In this edition: Cision silently rebrands HARO; Meltwater’s dealmaking continues; PR tech briefs and mentions content picks
There have been so many private equity (PE) deals among PR technology companies, that it’s easy to lose track of who owns what. Yet, it’s important to pay attention to this stuff if your business buys PR software.
Why? Because these deals have a direct impact on the products you use. Innovation tends to grind to a halt as acquiring companies try to figure out integration.
Executives and staff turnover, which leads to new approaches, product priorities, pricing and customer experience. You wind up seeing the products you used to love get watered down, stripped and mashed into other software in weird ways.
My advice to buyers is this: every time you see a big fancy deal for a PR tech company you should postpone buying anything from that company for at least six months. This will give you time to evaluate what the company intends to do – and more importantly – if they can deliver on the promise.
Whether you are in the market to buy this year or not, spend some time looking at the newer or independent vendors on this list. Schedule a demo during lunch and invite the whole team to attend so you can double up as professional development.
And now onward with this month’s PR tech sum.
1. Cision seems to silently rebrand HARO
Cision has apparently renamed the service formerly known as Help-a-Reporter-Out or HARO to “Connectively.” There was no announcement that I’m aware of, but a quick search shows some chatter about it on Twitter and Reddit, among other virtual watercoolers. The new website and Twitter handle (@helpareporter) appear to confirm it.
HARO is a name universally recognized brand, so the rebrand doesn’t make sense to me at all. But maybe that’s the nostalgia talking, because I’ve also observed a marked decline in the quality of queries. This is because many of the queries aren’t from bona fide journalists, but from corporate bloggers.
For example, I just pulled up a HARO email as I write this and found a query looking for case studies on CRM implementations. That sounds promising to a tech PR, but it’s from a blogger who works for a vendor that makes a CRM product.
For most PR pros, there just isn’t a real opportunity there. That blogger isn’t looking for a balanced perspective or new ideas. They are simply looking for ways to make their product look good or get input from contributors they hope will share the post.
The inclusion requirements are over-indexed on the site’s Alexa ranking – which was a cool idea about 15 years ago – instead of the needs of users, quality of the query, or independence of a site. A blogger from some tech company’s blog will always be included. Meanwhile a query from a real journalist who ventured on their own and started an independent news site will not.
This is an age-old debate within HARO. To be sure, I recognize a link from a vendor’s website could be valuable. Further, some vendors, like HubSpot, actually run their blogs like a news site. However, these are exceptions. By far and large the queries I see in HARO are not driven by journalistic curiosity.
This view was echoed in some of the remarks about the rebranding on Reddit.
“HARO needs to change, right now it is useless. Hopefully, they can come up with a new method that filters out all the Chat GPT responses.”
The quality within HARO means it’s harder to find relevant queries. This lays the groundwork to productize this by charging for filtered results, which the company appears to be doing, as another commenter observed:
“Even on a paid subscription, I see a limit of 15 pitches a month now, 5 for free, and you have to buy additional pitches. I might do some testing to see how they perform in terms of conversions, but that majorly sucks for link-building, which always felt like a game of volume. Maybe there are just less pitches submitted [in] total now and landing a link is easier, but I’m skeptical.
I would guess this will really push out smaller website writers; there’s no way I’m pitching an anonymous query or a low DA website at this point.”
I don’t agree with all of that but I share the sentiment. So, if you are looking to explore new options, there are many emerging alternatives to HARO.
- PitchRate (free)
- Help a B2B Writer (free – but many queries are from outside the U.S.)
- SourceBottle (UK – $$$)
- Dot Star Media (UK – $$$)
- Reletter (like a HARO for newsletters – US – $$$ )
Premium pitching tools or “marketplaces” (often with a freemium option):
How about you?
Do you use any of these alternatives, now? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment or message me. I may strive to complete some reviews on these products this year.
2. Meltwater’s dealmaking continues
Meltwater took a $65 million dollar investment from a Norwegian private equity firm, according to reporting by TechCrunch. Verdane has reported taking an 11% stake, which puts the company’s valuation at $592 million.
That valuation seems to mirror the company’s annual recurring revenue (ARR) too – which seems odd to me. Joakim Kjemperud, a principal at Verdane, told TechCrunch that Meltwater currently earns “around €500 million” in ARR.
One Euro is currently worth $1.10 USD, so the ARR in dollars is ~$550 million.
Recap of recent money moves
This is just the latest move in a string of corporate financial transactions the company has made of late. In 2020, the company quietly went IPO raising $400 million. A year later, it went on a $100 million shopping spree buying up companies that seemed to me aimed at expanding its TAM from PR to marketing.
Then in September 2022, Meltwater announced a “review of strategic alternatives.” That’s Wall Street’s code word that signals a company is putting itself up for sale. A few months later, it did sell to a private fund controlled by two PE firms at a 36% premium.
There’s some fancy management going on with this current deal too, according to TechCrunch:
“The investment is coming by way of Verdane taking a substantial stake in Fountain Venture, the investment vehicle controlled by the founder and current chairman of Meltwater, Jørn Lyseggen…Verdane invested in Fountain Venture rather than directly in Meltwater because the plan will be to partner with Fountain to make future investments together in startups working in areas like AI.”
The thinking here, TechCrunch says, is baked-in risk management for Verdane. Since Fountain can also hold a position in companies other than Meltwater, it will eventually diversify Verdane’s 11% stake.
The real kicker though is this:
“The first of these is the fact that tech companies continue to see huge pressure on their valuations. Meltwater’s current market cap of just under $600 million is actually less than the company raised over the years when it was a privately held startup (over $700 million, per PitchBook data), and less than half of its valuation when it went public in December 2020 at over $1 billion.”
It’s that kind of math that has me skeptical of the PE dollars pouring into PR tech.
3. PR tech briefs and mentions
- Gartner names leaders for intranet. A new Gartner report suggests a better corporate intranet can help engage and retain employees. It released a “Magic Quadrant” that evaluates 15 intranet vendors. Among those named as “leaders” in the report include Simpplr, Unily, Staffbase, Workvivo, LumApps, FirstUp and Interact.
- Meltwater earns ISO infosec rating. Meltwater said it earned the ISO 27001 certification. The rating is “the internationally recognized standard for Information Security Management Systems (ISMS), ensuring that organizations implement rigorous security controls to protect sensitive data.” Cybersecurity has increasingly become an important point of differentiation for software providers across sectors – and PR software vendors have taken note.
- Acquisition still in play. Investor relations platform Q4 is pushing forward a deal to be acquired by the PE firm Sumeru Equity Partners. The company will seek shareholder approval of the deal later this month.
- In remembrance. PR measurement evangelist Mark Weiner passed in December. Mark was 68. He earned a reputation for PR measurement Ketchum and later in his role as CEO of PRIME Research (acquired by Cision in 2017). Several PR trade publications published remembrances including PRovoke, O’Dwyer’s, PR News and PR Daily. An obituary is published here.
4. Content picks
- Pitch results. Propel tallied up data from pitches sent through their system and revealed some interesting findings. For example, just 113 pitches were sent about “quantum computing” but those pitches were opened 80% of the time and responded to about 20% of the time. By contrast, PRs sent 1,700 pitches mentioning Apple, which netted a 1.72% response rate.
- Tried and true pitching tips. Practical tips for pitching a skeptical media.
- Employee engagement. Staffbase has started a podcast dedicated to internal comms.
- Sober AI edits. 95% of PR pros edit the output of generative AI, according to a survey of ~1,000 PR pros by Muck Rack.
Have an announcement from a PR tech vendor?
Here’s the updated list of PR technology companies I’m watching and here’s a clear description of the stuff I want to cover.
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