If Adobe's acquisition path and Oracle’s recent, significant enhancements to their marketing cloud operations are any indication, the automated marketing business is booming, driven by the rapidly growing digital environment.
Digital advertising—with its ability to serve up numbers and charts and graphs that showcase the customer acquisition process down to a decimal point—is increasingly where the money flows in terms of marketing budgets.
As marketing pioneer and investor Geoffrey Moore aptly says, "You can't manage what you can't measure."
Fueled by the internet’s insatiable content requirements, one significant piece of the digital marketing puzzle is beginning to emerge as a key driver of business. Public relations—once held captive by Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs) and circulation numbers—has undergone significant changes as digital media, content marketing and social allow for calculable, attributable metrics.
Just as social media’s amplification ability and the rise of search engines transformed ad tech a few years ago, PR is beginning to feel the impact of emergent technology.
Bryan Stolle, general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures in Silicon Valley said they have begun making substantial investments in this newest frontier.
He’s far from alone. Other leading firms like Crosslink Capital, A-Grade and Sigma Prime are all signaling that they see PR technology as a market on which to direct attention.
What is the PR tech ecosystem?
For those standing at the forefront of this new field of "PR Tech," "the opportunities are tremendous. Remember advertising as an industry before ad tech? Exactly. I personally can’t remember the last time an ad for a dating site, belly fat reduction (algorithm #slightfail), or Cision wasn't stalking me around the web.
Comprised of everything from agencies to re-targeting solutions to newswire services to big data startups, the ecosystem of public relations is still in its infancy and are beginning to connect the dots by working together and building the connective tissue supported by structured data.
While PR software incumbents like Cision and Business Wire are investing heavily in technology partnerships, venture capital firms like the ones mentioned above are working with private equity firms like GTCR, which recently acquired Vocus to make bets and take risks on the PR Tech ecosystem.
Up and comers in the space range from companies like Optimizely (A/B testing) and Contently (content licensing) to Scripted (content creation) and OneSpot (content distribution) —all of which have secured significant funding from leading investors.
Content is king
In the same way design and creativity stands at the center of the ad tech ecosystem, the center of the PR tech ecosystem resides in authoritative, engaging content. It is this content, developed thoughtfully and on message, that has the ability to reach and impact the customer more than with advertising alone.
Jeff Pyatt, head of PR initiatives at Outbrain, offers a perspective echoed by many of these emerging technology companies who are innovators in the PR tech space.
"There’s been an evolution for PR as content has become central to any great campaign. PR has always produced powerfully persuasive content experiences—especially earned media. But what's changed in the content landscape is that we now need scalable distribution, engagement, and ultimately attribution."
Companies like Outbrain and OneSpot have made it much easier for their clients to amplify their content with paid media, previously the sole the domain of media buying agencies.
"At the end of the day, we're witness to the evolution of the PR industry [in]to a tech-savvy field of operators able to make use of every resource at their disposal," says Pyatt.
Opportunity knocks: Early signals for the marketing/PR convergence
At the intersection of marketing and technology, the convergence of everything from content creation and publishing to lead generation and retargeting becomes clear. In addition to Adobe and Oracle making sizable acquisitions and noteworthy investments in their respective "marketing cloud" solutions as of late —which includes Convertro selling to AOL for $101 million and Adometry being acquired by Google in the same week—with the Ad Tech ecosystem now solidly in place, it makes perfect sense that investors and innovators are moving to complete the marketing puzzle with innovations in public relations.
If you're a CMO, VP of marketing, or any executive who routinely has to justify marketing budgets based on ROI, imagine a world in which you could understand your PR spends and campaign results with the same level of accuracy and detail as other aspects of your marketing like advertising. Imagine taking the art of public relations and injecting it with some science.
PR is starting to "own" a vast majority of content creation such as branded content and syndication, which is a key component of lead generation. This alone shifts the paradigm of the PR silo from "cost center" to "profit center"—an idea championed by those innovating in the PR software space as they begin to have solid metrics to prove the true impact of PR beyond mere brand awareness.
But does PR, known for its lagging technological innovation, really have the opportunity to rival its ad tech brother? Time will tell, but if I had to make a bet, I'd say the writing all over the digital walls.
The above article first appeared on Mashable