Cision adds sponsored content feature to PR Newswire – pitches it as “guaranteed editorial”; Meltwater Beats Earnings; TrueScope Raises $6.2 Million and Eyes the U.S. Market
One thing that separates PR, and specifically media relations, from marketing and advertising is third-party validation: there’s nothing you can say about yourself that’s as powerful as someone else saying it about you.
Since editorial coverage cannot be purchased, it can’t be controlled. Because such coverage can’t be controlled, it tends to be more credible. Because of this credibility factor, PR can’t guarantee a placement. And neither can vendors.
That’s the “big story” in this month’s PR Tech Sum.
1. Cision offers “guaranteed editorial placement”
Cision said customers that use its PR Newswire distribution service “can now secure guaranteed editorial placement across thousands of premium publishers.” It’s doing this through a partnership with an adtech company called Nativo, which as the brand name suggests, is a native advertising platform.
Press releases have always essentially been a “paid placement.” This is why Google requires links sent through these services to be marked “no-follow.” So, how is this different? Here’s an explanation.
Traditional press release distribution
Traditionally distribution services pay new sites a small fee every time they syndicate a press release. This is part of what you pay for when you fork over up to $2,000 for a press release. Of course, these sites know most of the press releases have little value to their readers, so they create a back page that’s buried out of sight.
This is how you wind up with a press release on a local ABC news affiliate in Buffalo even though your tech client is in San Francisco. Or the Longview Journal in the case of this particular announcement.
Some of these syndications, or “pick-ups” are better than others. For example, if your press release lands on MarketWatch or Yahoo Finance, that tends to get visibility, especially if your company is publicly traded. In many ways, in this context, press releases are trying to masquerade as editorial news even though they are in fact, paid placements. Add to this, the value of these pick-ups is small and diminishing in recent years.
A sponsored content twist
What Cison is offering today is a twist: they’ll take that press release and turn it into a sponsored post:
“Sponsored placement delivers the reach and visibility of branded content by creating an editorial placement that links to the press release in a patented native article format… the sponsored placement fits seamlessly into a publisher’s news feed by matching the visual design and function of the website. Once clicked, the sponsored placement directs a reader to the content in a sponsored editorial format right within the publisher’s site, driving three times more engagement than traditional digital ad placement.”
This sponsored post will get better placement on a site as an explainer video embedded with the announcement says on the home. The company didn’t disclose pricing, but you can be certain this will cost significantly more. I’d imagine there are targeting options too.
What to make of it?
I think this is an interesting idea – sponsored content should be part of the communicator’s toolkit – especially if you use paid media to achieve earned media goals. Old fashioned press releases and advertising can lead to bona fide editorial coverage.
This move toward sponsored content also fits with Cision’s clear effort to cozy up to the marketing side of the house over the last few years. They have previously offered re-targeting based on earned media audiences, which is rather novel. The problem for the company is that doesn’t appeal to the ~40% of comms professionals that report to a CEO or CCO.
NOT an editorial placement
There’s one significant problem will all this: the announcement pitches this as enabling “PR agencies to sell robust guaranteed placement packages to their clients.” Are you kidding? That’s misleading in my opinion.
Sure, a PR firm can sell advertising, but that’s not the issue. The issue is this is NOT a “guaranteed editorial placement.” In fact, it’s not an editorial placement at all. It’s sponsored content, which is a form of advertising, which is unquestionably paid media. Cision – the Swedish company that grew up making printed directories of media contacts – ought to have the institutional knowledge to know better than to call it as such.
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2. Meltwater beats earnings
Meltwater (Oslo Børs: MWTR) beat earning guidance, with $107 million in Q4 sales and a 5.8% EBIDTA margin under GAAP. It finished the full year 2021 with $403 million in sales and was cash-flow positive. In terms of 2022 guidance, Meltwater “expects revenue to increase to $450-460 million.”
One number I like to look at is what the company spent on R&D, because that’s how PR people wind up with better products. It spent $40.5 million on R&D in 2021, which works out to about 10% of revenue. By contrast, Meltwater spent roughly $100 million on three acquisitions in 2021.
It’s hard to find a good comparable to understand if that R&D spend is good or not, so I looked at HubSpot (NYSE: HUBS). HubSpot spent 18% of revenue in 2021 on R&D.
The company said it added “86 Premium Customers” and finished “the year with 3,848 Premium Customers in total.” Premium customers account for about half of the company’s annual recurring revenue (ARR) which grew 55% in 2021. The earnings release named new customers in this segment “as Marriott International, Nike, McKinsey & Company, Lego and Bayer.”
Another interesting number in the earning presentation is the total addressable market (TAM). It puts this number at $40 billion, which is the most generous estimate I’ve ever seen. It breaks the market it into two segments PR, marketing and communications ($26b) and lead generation, risk management and customer relations ($14b).
The research firm Burson Taylor puts the PR software market at $4 billion, but it’s an educated guess. The total PR market size, including services, has ranged somewhere between $10-$15 billion for many years. It’s really difficult to calculate this number – how do you account for in-house comms salaries and revenue from small consulting shops like me?
Back to the Meltwater TAM, what this means for PR customers, is that you are not the only focus anymore. Meltwater has its eyes on adjacent markets. That could be good or bad for you depending on where PR sits in your organization; it’s definitely a question to ponder in procurement. It’s pretty telling that the two largest vendors in PR are looking for new customers that are not in PR.
The company has repurchased about 600,000 of its shares in the last month and company insiders have also made stock purchases. This is often a public signal a company can send to show the market it believes what it’s saying.
3. Truescope raises $6.2M; expanding to the U.S.
Truescope raised $6.2 million in first round of funding and plans to enter the U.S. market. The Australian startup is co-founded by John Croll and Michael Bade, both formerly of iSentia – where Mr. Croll served as CEO. The company has been self-funded to date.
Truescope is focused exclusively on media monitoring at this point. It has “more than 250 corporate and government clients across Singapore and New Zealand,” according to the announcement. The company says it “will maintain focus on growing these markets while employing an expert commercial team in the US, which will be announced in the coming weeks.”
I’ve spoken to Mr. Croll recently and he’s given me a close look at the product. My impression is that he seems to be plugged into the market, open to market feedback and has experience growing and leading a technology company. I also welcome new competition to the market because we need it.
4. PR tech news mentions
Here’s a roundup of other news and links from the world of PR technology.
- Notified adds coverage books. Notified by Intrado added “coverage books” to its PR platform. “Coverage books help…showcase earned media coverage in customizable, branded digital PR measurement reports,” according to the announcement. “Notified Coverage Books eliminate the need for time-consuming, manual steps to compile lists of coverage and to design your coverage reports by hand” the company said in a product sheet (opens in PDF).
- Q4 enhances investor relations tools. Q4 said it expanded its “virtual investor day” platform to include more video streaming options, a customizable ESG microsite and post-event analytics.
- Another Cision CEO departs. Business Insider reported yesterday that Cision CEO Abel Clark had left the company. Indeed, his name has been removed from the company’s leadership webpage and Brandon Crawley is now listed as the interim CEO. Mr. Crawley is a full-time managing partner at the PE firm that owns Cision. Cision has cycled through most of its leadership team under the current equity holders. Mr. Clark has been with the company for only about 1.5 years, having joined in September of 2020. According to PR Week, “Clark departed Cision on February 23, a company spokesperson said via email, adding that the company appreciates his leadership and the contributions he made to the organization during his tenure as CEO.”
- Muck Rack adds key rolls. Muck Rack said, “Mandy Steinmetz recently joined Muck Rack as vice president of Product” and “will be responsible for setting a product strategy.” She joins from “Uptake, an industrial artificial intelligence software company, where she spent six years in various product leadership positions, most recently as senior director, Product Management & Operations.” In 2021, the company says it added 65 new employees bringing its total to 150. Muck Rack has “plans to add more than 100 more to our roster of fully-remote staff in 2022.”
- Muck Racks new comms director. It’s worth noting, the announcement above was written by Linda Zebian who also recently joined the company as the new communications director. She previously worked in communications for The New York Times. It’s worth mentioning here because I’m continuously amazed at how many PR tech vendors do not employ a PR person in-house.
- Meltwater solicits academics for AI advice. Meltwater launched a “Scientific Advisory Board” which is composed of experts in “AI and machine learning who will support the company in setting scientific and technology strategy.” Among the names listed are academic leaders from MIT, NYU, Oxford, Stanford and Carnagie Mellon University. AI is a continued theme as the company also recently purchased an AI company that might be labeled an “aqui-hire” and has invested in its NLP tech.
- iSentia adds a new CTO. iSentia named Rainer Rhedey as its new chief technology officer. According to Mumbrella, “Most recently, Rhedey was the chief digital officer of Aussie, a mortgage broking business with over 1000 brokers and 220 stores.” iSentia is an all-in-one PR software tool based in Australia. It was recently acquired by Access Intelligence (not the publisher) which also owns the UK-based Vuelio (monitoring), Pulsar (social listening) and Response Source (sort of like HARO).
5. Content picks from around PR tech land
- Meltwater case study. “Macquarie University’s custom solution dashboard integrates data from Meltwater with its own research citation data, internal communications reporting and owned social media analytics. The data can be further refined by faculty or geography delivering a single source of truth for all in the external communications team,” according to a case study in the Australian marketing publication Bandt.
- Muck Rack case study. “Muck Rack cuts down on a lot of the tedious aspects of PR, and it lets you focus on the more strategic aspects,” according to a case study about GPH. The organization switched from Cision according to the write-up.
- Does reputation top profit? A survey of 1,000 c-level executives by Signal AI suggests “72% of business leaders see reputation as a stronger driver of business performance than margin in the next five years.” Think about that for a moment. You can’t buy milk or eggs with a pound of reputation.
- Short-form video. Burrelles proposes short-form video can be used in communications for demos, FAQs, product teasers, and UGC.
- Internal comms a top priority. The Bulldog Reporter covers a survey finding a top priority for 2022 is “the need to re-engage their teams around purpose, strategy and values (53%).”
- ESG outlook. Q4 summed up ESG trends the investor relations community must navigate in 2022.
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