Tech Talk with Vivid Communications founder Caitlin Kelly

“The system of record for PR plans is Google Doc, it is Excel. And that’s not the way it should be.”

Vivid has more than 400 publishers in its network. How did you secure those partnerships?
The Holy Grail of PR is understanding what publications talk about and when. I spent 12 years doing this job. I understood if we could get better information and intelligence from these publications, we could provide our PR members with deeper intelligence about what to pitch and when.

This is all about creating more value for the editor-in-chief. We can provide a consolidated list of pitches rather than 50 disparate pitches. We enhance the quality and decrease the volume of PR pitches so the editor has better information to reference when they build a package and assign stories. This is a planning tool, not a pitching tool.

Most editorial calendars are public, so we downloaded the editorial calendars across global markets in 27 content categories. Then we went to certain publishers and said, ‘If you provide us with deeper intelligence, we promise to increase the quality and decrease the volume of PR pitches.’

The system of record for PR plans is Google Doc, it is Excel. And that’s not the way it should be.

That’s a good value proposition for publishers. What pain points are you solving for PR?
There is no planning tool or system of record for planning. We are helping PR people to plan with more advanced notice. Fifty-seven percent of PR people say their job has expanded in the past year. Fifty-one percent of PR people report to the CEO. Yet there is no system of record to plan for earned media as there is with owned and paid.

Most PR pros probably know their vertical. What blind spots does this solve?
There are more publications than ever before. Each niche publication is talking about mainstream topics, and mainstream publications are talking about niche topics, so the population of choice for PR has proliferated. For example, a coffee company doesn’t just want to be talked about in coffee magazines; it wants to be in lifestyle trades, culture, etc. So the narrative for that coffee company can expand based on the different areas where they want to play. Providing a planning tool helps them narrow that huge population of choice depending on the narrative they want to share.

How does that affect the daily workflow for the average PR pro?
If you think about the lifecycle of a campaign, there’s a beginning, middle and end. There are a lot of tools that help us with the middle, helping us understand which journalists to pitch, but there’s no tool that lets us plan. There is no consolidated list of events, conferences, awards, lists and editorial calendars that tells us where our stories should be. There’s an enormous amount of work that goes into planning. We estimate about one month of revenue for an agency is spent on campaign planning. Right now, we play event Jenga in terms of scheduling. We have all that information consolidated for our users.

What’s the relevance of your tool at a time when coronavirus has wiped out so many events and is omnipresent in the news?
Everyone has taken a collective timeout, working from home and such. When we’re running around from meeting to meeting, there’s little “in-between time.” Now that we’re stuck at home, we actually have a lot of time to do things. My tool is incredibly relevant to figure out what that plan is. They have to reconfigure their entire marketing plan.

Does your tool automatically update editorial calendars as publishers re-examine their coverage?
We have a team of data scientists that crawls the entire web to check when things are being canceled and rescheduled.

Tell me about your pricing model and how you package your products.
Vivid Configure is the database of editorial calendars, events, conferences, awards and lists from 500 media brands. I believed we needed that because there is no ground zero for PR planning. Full stop.

Vivid Configure, which is available today, is a per-seat fee for $500. Then we have enterprise pricing based on how many people use the product. Vivid Wizard will be live by June 1. Based on the criteria Configure provides, in addition to all the audience data we have for all these publishers, we can identify [through Wizard] which publications are, for example, speaking to men that are [age] 20 to 45, who live in metro areas and want to talk about coffee. We can narrow that population of choice and serve up eight to 10 recommendations for where you should pitch and when. The problem with PR today is there’s so much choice that it’s impossible to make one.

What else is on your product roadmap?
When I finally get a story placed, what I normally do is I take some promotional budget, anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000, and spend it on any of the social platforms with easy self-service tools where I can target an audience. But that only goes so far. There’s another strategy altogether. In my mind, if you were able to invest that money into the publication that covered your story and say to the publication, ‘Hey, we got this piece of editorial coverage. Now, we want you to promote that story. We don’t want to run ad creative. We want you to basically extend the exposure of that piece to the audience that wants it most.’ So what we’re doing is brokering deals with commercial teams at publications, at Condé Nast, for example, and say can you give us a promotional vehicle so that PR can promote your coverage inside your publication? That’s something that’s getting a lot of traction. We’re in beta right now and that should be out by the summer.

Is Vivid profitable? Does it have positive cash flow?
Our core focus is just reinvesting in the product. We are not going to be profitable. Laughs, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Every time someone buys our product, that goes straight back into product development, but we generated revenue the month we started selling the product.

The company is bootstrapped, so that poses a lot of risk for you. Do you want to take some of that risk off your shoulders and bring in outside investors?
We may soon take on outside investment. The challenge is a lot of investors don’t come with a comms background, and I feel very connected with this product. I don’t want to spend all my time in investor meetings, so we may take on a strategic investment from somebody in the marketing comms space.

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