Kevin Akeroyd, the former CEO of Cision, is a free agent.
After serving as CEO for three and a half years, Akeroyd told PRWeek that he’s taking some personal time off to spend with his family. He notified the board of his decision to leave Cision after the business was sold to private equity firm Platinum Equity.
“This had nothing to do with Cision’s performance or my outlook for the company,” Akeroyd said about his exit. “This is purely a personal decision.”
During his tenure, Akeroyd masterminded a market rollup that included a dozen companies. He helmed the first comms tech company to be publicly traded in the U.S. and introduced the market to a unified platform.
Akeroyd expressed satisfaction with Cision’s outlook, saying it has a “huge tech lead” and a “robust and diversified” platform.
“I left Cision in a fantastic place with a new home and new owner and a good position to continue to be strong,” he said.
Of course, Akeroyd’s tenure had its challenges. After debuting on the New York Stock Exchange, Cision’s stock hasn’t gained value. It had an opening price of $10 per share in mid-2017, but on its last day on the market, CISN closed at $9.99, despite broad gains for stocks across the board.
Cision offered a compelling product, but organic revenue growth was mostly in the low- to mid-single-digits, but Akeroyd is bullish on its performance. “The organic growth rate continued to increase, year after year, quarter after quarter,” he said. “If you look at the public filings, you can see a slow, steady improvement of organic growth. Burton-Taylor said the industry grows at around 3%.”
And before Cision went public, Akeroyd said it grew at a lower rate than 3%.
“The fact Cision grew above-market in 2019, I took that as a statement towards the progress Cision was making,” he added.
Cision never hit the blockbuster hockey stick curve of growth. One reason could be PR’s slow adoption of technology. All clients are reluctant to switch workflow software regardless of vertical, but this dynamic is changing as PR agencies hire chief innovation officers and other change agents who are quick to axe old contracts.
Cision is also competing in a market that is growing very quickly.
But Akeroyd and the company had a vision: For the first time, PR pros would be able to do their jobs on a single platform and provide real attribution.
I remember the first time I heard it. It was October 2016, and Cision was introducing its unified platform. I did not know what a unified platform is and I thought “Cision” might be a typo. But by the time my conversation with Akeroyd was done, I didn’t know if his plan could be executed. I didn’t know if spending on communications technology would translate into bigger PR budgets and I was skeptical it could change the industry.
However, there’s something to be said about his ambition. As a veteran of Oracle Marketing Cloud, who was better positioned to execute on such a goal than Akeroyd?
Cision brought on a team of Akeroyd’s old colleagues. David Barker, Oracle VP of media and ad-tech sales, joined as chief data and research officer and oversaw the research and innovation center. He later became president. Jen Jones, director of industry product marketing at Oracle, joined Cision as VP of product marketing and was later named SVP of corporate marketing.
Both have moved on. Jones is CMO at Dataminr and Barker is CEO at StatSocial.
Cision has also stacked its leadership ranks with Trendkite executives, most notably naming former Trendkite CEO Erik Huddleston as president. It acquired the digital PR software company for $225 million. Former Trendkite CTO Chris Copeland became CTO at Cision and Trendkite global sales lead Kevin McKeown was named SVP of new business sales in the U.S. Prabhakar Gopalan is SVP of U.S. customer operations; he led customer and revenue operations at Trendkite.
The fact that Cision not only acquired Trendkite at an eye-popping revenue multiple of 8.8-times but repopulated some of its key roles with its Trendkiters speaks to how much faith Cision’s former owner, GTCR, placed in the upstart.
Whether the Trendkite team will remain is unknown. Cision promises to share more details about its structure in the near future as well as how it will integrate with the rest of Platinum’s portfolio.
With Cision privately owned by Platinum and Akeroyd gone, it makes me think about an alternate universe in which Cision stayed private. What if GTCR sold the company to another company? What if Cision grew more slowly and had tighter control of its product development? In short, what if Cision had more time?
Or perhaps the outcome would’ve been the same.
“There’s all kinds of nuances in being public versus being private; there’s pros and cons,” Akeroyd said. “But the overall vision of the company wouldn’t have changed, [nor] the overall mission and overall need to bring a unified global comms tech platform to the market for the first time.”
If nothing else, Akeroyd made the PR industry think bigger.
Sean Czarnecki is editorial lead for Dashboard at PRWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.