse HARO model. I think we should all have an interest in seeing fresh ideas the PR tech space thrive – so go sign up for the free version and take it for a test drive.
2) Cision integrates TrendKite and Faclon.io
TrendKite has become the primary technology for the Cision media monitoring capability. Falcon.io, which is probably more familiar to European readers, was acquired and integrated for social media listening and engagement. While the company has made several social media acquisitions over the last few years, Falcon.io is different in that it might be compared with Hootsuite for example.
This is another step along its way to becoming a one-stop-shop for PR and earned media. There is little doubt Cision is the dominant player in the market today. It has the biggest media database, two of the largest press release distribution services, comprehensive media monitoring, influencer marketing and social media engagement. While individual point products may be better in their respective niche, no other company currently has the breadth of products PR pros might need on one platform.
But let’s dig behind this integration announcement a little bit.
TrendKite is the New Cision Media Monitoring
TrendKite was founded by a former Meltwater employee and developed a modern and competitive approach to media monitoring. I got a good look at TrendKite about six months before the acquisition and also recently – post-integration. What I saw is that Cision has essentially plugged the TrendKite dashboards into its platform. It’s given users a drop-down menu to navigate to other services they subscribe to – press releases, media contacts, or influencer marketing contacts, for example.
For TrendKite users, the branding around the dashboard is all Cision now but it works the same way it always has with customizable widgets.
For Cision users, I’d imagine, the addition of TrendKite is a bit of an upgrade. As I understand it from speaking to people familiar with the integration, it’s replacing some of the underlying monitoring tools that originated with Vocus. Those two companies – former rivals and among the biggest in the market – merged in 2014.
Cision, of course, is looking for a cross-sell, and if you are a Cision customer and using two different products, it does make sense to take an agnostic look and see if you can get a better deal by switching. Keep in mind, a better deal could mean a lower price point, but it could also be better features and ease-of-use.
The media monitoring tools offered by TrendKite will run an agency about $3,500 per client, per year, though you can get a volume discount. For in-house teams, sources tell me it’ll run about $26,000 per year. The average selling price for TrendKite – according to a presentation Cision gave to investors – is $19,000 annually.
If you’re doing the math and thinking, gosh, I’ll just have my agency buy it for me, be careful. A corporate account will have liberties – like adding a seat for your agency – that an agency account won’t be able to do for clients.
Swapping out Earned Media Attribution Models
The one-piece that’s different for TrendKite users is earned media attribution. Before the acquisition, TrendKite was working on a way to attribute readers of earned media with visits to a website. Cision was apparently also working on their own version of this – what it calls “impact” – and the Cision approach apparently won out in the integration.
In a nutshell, the effect of impact is this: If someone reads coverage of your company today, and three days from now visits your company’s website, Cision can tell you that happened and tally up the results. Ergo, the PR team now has marketing attribution.
In theory, and to take this a step further, if the company captures the visit in a marketing automation tool, like Eloqua, they can track that all the way to a sale. If you buy this, it’s a good idea to get your marketing operations folks involved, because tracking this stuff will prove your value to the organization in a way most PR shops have never been able to produce, outside of anecdotes.
How does that work?
Most online publications have cookies and pixels on the site to track users. Third-party data brokers harvest that information for advertising purposes because advertisers want to know if the budget being poured into ads is driving sales. Cision also has a deal with some of those data brokers to do the same thing with earned media. If you put pixels and code on your site, you can match and marry the data through these brokers. If you’ve dabbled with re-marketing with search ads, or installed pixels for social media advertising, it’s that sort of idea.
Importantly, impact – the earned media attribution part – is not part of the TrendKite dashboard, but a separate offering. I don’t know how much it costs, but you can expect it’s not cheap, and probably only accessible (and necessary for that matter) for only the biggest organizations at present.
In addition, if you are in the market for earned media attribution, you should also check Onclusive. That company is one of those point solutions – this is all they do – but if you are spending that kind of bank on attribution, it’s worth your time to compare the solutions and chose the one that works best for you. To help, I wrote up a PR Tech Briefing on them here: Onclusive Provides PR with Attribution Capabilities and Promises Novel Approach to Distribution.
Have your Bots get in Touch with my Bots
One of the underrecognized benefits Cision got with TrendKite is influencer marketing. Before it was acquired by Cision, TrendKite made two acquisitions of their own in Insightpool and Union Metrics. Insightpool is basically a social media influencer database and Union Metrics provides social analytics.
I’m familiar with Insightpool because they were based here in Atlanta. I’ve seen their pitch deck and watched them present to investors in a bake-off for tech startups when they were still seeking their next round of funding.
The integration of TrendKite also brings the integration of Insightpool (and probably Union Metrics, but I’m not as familiar with that). Still, for all the interest, influencer marketing is really hard when you get down to brass tacks. I’ve demoed a half-dozen of these influencer tools and most of them can produce a list of possible social media influencers but are over-reliant on vanity metrics and follower counts to produce those lists.
Earnings and Acquisition Execution
Cision (NYSE: CISN) will release its Q2 earnings on August 8, 2019. The bar will be high for the company after reporting growth in both revenue and profit in Q1. You can bet investors are going to be interested to see how well the company is executing on these acquisitions.
And they should. Cision has put a lot of money into M&A. It spent $225 million, including $94 million in cash, on TrendKite. Though figures for Falcon.io were not released, TechCrunch reported two sources putting the sale price in the range of $122-$222 million.
Tying all these technologies together isn’t just a technical matter – you want to do it without losing the developer talent that knows the code – or upsetting customers and igniting churn. For example, Falcon.io had 1,500 customers at acquisition, and it wouldn’t be too hard for any of them to jump to Hootsuite or Sprout Social.
All things considered, Cision seems to be doing quite well. The one caveat I’ve seen is that in March, Reuters reported Cision was shopping for a new buyer. The report cited the Cision streak of a dozen or so acquisitions as motivation for a buyer’s interest – I tend to see as a sign to be patient and see how things play out. But what do I know? Markets are irrational.
3) Critical Mention ends its relationship with Cision
“…as of July 1, 2019, Critical Mention will no longer be available in the Cision platform.”
“We made this decision for the dual purpose of best serving our customers and growing our business.”
Critical Mention made a name for itself in broadcast monitoring, and over the years has added news and social media monitoring:
“In an effort to best serve our customers by providing a true all-in-one media intelligence service, we have made significant additions to the Critical Mention platform in recent years. These additions include increased social media monitoring, licensed print content and streamlined search functionality.”
It’s been a few years, but I’ve seen a demo of the broadcast monitoring, and have a chance to do some hands-on testing of the product. The broadcast monitoring is top-notch – if you get any volume of television coverage – you should definitely take a look.
As for the news and social media monitoring, it’s got the basics covered and will have what you need. If you are in the market for it or are coming up for renewal, it’s another option worth considering.
4) West Corporation rebrands as Intrado…but who was West?
“…the divestiture of its last call center business and the completion of several acquisitions that have reshaped the Company.”
What does the company do? The company offers a wide-ranging collection of products but the ones of interest to you and me are:
“The webhosting, webcasting and public relations businesses acquired from Nasdaq, including GlobeNewswire”;
“The newly acquired Notified business, provider of cloud-enabled media, monitoring and measurement tools.”
If you’re thinking, forget Intrado, who is West? What do they do? Where did they come from? That’s what I was thinking too.
This is one I stumbled upon…after I hit an old PR vendor’s website – Maketwired – and was redirected down a rabbit hole.
Don’t worry, I boil it down to just cliff notes here. But we do have to take a trip down memory bliss first.
Nasdaq used to have tools for investor relations, including press releases through GlobeNewswire. You may be familiar with GlobeNewswire because they’ve done syndication deals with the other press release distributors over the years. Anyway, Nasdaq acquired Marketwired in February 2016.
Hold that thought, we’ll get back to it. Here’s another acquisitions story that was unfolding at the same time.
In 2017, a publicly traded private equity (PE) firm called by Apollo Global Management, LLC (NYSE: APO) acquired a technology company called West Corporation for $2 billion. West makes communications technology. This is more on telecom side of things like signal and messaging services – and not PR or IR – but when you get down to it, the conveyance of a message from a technology standpoint, is pretty much the same concept.
Now, PE firms often like to buy bits and pieces of businesses and reassemble them into something they hope to sell for higher value later, so West wasn’t done. In April 2018, the company was thinking about how it’s going to reshape its future.
The company inked a deal to acquire the Nasdaq PR/IR business, including Maketwired, from Nasdaq for $335 million. The company is becoming what West CEO John Shlonsky called in the acquisition announcement, a “technology enablement company connecting people and businesses around the world.”
But West still wasn’t done.
One year later, on April 2019, it decided to buy a Swedish firm named Notified, a “provider of a complete suite of cloud media monitoring and measurement tools.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, CrunchBase indicates that Notified itself made two acquisitions (Lissly and Twintip Insights) and cites Owler which estimates it had revenue of $2.6 million. It’s as good a number as licking your finger and sticking it in the air to check the wind direction, but that’s all I could find.
Here’s the thing: nobody even notices. Here’s this is a big company, backed by deep pockets, that’s making bold moves in the PR space by snapping up known and known brands and tying them together and…crickets.
So much for the press release distribution business. I searched for coverage and saw one piece in CRN, which by the way, highlights other digital marketing acquisitions the company is making, so this company seems serious about digital.
So, what does it mean? What did West – to-be-Intrado-in-the-future – get from Notified?
From the announcement:
“The Notified platform offers an integrated solution for public relations, communications and digital media. Products include media monitoring with robust search capabilities and automatic sentiment analysis; an extensive global contact database of media and influencers with integrated customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities; press release distribution; the ability to re-use content generated by customers to complement and enrich marketing campaigns; and measurement tools to better understand the performance of media initiatives.”
Two months later, in early June, West started rolling out an “integrated solution for communications planning, outreach, engagement and measurement.”
The product sounds to me like it leans more toward the IR than PR. Commentary from Ben Chodor, president of West Digital Media Solutions, reinforces that idea:
“By integrating complementary workflow tools and relevant, actionable data into a single platform, we’re empowering our clients―marketers, PR, IR and internal communications professionals―to drive more successful programs.”
At risk of being too inside baseball, I’m not sure why American PE firms are attracted to buying up Swedish PR technology companies – but if get one more like this – we’ll have a trend. For now, West, er, Intrado seems to be aiming to be an all-in-one tool, but they come at it from an investor relations standpoint.
It’s going to be fun to watch. Other companies may be watching too. In May, Business Wire announced a sales partnership – that could lead to better things – with and IR tech company called Q4.
5) Deloitte taps Signal A.I. to monitor media for clients
Deloitte chose Signal A.I. to monitor media for changes in tax regulation. Deloitte, of course, is a giant accounting firm and Signal A.I. is UK-based startup, who, as its namesake suggests, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor media.
Like many of the big players in media monitoring, Signal aggregates information from the Dow Jones-owned Factiva and LexisNexis. Its algorithms seem to be its differentiator. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any of the big players in media monitoring pitching AI aggressively.
The accounting firm didn’t just sit back and let Signal do all the work. Instead, the announcement says Deloitte “trained” the AI to surface “hyper-relevant regulator updates, news and market changes in real-time.”
Regulatory changes can get pretty heady:
“The AI platform actively monitors over 100 regulatory sources in over 100 jurisdictions, together with information from news and other media sources around the world to help users monitor the changes in tax law, which is estimated to involve 300 million pages of regulation published by 2020.”
It requires a lot of data to train an AI, so I suppose this is next evolution to spending hours on support calls with media monitoring services to tweak the Boolean searches and eliminate the junk search results. However, if after training, an accounting firm can monitor the details for regulatory changes and feel confident promoting that to clients as a service, you can probably do a pretty good job on news and online media monitoring too.
Interestingly, Deloitte put out the announcement first – so this deal with Signal is positioned as a service to Deloitte customers and a differentiator for Deloitte. The company says it has about 300 customers signed up.
For their part, Signal did some positioning too:
“The deal also marks Signal A.I.’s expansion beyond their PR-tech market focus into the US$70Bn Regtech market as the company continues to grow.”
Singal A.I. has since added a case study about the deal, and US readers should know the regulatory changes around the digitization of value-added tax (VAT) is a pretty big deal in the UK.
6) Picks from the PR tech vendor blogs
Over the last month, I’ve perused the PR tech vendor blogs and picked out a few posts that I thought merited a mention. And they get a tweet from the Sword and the Script Twitter channel.
The best way for a vendor to get picked is to have an RSS feed – like this one – and of course, publish content with utility. Alternatively, if you work for a vendor and have a post that is truly exceptional, feel free to email it to me. I’ve got a soft spot for surveys, studies and data analysis.
“According to Gallup, 70% of employees are not engaged. Meanwhile, organizations that do improve employee communications can increase productivity by 20-25%.”
1) “The most preferred method of pitching among journalists is 1:1 email. Least preferred is by phone.”
2) “65% of journalists like to be pitched between 9-11am.”
3) “Lack of personalization is once again the #1 reason why journalists reject otherwise relevant pitches (25%), followed by bad timing (23%).”
4) “73% of journalists are OK with receiving a follow up to a pitch they didn’t initially respond to. Only 12% would prefer to not receive any type of follow up.”
“Communications managers of European companies will often struggle with media relations in the United States.”
“Working in PR means taking in, processing, and making decisions about how and when to communicate enormous volumes of information. What we say and how we say it has consequences, whether we’re an international news network, or the marketing department for a corporation.”
“If brands do decide to launch such an effort, they must be mindful. If a campaign is just words—and isn’t backed up by the way the brand does business—a company can find itself in hot water.”
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Do you work for a PR tech vendor and have something to share? In case you missed it, there’s a page that spells it out the opportunities for you.
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