VentureBeat presents: AI Unleashed - An exclusive executive event for enterprise data leaders. Network and learn with industry peers. Learn More

The business of marketing has moved from guesswork to a data operation in the cloud, or at least that is what Adobe and Oracle would have you believe. In the last few days, both of these tech giants have announced significant enhancements and additions to their marketing cloud operations.

But where does PR fit into all of this? If marketing and PR are – as most industry experts would surmise – beginning to converge, then what are the implications of all of this automation and data-driven madness?

Well, there is one thing we know for certain: PR is a funny thing.

Over the course of my career, if I were to combine the amount of money spent on PR both at my own companies and at those in which I’ve invested, that number is easily in the millions.

And for a majority of those dollars, I had no solid metric for understanding how those PR activities aligned with specific business goals and what they did for the bottom line. It’s not that I didn’t want a metric, it’s that they simply didn’t exist.

PR: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Not to sound overly simplistic, but this is the legacy paradigm for an industry that is likely more important and impactful on the success of a business than we often appreciate.

While it seems ridiculous that we “still put up with PR” given the vast amount of data we have access to now, we should also remember that just a decade or so ago advertising was in the same predicament. Billboards anyone? Do you really have any way of measuring the success of an advertising campaign by the average number of cars that drive by on a given day?

With the Ad Tech ecosystem now solidly in place, wouldn’t we be wise – as investors and innovators – to look to another critical frontier of the marketing automation puzzle: PR?

If you’re a CMO, VP of marketing, or any executive who routinely has to justify marketing budgets to those holding the purse strings, imagine a world in which you could understand your PR activities (ROI, insights, etc.) with the same level of detail as other aspects of your marketing. Namely, digital advertising.

PR, often thought of as a “red-headed stepchild” in terms of marketing planning and budgeting, is rapidly regaining favor as digital and social media become central to customer engagement and acquisition. Beyond that, PR is starting to “own” a vast majority of content creation and email marketing – a key component of lead generation – which shifts the old paradigm of PR from “cost center to profit center,” as SVP of Digital Content for Cision, Heidi Sullivan, aptly asserts.

But does PR, known for lagging behind its marketing compatriots in terms of technological innovation, really have the opportunity to be “the new Ad Tech?” Will the PR Tech ecosystem — comprised of everything from agencies to retargeting solutions to newswires to analytics to publishing platforms – prove to be the final marketing automation frontier?

In my opinion, there are significant opportunities for early adopters who choose to innovate in this space; and as an investor, if you believe in PR as a key driver of brand awareness and sales, the opportunities to make early-stage investments in PR Tech ecosystem companies are quickly growing.

In the past year alone, we’ve invested in companies like OneSpot (content retargeting) and AirPR (PR analytics software). We strongly believe in the space based on a variety of notable signals related to the amount of attention being paid to marketing automation – starting with Adobe’s continued acquisitions and Oracle’s recent announcement of its cross-platform Marketing Cloud.

Other notable companies in this space include Contently (content licensing), Scripted (content creation), Optimizely (A/B testing software), (newsroom), Publet (cross platform self-publishing), MuckRack (journalist database), and the list goes on.

For established PR software incumbents, they are either consolidating (look at the recent Vocus acquisition by GTCR) or investing heavily in partnerships or technology infrastructure in order to stay relevant and compete. In addition to Vocus, these include companies such as Cision, Meltwater, Businesswire, and Marketwired.

As Andrew Bowins, SVP of Corporate and Digital Communications for Mastercard recently noted at a PR Measurement conference, “With data, you can remove much of the emotion from the process, and you can take risks once you have the insights in terms of what PR activities impact your business.”

Ms. Sullivan takes it one step further: “One key trend in PR is the shift from data to insights. It’s just not enough to have a large amount of unstructured data – be it traffic, shares, etc. We need automation to provide deeper insights that drive decision-making.”

So the question remains: Is PR Tech the next big data/analytics frontier in digital marketing? Can we, as investors and innovators, rethink the importance of re-structuring an industry so fundamental to our day-to-day business?

While PR Tech may seem like the unsexiest investment since IT Security, my belief is that when an industry begs modernization, somebody’s going to build some valuable companies.

Bryan Stolle is a general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, focusing on financial, marketing, and education technology investments. He made the move to venture capital after a two-decade career that began at Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) with stops at three technology startup companies. Stolle started the most recent, Agile Software, in 1995, and led it to its eventual acquisition by Oracle. Reach him @bdstolle.




VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.