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No company has done more to reshape the marcomms technology sector than Cision.
Kevin Akeroyd, a former Oracle SVP and GM, took the reins to the world’s largest PR software company in 2016 and wasted no time enacting an ambitious growth plan modeled on Oracle, but this time to build an all-in-one comms tech platform.
Akeroyd has no qualms about consolidating the industry. For him, consolidation is not antithetical to innovation; it’s necessary, not only for the sake of building products but also for helping the customer.
Cision was created as a result of the 2014 merger between Cision and Vocus in a deal orchestrated by private equity firm GTCR. Since then, it’s acquired 12 companies and built out a broad stack of capabilities. Cision traded on the New York Stock Exchange for a brief time. Late last year, private equity firm Platinum Equity acquired Cision through an affiliate. The deal's completion would end Cision’s time as the U.S.’ only publicly traded comms tech company.
Now that Cision is private, analysts say look for competitive pricing and further acquisitions.
This entry was updated on January 22 to correct that Cision is still a publicly traded company until the completion of its acquisition by Platinum Equity.
Founder, chairman and CEO, Dataminr
Photo credit: Getty Images
Founded in 2009, Dataminr has been lauded as "Wall Street’s secret weapon." Scanning hundreds of millions of signals produced by social media, blogs and the dark web, Dataminr brought its technology to a new sector in early 2018: PR.
Dataminr swiftly gleans insights that allow communications pros to stay ahead of the news cycle, be aware of crises and capitalize on opportunities. Observers have lauded Dataminr’s technology and its ability to move the needle by using deep learning, natural language processing and statistical modeling to send custom alerts. It has more than 500 clients.
Dataminr is also a Twitter partner, and the platform reportedly had a 5% stake in Dataminr. However, the relationship became complicated after it was reported that intelligence agencies were using Dataminr’s technology in an unpaid pilot stage, causing Twitter to request the deal to end.
In 2018, Dataminr doubled its valuation to $1.6 billion after securing $392 million in fresh funding from new investors such as Morgan Stanley’s Tactical Value Fund and Valor Equity Partners. Existing partners, such as Goldman Sachs and Fidelity Investments and Institutional Venture Partners, also chipped in.
Cofounder and CEO, Zignal Labs
When former Zignal Labs CEO Josh Ginsberg exited the company after more than eight years, he left its future in familiar hands: president and cofounder Adam Beaugh.
The newly minted CEO has been credited with spearheading the development of Zignal Labs Media Intelligence Cloud, which clients use to monitor real-time conversations.
Since its founding in 2011, Zignal has cemented its reputation as a reliable software partner to brands and politicians alike. In February 2018, the company secured $30 million in a funding round led by Blum Capital Partners and North Atlantic Capital in a fifth round bringing its total funding to $60 million.
Zignal built out its platform, specifically its AI offering launched in 2017, as well as ramping up sales and marketing. The company has kept up a steady drumbeat of product and feature releases in the two-plus years since. For instance, Zignal has launched a unique product to combat bot attacks. It’s also released Influence Intelligence, which maps media coverage and social media conversations, and Media Quality Score, which rates brands by coverage in traditional and emerging media.
Last October, Zignal rolled out a partner program to team up with companies to provide joint offerings to clients.
AirPR closed a chapter in its history when it rebranded as Onclusive in April 2019, following the acquisition of Ozmotik, which gave Onclusive a critical piece for its platform.
A content amplification and analytics company, Ozmotik helped Onclusive identify high-value earned media and amplify that content for an intended audience. The goal: Make content marketing more effective for advertisers and give PR pros greater confidence in who is seeing media coverage, how frequently and when.
Last year, Onclusive partnered with Business Wire to enhance syndicated, earned and social media measurements for the newswire’s press releases. In late 2018, Onclusive secured $8 million in Series C funding, bringing its total to $18 million. The money went toward research and development and product development, growing Onclusive’s engineering and data science team and opening sales and account management offices in major markets. Its largest investors include Wildcat Ventures, Storm Ventures and Correlation Ventures.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak leans on more than two decades of global technology and business experience as an entrepreneur and senior executive.
This expertise encompasses pivotal roles at web advertising platform Outbrain and antivirus software company AVG Technologies, which he helped to take public in 2012. He was also chief technology officer of cybersecurity specialist Finjan and founded web security pioneer Kavado in 2000. Ben-Itzhak joined AI-powered social media marketing company Socialbakers in 2017.
Founded in 2008, the Czech Republic-headquartered enterprise works with more than 2,500 clients in 100 countries. Its lead investors are Index Ventures and Earlybird Venture Capital. Socialbakers claims to have the largest social media dataset in the industry, which it uses to help brands ensure their investment in social media is delivering measurable business outcomes. It monitors more than 8 million business profiles across platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google.
Israel-born Ben-Itzhak is frequently quoted in global media including USAToday, the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, CBS News, BBC and Sky News and speaks as a thought leader on the future of mobile, security, privacy, consumer dynamics and disruptive innovation.
Cofounder and CEO Signal AI
Almost seven years later, the company is known as Signal AI. It’s gone through a rebrand, entered verticals and secured rounds of fundraising totaling $49.5 million.
Signal established a London-based business that specialized in reputation management and market intelligence, scanning 2.8 million online, print, TV, radio and regulatory sources. In 2018, it raised $16 million to fuel its expansion into the U.S. to challenge market leaders such as Cision, Meltwater and Kantar.
The company aspires to unlock new use cases beyond marketing. Dropping "media" from its name and replacing it with "AI" in January 2019, Signal has offerings in reputation risk, environmental, social and corporate governance, tax, compliance and regulatory monitoring.
Last June, Deloitte teamed up with Signal to power its effort to automate tax regulation monitoring. Its platform monitors more than 100 regulatory sources in as many jurisdictions in a service offered to more than 300 Deloitte clients.
Signal said last October that it had grown its revenue by more than 130% in the prior 12 months and more than doubled its number of customers. It has a headcount of 150 people in London, New York and Hong Kong.
CEO, Argus Data Insights
Ralph Brechlin is chief executive of Argus Data Insights, a company that proudly touts a century-old history, contrasting with a sector full of startups. Switzerland-based Argus traces its history back to Argus der Presse’s founding in Geneva in 1896.
After World War II, Argus was taken over by Zeitungslupe, and the two companies were brought together under the Argus branding. It expanded its scope of work to include TV and radio monitoring in the late 1970s and media analysis in the 1990s. In the final years of the 20th century, the company began monitoring digital news sites and sources, as well. The most recent iteration of the company was established in 2017 when Argus, Der Ausschnitt and Meta Communication Intermedial were brought together under the Argus brand.
The company boasts a source list of more than 80,000 print media outlets, 5,000 radio and TV channels, 120,000 websites and 300 million social media sources, as well as a client list of more than 10,000 companies using its platform daily.
Brechlin has a long history with the company, where he has served as CEO since 2015 after more than a decade in top executive roles.
President, Intrado Digital Media
A late entrant to the comms software sector, Intrado Digital Media stitched together a full-service cloud platform with the backing of private equity giant Apollo Global Management.
After buying Nasdaq’s suite of corporate platforms in 2018, Intrado launched Notified, an integrated platform. The Nasdaq deal, valued at $335 million, included its web hosting, webcasting, media intelligence and influencer database, as well as press release distribution.
Users can create, publish and measure earned and owned media, disseminate user-generated content and access custom measurement dashboards. Its services also include a global press release distribution service through GlobeNewswire, as well as an AI-powered media database that provides tailored recommendations.
Intrado later bolted features on to Notified such as A/B testing and comms management, which it obtained by its 2018 acquisition of Ambassador. The referral marketing software gave Intrado capabilities in word-of-mouth marketing programs. Notified later introduced podcast monitoring and reporting.
Notified has 650 clients, 40% of which are PR pros and 800 support staff in 17 countries.
Previously, Intrado was known as West Corporation, which was acquired by Apollo Global Management in 2017.
Cofounder and chairman, Dynamic Signal
Russell Fradin cofounded Dynamic Signal with the goal of modernizing the way leaders and their workforces communicate and align. Through its mobile and desktop app, users can create, distribute and measure content across channels, including its newsletter and social feed.
Executives can also use Dynamic Signal to collect feedback and activate their staffers to advocate on behalf of a brand through a social sharing function.
The company received a $300 million valuation in 2018 and has raised almost $90 million total. Its investors include Edelman, Cisco Investments, Founders Circle Capital, Microsoft Ventures, Time Warner Investments and others.
Few, if any, PR tech executives are as wired into the scrappy startup world of fundraising and scaling as Fradin. Over his career, he’s raised almost 30 rounds and built relationships with some of the world’s leading VCs.
Fradin has cofounded companies including ad platform Adify, which was sold to Cox Enterprises for $300 million in 2008, and parental monitoring service SocialShield, which was acquired by Avira in 2012 for an undisclosed amount.
Fradin exited the CEO role at Dynamic Signal in January as Eric Brown, formerly EVP at CallidusCloud, stepped into the role of president and CEO.
Cofounder and CEO, Muck Rack
Journalist databases have existed long before the founding of Muck Rack in 2009, but cofounder and CEO Greg Galant had the foresight to integrate social media activity onto journalist profiles on its platform.
Muck Rack claims to be the first company to build search profiles based not only on what journalists write, but what they do on social media.
The company has not raised institutional or VC funding, but Galant said the company is profitable and growing quickly, working with companies such as Golin, MSL, W2O, Under Armour and Pfizer.
Muck Rack recently launched a capability that can be described as "Google Trends for PR pros." It simplifies the process of building coverage reports, allowing users to see graphs comparing terms in seconds, and displays which journalists and publications are covering a topic the most.
Muck Rack was founded in 2009 by Galant and cofounder and CTO Lee Semel. It has 50 employees. Before Muck Rack, Galant started the Shorty Awards in 2008, honoring the best in social media, including brands, influencers and organizations. Galant is CEO of Sawhorse Media, the parent company of Muck Rack and the Shorty Awards.
Cofounder and CEO, Knotch
Transylvania born and raised Anda Gansca moved to the U.S. at age 18 to study at Stanford University, where she developed a passion for data analysis. She cofounded content marketing measurement company Knotch in 2012.
Knotch raised $10 million in Series A funding in September 2016, led by former GE vice chair Beth Comstock, entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch and media executive Jon Miller.
It helps communicators and marketers optimize storytelling by capturing emotions about branded content via online surveys and boosting the effectiveness of these channels.
Last January, Knotch raised $20 million in additional Series B funding, led by global venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates with participation from earlier media and tech investors. This round was designed to expand Knotch’s product offering and kickstart global expansion. It also appointed NEA venture partner Hilarie Koplow-McAdams and former GroupM chief digital officer Rob Norman to its board of directors.
Knotch enables brands to measure and optimize their digital content based on holistic signals, including behavioral and audience data, attitudinal feedback, engagement and conversion metrics. It is becoming an independent standard for digital content analytics, ROI and effectiveness, numbering brands such as JPMorgan Chase, AT&T, Ally Bank, Ford, Calvin Klein and Salesforce as clients.
Launched in 2009, online and social listening company Talkwalker boasts a client roster of more than 2,000 brands worldwide. It was acquired by Marlin Equity Partners in early 2018 for an undisclosed sum. CEO Robert Glaesener, who has been in the post since 2010, guided the company through that ownership transition.
When Marlin bought Talkwalker, the platform employed more than 170 people. Growth is still on the company’s agenda. It is aiming to be an enterprise of more than 500 people by the end of this year, according to its website. Talkwalker opened an office in Singapore in 2018.
The company was the first in the industry to introduce AI-powered video recognition capabilities, which provide a more complete picture of a brand’s online presence in addition to the mentions in text and image. More recently, it rolled out Customer Data +, which gives clients an analytics tool to examine their own customer conversations from owned data sources.
Talkwalker has automated the process of surfacing social data analytics by releasing an AI engine, freeing PR pros from time-intensive drudgery to pursue other work, and launched a hub for influencer marketing management called Influence One and Quick Search, a social media search engine.
MD and CEO, Isentia
Sydney, Australia-based Isentia is Asia-Pacific’s leading media intelligence company, boasting more than 1,100 employees in 11 markets and more than 3,000 clients.
Its technology enables PR professionals to measure and manage social and news media content. Isentia’s AI-driven software platforms, combined with managed services, aim to quantify the impact of PR activity, track trends and manage risk and reputation.
Veteran sales executive Ed Harrison joined Isentia in August 2018, using his experience as former CEO of Yahoo7 to kickstart a turnaround in the media-monitoring business after some hurdles, including writing off a $48 million investment in content marketing agency King Content.
Harrison prioritized the development of mobile apps, real-time alerts and the automation of the way Isentia processes and distributes its print and broadcast content. For example, its technology alerts clients in real time if their brands are mentioned on broadcast TV and radio channels.
Last November, Isentia launched a Reputation Analysis product that blends organic social media conversations and survey data to indicate what the public says, thinks and feels about organizations to help strategy, culture and delivery. The company says the platform helps clients turn around analysis in shorter timeframes than traditional players.
Founder and CEO, Sprout Social
About six years ago, Justyn Howard, cofounder and CEO of Sprout Social, gave an interview to a local news station in Chicago. "We’re a social media management platform used by businesses around the world to more effectively manage their social media presence — Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.," he said.
Times have changed since 2013. Google+ is no more, commercial use of social media has skyrocketed and Sprout is a publicly-traded entity.
Few marketing technology companies have plunged into public markets. After its IPO, Sprout raised almost $150 million when it began trading on Nasdaq in December. Its investors included Goldman Sachs, NEA, Lightbank and Future Fund.
Howard said the company planned to use the proceeds to roll out products and invest in international expansion. Sprout reported 2018 revenue of $78.8 million. Revenue in the first nine months of 2019 was up 30%, while annualized recurring revenue climbed to $100 million.
Sprout counts 23,000 brands and agencies as clients, or about 380,000 social profiles and 350 million messages per day. In its IPO filing, Sprout said it wants to help companies manage not only marketing but also sales, PR, customer service and product and strategy.
Founder and CEO, Memo
Data hounds sick of impressions and proxy metrics may have found an answer in Memo, a marketplace where PR pros can access traffic and engagement data from thousands of publishers.
Founded by Eddie Kim, Memo’s aim is to disrupt a system in which PR is undervalued and underfunded. The former CEO of content analytics company SimpleReach, which focused on sponsored content, Kim argues that PR could reach new heights if it could provide more precise metrics, so he founded Memo to give PR pros first-party data, such as engaged time.
SimpleReach was acquired by advertising platform Nativo last March. Kim guided SimpleReach through the deal as chairman, giving him a unique vantage point of the disparity between budgets for sponsored content versus earned media.
Memo secured a partnership with FleishmanHillard after a pilot period in which the Omnicom Group agency analyzed article data using benchmarks versus client competitors, industry topics and publisher readership. Sharing generated revenue with Memo, Fleishman and its clients can buy aggregated data by article a la carte or aggregated data.
Cofounder and CEO, Meltwater
CEO Jorn Lyseggen founded Meltwater in 2001 with $15,000 of his own money. Today, it has more than 1,500 employees in 55 offices worldwide and counts half of the Fortune 500 as clients.
While its origin as a bootstrapped company is a source of pride, Meltwater has started a new chapter: In March 2019, it recapitalized in a $175 million deal with Vista Credit Partners, the credit-investing arm of Vista Equity Partners.
This followed a $60 million debt funding round in 2017 with Silicon Valley Bank and Vector Capital before aggressively acquiring companies with social media monitoring capabilities, such as Sysomos, and AI players, such as Wrapidity and DataSift.
The result: In late 2019, Meltwater released a raft of products and updates. The company added increasingly sophisticated insight capabilities and social analytics on a platform that it wants to be a centralized workplace where users can execute a campaign from start to finish.
As companies revamp communications within their own workforces, interest in internal comms software platforms has renewed with vigor, giving SocialChorus a trajectory of eye-popping revenue growth.
Like any fast-growing enterprise, SocialChorus went through growing pains. It built out its teams in client strategy and success, product and engineering and customer operations. Then it hired CEO Gary Nakamura, while founder Greg Shove transitioned to the role of executive chairman.
Prior to SocialChorus, Nakamura was CEO of Driven Inc. for four years before it was acquired by XPlenty. He was also SVP and GM at Terracotta, which was acquired by Software AG.
After securing $12.5 million in funding in 2018, SocialChorus said it grew recurring revenues by 120%. A year later, SocialChorus said revenue in the U.K. and Europe was up 200%, driven by blue chip clients such as Vodafone, Ford, Pernod Ricard, M&G Prudential and Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Besides expanding into EMEA, SocialChorus has deployed capital toward retooling its platform, providing a steady stream of improvements. In 2018, the company introduced drip campaigns, a first for internal communications.
Founder and CEO, Brandwatch
The social media environment in which Giles Palmer launched Brandwatch in 2007 looked radically different from that of today.
Since then, Brandwatch has poured time and resources into building products, updating its platform and opening offices. A new wave of transformation is rippling through the more-than-500-person company as it moves beyond social listening into what it deems "digital consumer intelligence."
Here’s how it got there: Brandwatch launched in the U.S. in 2011, acquired social influence company PeerIndex at the end of 2014 and made its second acquisition in content marketing platform BuzzSumo in 2017.
In 2018, Brandwatch merged with longtime rival Crimson Hexagon, bringing together complementary pieces of technology and social media records. The combined entity, known simply as Brandwatch, generates $100 million in recurring revenue.
Acquiring Crimson Hexagon also led to the creation of Brandwatch’s flagship product, listening platform Consumer Research, which houses 1.3 trillion historical posts and collects 500 million mentions daily.
A year later, Brandwatch followed up the Crimson Hexagon deal with another acquisition: Qriously, a mobile survey platform based in London that allows users to examine their online research more closely through targeted surveys.
Brandwatch has raised more than $64 million from rounds involving Future Fifty, Partech and other investors. The company works with more than 1,200 brands.
Chief innovation officer, MSL
MSL followed up its head-turning hire of U.S. CEO Diana Littman from Marina Maher Communications by bringing on Bryan Pedersen as its first chief innovation officer with a goal of reviewing the agency’s technology partners.
Since reviewing its contracts with almost two dozen vendors, Pedersen narrowed its roster down to the single digits. With a background in digital, marketing and advertising, Pedersen brings an outsider’s perspective to an industry often accused of not innovating quickly enough.
MSL is building an offering based on concept discovery that aspires to provide PR measurement on par with paid media.
CEO, Business Wire
Geff Scott moved into the top position at Business Wire in spring 2017 after a long tenure as CFO following the retirement of Cathy Baron Tamraz.
The Berkshire Hathaway company bills itself as a top global player in press release distribution and regulatory disclosure, with deep customer bases in PR, public policy and marketing and investor relations. Founded in 1961, Business Wire has 18 newsrooms around the world that help public companies disclose financial information in line with Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.
Business Wire has extended beyond enabling clients to construct and send traditional or broadcast press releases. Late last year, it partnered with Onclusive to give users access to in-depth analytics about the performance of their releases.
Scott’s history extends beyond the communications technology space. Before joining Business Wire as CFO, he worked in the legal sector as a partner with Marinell + Scott, based in the San Francisco Bay area. At the law firm, he specialized in financial reporting, regulatory compliance, audits and taxes. Scott is also a veteran of KPMG, where he worked on issues such as venture capital and SEC-related topics.
Founder, chairman, and CEO, Vista Equity Partners
Photo credit: Getty Images
Ask PR executives about Vista Equity Partners and you’ll probably get this response: They are among the most strategic investors in the software space.
Vista Equity’s credit-investing arm, Vista Credit Partners, was behind one of 2019’s most consequential deals in communications technology: the $175 million global recapitalization of Meltwater, the second-largest PR software company in the world.
Vista Credit Partners, which has more than $2.1 billion assets under management, has deployed more than $3.3 billion since its formation in 2013.
Vista has a knack for proving the consensus wrong. Smith founded Vista in 2000 despite the prevailing sentiment that a software-focused leveraged buyout firm would fail. Fast forward two decades and Smith has been referred to as the wealthiest African American.
In late 2018, Vista sold marketing automation software company Marketo to Adobe for $4.75 billion, netting the firm its largest profit from a single sale at $3 billion. Analysts said the sale set up Adobe to dominate B2B marketing.
CEO, Proof Analytics
The legend of Proof Analytics dates back to 2004, when CEO Mark Stouse, then working in a communications executive role at a technology company, was asked for — you guessed it — proof that his communications programs were working.
Sixteen years later, Stouse is at the helm of Proof Analytics, which works to help clients get the most out of their marketing mix. An impressive group of top former agency executives such as Mark Hass and Bob Pearson serve on Proof’s board.
Founded in 2015, the software company trailblazed what it called the first business impact analysis for marketing and communications in 2016. Three years later, it expanded its footprint to event marketing, partnering with AgendaZoom to help sponsors and speakers figure out what events they should be investing in.
Before working in the corner office at Proof Analytics and speaking roles at South by Southwest, Stouse worked in politics and had top communications roles at Hewlett-Packard, BMC Software and Honeywell.
Founder and CEO, Sprinklr
You can compare social media to many things — a dumpster fire, a mosh pit, etc. — but another similarity is email. That’s exactly what Ragy Thomas thought before founding Sprinklr.
At the time, Thomas was president of the interactive services division at marketing services company Epsilon. Previously, he built an email marketing platform for a company that sold DVDs over the Internet.
The rise of social media awoke the entrepreneurial spirit of Thomas, who saw it as a new channel for the customer journey.
Sprinklr earned a $1.8 billion valuation after raising $105 million in a Series F funding round in 2016, then raised an undisclosed amount in 2017. It counts more than 1,000 global enterprises as its clients.
In May 2019, Forrester Research named Sprinklr as a market leader in social advertising, social listening and social management and praised its content marketing platform.
EVP, U.S. head of performance communications, Edelman
The face of Edelman’s technological transformation is Megan Tweed, EVP and U.S. head of performance communications. Arriving at the world’s largest PR agency in 2015, Tweed came with a deep background in marketing. Now she’s plying her expertise in Edelman’s work, leading a partnership forged with Cision that gives the agency exclusive access to a gold mine of data.
Tweed’s vantage point is one of the envies of the agency world. It combines Cision’s more than 5,000 demographic and firmographic attributes with a dedicated team of more than 150 Edelman analysts, data specialists and integrators.
The partnership was forged last summer to create a testing ground for Edelman, the agency’s clients and Cision. It also allows Edelman to cross-reference earned audiences with Cision’s influencer database of more than 925 million profiles.
Tweed had experience at marketing agencies such as Universal McCann, Aegis Media and Razorfish before moving to DJE Holdings shop Assembly Media, where she served as the digital marketing and comms lead for Edelman’s Microsoft accounts.
CEO and president, Critical Mention
The industry is watching Critical Mention after the company axed its partnership with Cision last July, ending its inclusion in the Cision platform.
Last month, Critical Mention unveiled a YouTube integration that allows users to see every mention of their brands on hundreds of popular YouTube channels. It is also hiring development talent.
Critical Mention has highlighted its "licensed content" offering, which allows users to view content guarded by paywalls, saying it helped increase new bookings by 60% year-over-year in Q1 and Q2 of 2019.
Leading Critical Mention at this critical juncture is CEO Don Yount, who joined the company in 2016 as president after working in industries from health and safety devices to venture capital. Yount was CEO of Corente, a startup that provides software-defined networking applications for networks, guiding the company to its 2014 acquisition by Oracle. He also worked at Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds for about 13 years.
Critical Mention says it captures 40 hours of video content each minute and has more than 2,000 global TV and radio sources in addition to more than 71 million online newspaper, magazine, trade publication, forum and blog pages.