Social media relations platform Babbler plots U.S. expansion

The company raised $2.3 million led by Omnes Capital and CM-CIC Capital Privé last month, some of which will go towards a global campaign debuting in the U.S. and France this month.

Babbler cofounders Sarah Azan (l) and Heather Oiknine.
Babbler cofounders Sarah Azan (l) and Heather Oiknine.

NEW YORK: Babbler, a social media platform designed to connect media relations professionals with reporters, is looking to expand its user base with a marketing campaign rolling out in the U.S. and France this month.

Babbler is the brainchild of sisters and cofounders Hannah Oiknine, a former Microsoft staffer, and former PR pro Sarah Azan. The platform acts as a personalized hub for PR pros and journalists, allowing them to connect, deliver, and receive content tailored to their interests.

In short, it’s an alternative to corporate newsrooms, wire services, and email-distribution systems, according to Oiknine. Azan wasn’t available for comment.

A third of the $2.3 million the cofounders raised with Omnes Capital and CM-CIC Capital Privé last month will go towards the global campaign, which will premiere in the U.S. and France midway through this month. Babbler plans to hire marketers and growth hackers for the effort.

Omnes Capital and CM-CIC Capital Privé both took shares in Babbler, but the sisters hold a majority stake in the startup.

"For the moment, we have the problem of the chicken and the egg. We need enough reporters to attract businesses, and enough businesses to attract reporters," Oiknine explained. "Our strategy was to start with the PR professionals, because they already have the outlet to the reporter. So if we get onboard with the PR professionals, then they will invite the reporters to follow them on Babbler, and this is how we build our media community."

Seeding interest in the platform took three to four months in France, she added.

The rest of the $2.3 million in funding will go towards investing in the fledgling company’s technology, particularly in the platform’s algorithm and mobile app, as well as accelerating development in the U.S. and expansion around the world.

The startup launched in the U.S. in March at South by Southwest Interactive. It has a five-person team in New York specializing in sales and marketing, with plans for a dozen employees by the end of the year.

"The need for this kind of service was clearly expressed in the U.S. market," Oiknine said. "When I did a survey, 45% of American reporters said they hate PR pros. So [the disconnect] was extreme; the friction was higher."

Babbler has 300 customers, 60% of which are PR agencies, including Edelman, Golin, Ogilvy Public Relations, and Publicis Groupe, while 40% represent in-house PR pros. Brands such as Nike, Lenovo, Pinterest, and Canon are active on the platform, as well.  

Clients pay a subscription fee of $200 to $1,000 per brand for six to 12 months, which allows them to deliver content tailored to journalists and influencers. (For instance, a science reporter’s profile is fed content pertaining to science). It also allows brands to measure the engagement their pitches receive from journalists by recording statistics such as the number of times their multimedia content has been downloaded.

"Reporters only open 12% of the emails they receive, and they answer only 1% of them," Oiknine said. "We want PR pros spending much less time reaching out to reporters and much more time creating PR content that will engage them."

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