This PR software company was started by a former PR agency owner; pitch analytics is where Propel really shines
I have a soft spot for startups because I’ve been employed or consulted with many of them over my career. In the early years, startups are largely about an idea – a way to solve a problem – and willingness to risk a lot to bring that to life.
I find that to be a wholesome notion. It’s also important to the ecosystem because startups challenge incumbents and force innovation. That’s true in any market – and public relations (PR) is notwithstanding.
That said, while I strive to be agnostic, and fair, I don’t dish out praise lightly. Yet now and then a software product comes along and makes an impression. Recently Propel, an Israeli PR software startup, has done just that.
I’ve been following Propel for about three years now and finally got around to inviting them to do what I call a “PR Tech Briefing.” Effectively I treat these like an analyst briefing of sorts and write up an assessment based on the session.
Today’s post is focused on Propel an all-in-one PR software tool. It’s important for readers to know these briefings cannot be purchased and I’ve never done business with or taken money from Propel.
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Zach Cutler is a former PR agency owner who built a 15-person firm based in New York that grew to be about $1 million in revenue. As a professional services leader, he says he struggled to find technology built around his team’s needs – especially those that would help his firm manage media relationships.
They tried to use commercial CRM and martech tools, but none of these worked. He started to model a tool of his own – perhaps to build one in-house – and quickly realized building a PR software tool would be a full-time job. So, he sold his agency and started Propel.
Propel would be focused on “Public Relations Management” (PRM) – design for PR people and by PR people. That says a lot about the product, especially when many of the incumbent vendors don’t employ experienced and tech-savvy in-house PR staff.
Today the company says it has offices in Israel, the U.S. and India. They employ 20 employees.
2. Media contacts and list-building
One of the key tasks in media relations is identifying reporters and influencers you might want to pitch. Propel offers basic three ways to do this:
a) You can search the database of a million journalists based on the topics they cover or the media outlet. This mirrors the traditional approach that most vendors offer.
b) The second way is to search for articles that are related to the topic you want to pitch. Propel says it has indexed a billion articles and provides the ability to filter results by language, location, date and outlet. This is a better approach to identifying reporters to pitch because it’s based on relevancy.
c) The third approach is allowing the system to suggest reporters to pitch based on the contents of your pitch. This employs generative artificial intelligence (AI) which analyzes the pitch copy and the past articles reporters have written – and suggests reporters to pitch based when these two things match. You can review the results and give the system feedback – whether it’s a good result or not – and the system will learn to improve the results based on your feedback.
This last approach is a good example of how AI will augment, but not replace, PR professionals.
By contrast with Propel, you can use a plugin and pitch right from your email client, like Outlook or Gmail. This allows you to work the way you want to work, with the same tools you’ve grown accustomed to using.
Here’s what that looks like when sending a single pitch:
And here’s what it looks like when you want to see everyone you’ve pitched. This has utility for selectively following up when it’s appropriate:
3. Generative AI-assisted writing
Like many PR software solution providers, the generative AI that Propel is using is based on technology from OpenAI the maker of ChatGPT (Propel is currently using version 4 – that’s the latest – and learn to model your brand voice). Here again, like many solution providers Propel has done their own customizations to embed the technology.
Propel calls their version AMIGA which stands for “artificial media intelligence generator and assistant.” It’s a bit of a mouthful, and I’m not much for branding features, but it’s how Propel can suggest reporters to pitch as noted above, and it can also be used to assist in writing.
Anyone can use ChatGPT to help with writing, so what benefits PR is when it’s embedded in the workflow. That’s what Propel has done and one of the slicker use cases is that the AI will help you relate your pitch to a reporter’s past work. Good PR people do this now, albeit manually.
4. Pitch analytics
The pitching analytics are where Propel really shines in my opinion. They do a nice job of codifying open rates and response rates at the individual level and at the organizational level. This means a manager can look across team metrics and see who is having the most success and why.
That’s valuable because it gives you information to improve as an individual and a team. It also provides several other benefits. You can see who from your firm has pitched a contact; when they were last pitched; and the best time to pitch a contact based on when they typically open emails. Propel will let you schedule a send at this time.
Propel has used this data in aggregate to publish their Barometer reports. It’s important to realize that these reports aren’t surveys or opinions, but rather data based on real pitching processed through their system.
Here’s what an individual pitch analytics dashboard looks like. It’s showing Propel’s effort to pitch me – and they have one PR person (Eitan) on staff which is why the organization rate and individual contributor rate are the same:
And here’s a dashboard a team leader might see with everyone’s pitching data:
Finally, these metrics get rolled up to the journalist’s profile. So you can see a reporter’s open rate, response rate and best time to pitch:
If I offered one bit of feedback to Propel, I’d like to see click-through rates (CTRs) for links in pitches too. I use a different tool to track CTRs and helps me decide who to follow up with – and who to leave alone.
I’ve also noted a lot of reporters, particularly at prestigious publications, click on my profile a lot. Over time, I’ve come to believe that reporters, worried about fake pitches, are looking to make sure the person pitching, in this case me, is a legitimate PR person.
Propel offers social media monitoring of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It also provides comprehensive print media monitoring through a partnership with LexisNexis – which most of the incumbents also offer.
They also white label TVEyes for those customers that need broadcast monitoring. Here again many of the existing vendors also partner with TVEyes for broadcast, because it has become the industry standard.
Propel does not have its own bot crawling and indexing the web. There are only a handful of PR software vendors that do have their own crawler. That’s probably not an issue for most companies unless you have unique needs in niche areas or just get a ton of coverage.
The analysis will give you typical views such as the volume-of-coverage and share-of-voice. It can also detect backlinks, even when a media site links to your website but doesn’t use the brand name, which is what commonly triggers alerts. Backlinks are arguably more valuable than mentions in some respects.
Propel can also ingest Google Analytics data with a “read-only” connection. This can help match goals for traffic or conversions (now called ‘events’ in GA4).
6. Pricing and customers
The company says it has 500 customers and does well with PR agencies, mid-market corporations and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). I looked at some of the reviews posted about Propel on G2. They’ve got 4.5 gold stars on 37 reviews presently. One verified customer noted:
“The fact that Propel integrates directly with our Exchange server, allowing us to actually send “real”, personal email pitches to journalists, makes a huge difference in the personal touch we try to foster with journalists. The ability to keep detailed notes on journalists and our pitching activities, to really make Propel into our own purpose-driven platform for our organization is amazing. The customer service is above and beyond as well.”
In terms of pricing, the company currently offers three tiers – small, medium and large. The company told me it is revamping its pricing, but right now, the medium-sized offering is listed at $299 per month for a single user – which works out to about $3,500 a year.
That’s very competitive pricing, so we’ll have to see what changes the company might make in the near future. The small version is a free trial – so you can take the software for a test drive at your convenience.If you are going to look at any of the incumbent vendors for PR software, you should also take a look at Propel.Click To Tweet
7. PR tech assessment
There is a risk in going with a startup. They can run out of money. Or worse, in this case, get acquired by an incumbent. Sometimes startups take too much money, and while they get impressive valuations that drive headlines, that money comes with pressure and expectations for high multiples.
That’s not Propel; the company seems to be pulling it off. For example, in 2017 they said they had raised about $1 million in funding and had 22 customers. They added another $4.5 million in April 2022 and last December told me they had 500 customers. That seems like pretty solid growth – and a reasonable investment.
My recommendation is straightforward: If you are going to look at any of the incumbent vendors for PR software, you should also take a look at Propel. They seem to be a viable alternative, built on modern infrastructure and designed for the needs of PR. As a startup, it’s going to be a whole lot more focused on customers, delivering value and bringing actual innovation to market.
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Stay on top of tech developments in PR
Here’s the updated list of PR technology companies I’m watching that could be a useful reference for readers. In addition, for the last four years or so, I’ve also published a monthly summary of news (PR tech sum), with appropriate noise filters, from the PR software providers.
Finally, if you are a vendor trying to get my attention, here’s a clear description of the stuff I want to cover. Please read that first and then get in touch.
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