Private “special acquisition vehicle” makes $500m+ bid for Meltwater; Truescope acquires Universal Information Service and Cision acquires Factama to “track narratives online”
What a difference a couple of weeks can make.
My last PR tech sum went up in early November – and there’s a lot that happened between then and now. I’ve teased the deals in the headline, but there are a lot of AI happenings in PR too.
Here’s this month’s summary of the news from the vendor community this month.
1. Private fund aims to acquire Meltwater
Meltwater has agreed to a “voluntary offer to acquire all outstanding shares of Meltwater at a price of NOK 18.00” by MW Investment B.V. which is a privately held “special acquisition vehicle.”
A Norwegian Krone equals about .10 cents USD according to Google as of January 2023, so with ~313 million shares outstanding (according to MarketWatch), my back-of-napkin math puts the deal value in the ballpark of $563 million USD. (18 NOK * 313M shares converted to USD).
According to a press release published by Marlin Partners, which owns a controlling stake in MW Investment:
- “The Offer Price represents a premium of 36% to the last traded price of NOK 13.25 as per 18 January 2023 and 135% to the last traded price of NOK 7.67 as per 14 September 2022, the day immediately preceding announcement of the strategic review.”
- “The [Meltwater] Board supports and unanimously recommends the Offer.”
- “Meltwater to become a private company upon completion of the transaction.”
Meltwater is currently publicly traded, so this deal requires shareholder approval. The premium seems favorable, so barring a regulatory inquiry or some sort of other surprise this will probably go through.
According to the boilerplate, “MW Investment B.V. (the ‘Offeror’) is a newly incorporated private limited company incorporated and registered under the laws of the Netherlands acting as special purpose acquisition vehicle in connection with the Offer and will be indirectly majority owned by Altor and Marlin.”
As a side note, Marlin also owns a majority stake in Talkwalker which it acquired in 2018. Seems to me there’s a lot of overlap between Talkwalker and Meltwater. Talkwalker hired a new CEO and new CMO in late 2022 and appears to have done a round of layoffs in sales and marketing, according to multiple social media updates I’ve observed.
Recapping recent activity
Meltwater quietly went IPO in late 2020, raising $400 million. In 2021 it went on a $100 million buying spree:
In June, it made a $24.5 million acquisition of Owler, which collects business information like revenue, competitors and headcount.
In April, it acquired Klear, an Israeli influencer marketing platform for $17.8 million.
Finally, it acquired “artificial intelligence start-up DeepReason.ai, a spin-off from Oxford University’s computer science department” for $7.3 million in November of 2021. A company representative at the time suggested Meltwater wanted to build its own Siri.
In September 2022, Meltwater announced a “review of strategic alternatives” which I noted at the time, is often – but not always – a code for ‘we’re hanging out a for sale sign.’
Separately, Meltwater (Oslo Børs: MWTR) also recently announced financial results for the third quarter ending, September 30, 2022. Q3 2022 total revenue grew year-over-year 6.6% to $109 million.
The earnings release presented an “adjusted EBITDA margin of 8.6% for Q3” while the income statement registered a “total comprehensive income/(loss)” of ($3,736,000). The company had $26,564 million in cash and equivalents on-hand at the end of the quarter.
2. Truescope acquires Universal Information Systems
Truescope is acquiring Universal Information Services (UIS). Terms were not disclosed.
Truescope is an Australian-based startup focused on media monitoring. The company raised $6.2 million last spring and launched its product in the US.
Universal Information Systems pitches itself as a “concierge service” for all things media monitoring. The company sells services and was using proprietary technology to assist in the delivery of those services.
In a press release, Truescope said CEO John Croll (left) views “the acquisition was a significant move to accelerate growth in the large US media intelligence market, which he believes has been underserved for some time and is ready to evolve through innovation.”
UIS CEO Todd Murphy (right), who is based in Omaha, Nebraska, “will take on the role of Truescope President, North America, effective immediately, with his first strategic priority being to oversee the UIS integration. As a result, the press release said, “many hundreds of clients” will be become Truescope customers, with the integration of services presently underway.”
Truescope is Croll’s second gig as the top executive for a media monitoring company. He previously served as the CEO of iSentia for eight years. In an email response to questions, he said the “integrated Truescope team has a headcount of 16.”
I took a close look at the Truescope product about this time last year: A look at the media monitoring tool Truescope is bringing to the U.S. [PR Tech Briefing].
3. Cision acquires Factmata
“Cision has acquired Factmata, a social and news media monitoring startup,” according to BusinessCloud, a UK-based tech publication.
Terms weren’t published but Factmata is based in London and has raised $3.6 million in funding, from 11 investors over five rounds, including seed and crowdsourced equity according to Crunchbase.
What does it do?
“Factmata uses AI to identify and track narratives online through articles, blogs, tweets and other social chatter, highlighting the ones that could either help or hurt brand reputation and value.”
What’s different about that?
“Factmata applies AI to surface narratives driving online conversations, to detect risky and harmful narratives earlier than a human can, and to identify impactful influencers driving the conversations and understand their stance.”
The publication cites Cision Chief Product & Technology Officer Jay Webster as saying:
“Factmata’s unique expertise is helping brands and organizations identify risky narratives earlier and more reliably than a human can. This gives its users the ability to see what may be around the corner, rather than simply what is in the rear-view mirror.”
4. Agility PR launches generative AI tool for PR
Innodata (NASDAQ:INOD), the parent company of Agility PR Solutions, launched a generative AI tool it’s calling “PR CoPilot.” The product name and press release position the tool as a writing assistant of sorts, “to create initial draft frameworks for press releases and outreach communications.”
Agility PR Solutions CEO Martin Lyster noted in the press release, “It is not a replacement for PR professionals – rather, we believe it to be an invaluable tool enabling them to get more done in less time without compromising quality.”
A video demonstration of the tool says PR pros can enter up to 10 key messages, an optional quote and select options for tone and length. Then, after accepting a disclaimer, a click will deliver a draft press release.
There are two other tech vendors I’m aware of that currently claim embedded generative AI tools.
We’re going to see a lot more tools like this in 2023. Social media tools offer AI to write social media posts. Email tools will offer AI to help write emails. There are a few that currently offer AI for creating images (like the header image for this post). There are several that pitch generative AI to marketers for creating blog posts. ChurnZero announced a generative AI tool for customer success professionals earlier this month.
I think having a healthy sense of both curiosity and caution is the right approach for PR professionals. It’s true some of the existing tools have flaws – one of the generative AI tools I tested for blogs performed pitifully – but we’re still in the embryonic stages. ChatGPT isn’t flawless, but it is pretty impressive.
An unattributed quote I’ve seen making rounds recently summed up the idea nicely, “It’s not that AI is going to take your job, it’s that someone using AI is going to take your job.”
(click image for higher resolution)
5. Meltwater, Kinetiq partner with Blackbird to detect “narrative manipulation”
Blackbird.AI said it had launched a Global Alliance Program to provide its technology to partners. Partners mentioned included Meltwater, Talkwalker and Kinetiq. Blackbird says it technology “helps organizations detect and respond to narrative manipulation and online risk that causes reputational and financial harm.
Johnny Vance, who leads partnerships for Meltwater, said the combination of Blackbird technology and Meltwater’s data will allow “customers to better manage their brand risk by understanding the key narratives that are having the biggest impact on the conversation surrounding their company in the news and across the entire social web.”
Kinetiq is better known for broadcast monitoring and will use Blackbird technology to detected mis-, mal- and disinformation in broadcast and podcast media formats.
“Our organizations will be working closely to integrate key elements in an effort to create a first-to-market offering that produces deeper qualitative metrics for audio mentions and content segments,” said Doug Pollack, VP Business Development, Kinetiq.
The battle to combat mis-, mal- and disinformation is heating up and there’s real money being poured into the space. The reputational aspect of media monitoring is something Signal AI has already been doing for a while – and they are very well-funded. Cision is making a play here too with its purchase noted above.
Now, we see Meltwater (which soon may have the same PE owner as Talkwalker) and Kinetiq partnering to get in the game. Sometimes a partnership is a prelude to an acquisition – a chance to try it before you buy it.
- Propel partnered with LexisNexis, according to PRWeek. “Propel’s PR management, monitoring and measurement tool, PRM3, has capabilities including online, social and broadcast monitoring. With its partnership with LexisNexis, Propel will give users expanded print monitoring capabilities.”
- PRophet announced a partnership with Yoodli, “an innovative AI-powered software platform which helps users improve media interviewing, public speaking, and communication skills using artificial intelligence” (AI). The company says “users will be able to receive judgment-free feedback on their performances during practice media interviews; the technology will denote trends in filler word usage, eye contact” and body language.
- Brandwatch promoted Cali Tran to the role of President and CEO. Its outgoing CEO Ulrik Bo Larsen, “has moved into an advisory role at the company,” the company said in a press release. Mr. Larsen has filled that role since June 2021 after it was acquired by Cision. He “held the same position at Falcon.io, a company he founded in 2010. Falcon.io was acquired by Cision in January 2019 and merged with Brandwatch in 2022.”
- Intrado has rebranded the holding company to West Technology Group, LLC. West will be “the corporate umbrella brand” that owns a half dozen or so business units and product lines. The company has waffled through several name changes. It last rebranded as Intrado in 2019 and in 2021 renamed its PR business software unit Notified, which was the namesake of a cool little PR tech startup it acquired.
- FirstUp named Cheryl Chavez as Chief Product Officer and Ed Bielawa as Chief Technology Officer. Chavez joins from Bloomreach and previously held product roles at Duetto, Engagio and Marketo. Bielawa joined from UKG and previously held technology and engineering leadership roles at Kronos and Hasbro.
- Muck Rack appointed Bryan Hamblin Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). In this role, Bryan will lead Muck Rack’s go-to-market strategy across its Sales and Customer Success teams. He will report to Muck Rack CEO and co-founder Greg Galant. He joins Muck Rack from decision intelligence company Sisu Data.
- PublicRelay named Travis Day as its Chief Revenue Officer, a new role for the media monitoring provider. He joins from Qualtrics. Separately, the company announced the appointment of a board of strategic advisors to help it “solve the toughest analytical challenges facing CCOs. Members of the advisory board include Charlene Wheeless, Aedhmar Hynes, Jon Iwata, and Tom Martin.
7. Content picks
- “In June, generative AI was covered in only 152 articles. Just six months later, the topic has generated roughly 12,000 news stories, according to Muck Rack data shared with Axios (in the Axios Communicators newsletter for January 26, 2023. Similarly, “Cision found that the use of the term “generative AI” in press releases has increased by 1,350% since last year.”
- Comms pros “are moving into the C-suite with nearly half (47%) now reporting to the CEO directly, a stark contrast from 2020, in which 57% reported communications was part of marketing,” according to a new survey Cision published with PRWeek.
- A new export by Meltwater and creative agency We Are Social found, “that the typical internet user globally has reduced their average daily internet use by 20 minutes over the past twelve months to 6 hours 37 minutes, equating to a year-on-year reduction of almost 5 percent. However, time spent on social platforms has increased to more than 2½ hours per day – 40 minutes more than time spent watching broadcast and cable TV.” The full report 2023 Global Digital Report is 465 pages long you can freely view it online or register to download.
- “The content journalists are most likely to use media releases (59%),” according to Burrelles. “Next is article abstracts or story pitches (13%), press kits (9%), contributed article by a subject matter expert (6%), and case studies (5%).”
- Muck Rack published a new case study this month with the Fletcher Group, a PR firm with ~20 employees in Austin and Denver (according to LinkedIn). In response to breakings news, “within half an hour, we were able to find and pitch hundreds of health care reporters through Muck Rack. And these weren’t necessarily reporters we’d pitched before – Muck Rack helped us discover new contacts,” according to the case study.
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Image credit: DALLE-2, “a big pacman eating a smaller pacman inside a fishbowl that is floating in space”