What is Muck Rack in layman’s terms?
It’s basically the system of record for a PR team that helps them do all the essential functions of their job anywhere, from finding the best journalists to pitch to a really interactive media database that we believe is the most accurate in the industry and updates in real time. We’re the only one that allows journalists to claim publicly available profiles, so we get data from journalists. We’ve also enabled collaboration for teams, so we’re giving PR teams a CRM...to collaborate on notes and media lists so they don’t overlap, especially in a remote environment. It also includes monitoring and reporting. We’re really a Salesforce for PR and an operating system for the PR team.
How does it fit into Sawhorse Media?
It’s very simple. Sawhorse is the holding company for Muck Rack and for the Shorty Awards.
What opportunity in the marketplace did you see when you started the company?
When it got started, we didn’t even have the PR industry in mind. What we did see, to go further back, I started one of the first podcasts about entrepreneurship in 2005, so I’d interviewed Reid Hoffman back when LinkedIn was a tiny company, Yelp, Brooklyn Brewery, and I got to see social media get started.
The Shorty Awards took off virally overnight. It went from nothing to being a top trending topic and then it got press coverage in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and it got all this attention. This was 2008 when social media was much smaller.
I realized from doing the Shortys that journalists were using social media to find out what to write about, but there was no way to find all the journalists and find what they were writing about.
In the first few weeks, it became very popular with journalists, and there were 10,000 requests to get added in the first year. After it launched, [late New York Times journalist] David Carr asked me how he could get listed. So journalists had a desire to be on it. It was in 2009 that we launched the first version of Muck Rack and it became very popular with journalists, but I’d also run into PR people and they would tell me it’s super useful.
So the obvious business model was to build tools for the PR industry to reach journalists. It was a win-win because if we gave tools to find journalists, PR pros wouldn’t do these mass blasts and could focus their energies on talking to the right ones. It started as a free resource in 2009 and added the paid product for PR in 2011.
What kind of metrics do you provide?
We provide a lot in terms of tracking coverage so users can easily see things like unique visitors per month, social impressions, all that. We recently introduced this tool that as a journalist, you can access for free called Muck Rack Trends, that you can use to instantly run reports, so it’s really cool not just for tracking your own coverage, but to use it to determine what kinds of trends you want to tap into. It’s useful for both PR pros and journalists.
What are people measuring versus what should they be measuring?
There’s an over reliance on simple metrics, just looking at volume of data via clicks or traffic and not enough qualitative analysis going on...The magic comes when you really dive into the data and think of what the business goals are.
What we really think needs to happen is the PR team needs to go to the executives and the C-suite and think of what are the business’ goals and use the data to tell the story of how PR can help business goals. There’s a tendency for PR people to get overwhelmed by the numbers and forget about the strategic story.
How has the pandemic changed what you do?
We’ve developed a lot more urgency around getting adoption of our PRM tools. We view our real competitor as [Microsoft] Excel. Most teams keep media lists in Excel, data and plans in Excel, and the problem with that is that it makes it very hard to collaborate because if you want to know who’s pitched this journalist before, what used to happen was people would shout it out of the cubicle next to them. Now, of course, that can’t happen, so you need to have a system of record. We’ve been on this journey for a while, telling people to stop using Excel for something it isn’t meant for.
Who are your clients?
It’s both corporate and agency. Most of the big agencies are using us now as well as many of the small agencies.
Where do they sit in an organization?
It’s usually a bunch of people at a company collaborating on it, from the CCO or whoever leads comms all the way down to the intern or first-year associate. It’s really important that they are all using the same platform to get insights.
Another lesson is that the CEO has to be super-attuned to what is going on in the media, from COVID to having to respond to protests and say whatever a company stands for on social issues. You can go to bed and think you don’t have to give a statement about social media and wake up on Monday and find you should make a statement about social issues. All the way top the top, people are getting more attuned to the demands being placed on them by the public and thinking more about PR.
What’s the biggest misconception out there about comms tech?
I think people don’t get how big comms tech is. I think, to a lot of people in marketing, they think of communications tech as this fringe, unimportant part of the marcomms world, but I think recently people have realized that comms is a lot more important than they realized. In the past few months, we’ve seen people pull back on marketing, but they’ve felt the need to double down on communications. It’s a lot more bang for the buck. A lot of people spend a lot more money on marketing instead of comms, but what’s written or said about them can have a lot more of an impact on them than a big advertising campaign.