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How small PR tech companies are competing with the big brands

by | Nov 21, 2022 | Public Relations

Traditionally, small PR tech companies haven’t presented much competition to the likes of PR heavyweights like Cision and Meltwater. Offering a wide array of tech services such as media monitoring and campaign management, the market’s largest PR tech companies have typically enjoyed steady growth.

Given that the spending on media intelligence software has grown to $5.5 billion, PR tech’s next generation contenders are vying for a piece of this growing pie, and recent studies suggest that they’re starting to take a bigger slice of it.

According to findings by Burton-Taylor International, the iron grip that traditional PR tech companies once held is actually loosening quickly. In fact, the report revealed that the largest eight vendors saw a 5 percent drop in their market share between 2019 and 2021. Of course, they’re still major players, but this points to diversifying needs within the industry.

Something fascinating is certainly at play. PR tech disruptors, wielding new approaches, flexible pricing, nimbler algorithms, and big data analytics, are finally gaining a foothold in a growing PR tech market. So, how are these smaller companies positioning themselves—and what does it mean for the future of PR?

Small vs. big PR tech

The PR tech market—in which companies provide software technology and martech systems to help practitioners, businesses, and agencies—is at an interesting turning point. Having rebounded from pandemic-era setbacks, the industry has experienced impressive growth, with more PR tech players entering the market. Many smaller companies are developing their own revolutionary PR-focused products.

But to fully understand how smaller companies are gaining an edge over big PR tech, we need to paint a picture of how client expectations are shifting.

Given recent rumblings of an imminent recession, many companies are already re-assessing spending and looking to cut costs. This comes after an average 13 percent drop in in-house marketing budgets in the last few years. While it shouldn’t be the case, PR spending is often lumped into marketing and first on the chopping block. Even if businesses want to improve their PR strategy, cost has become a major factor. Neither Cision nor Meltwater reveal their pricing publicly, but online grumblings suggest that hefty fees and inflexible contracts are becoming more than many companies can handle in a down market.

Another point is that big PR tech companies are increasingly being forced to reckon with their platforms’ agility—or lack thereof. These behemoth tools offer incredible capabilities in the hands of a committed and seasoned practitioner, but do-it-all platforms often come at the cost of streamlined ease of use, and some users are taking notice. On the other hand, many smaller PR tech companies are shaking up the one-size-fits-all PR marketplace and entering the game with focused features and cleaner workflows, with integration capabilities that allow users to effectively build their own systems leveraging several tools that better fit their needs.

Operationally, clients are also expecting PR teams to deliver a lot more than ever before, from SEO and media monitoring to social media campaigns and influencer marketing. At the same time, Sprout Social found that 60 percent of agencies, brands, and nonprofits think “public relations” needs to be redefined altogether. This redefinition—which includes offering new, innovative processes and an adaptable approach—is where smaller PR startups have an advantage.

Disruptive PR technology

Clients are looking for more a wider range of specialized marketing systems at lower price points, which is leading to a total disruption of marketing processes. This is what smaller PR tech companies excel at. Innovative technology like artificial intelligence (AI) is empowering smaller companies to out-punch their weight class, and is helping transform the PR landscape. The question remains whether Cision and Meltwater and their ilk will try to keep up, and if they’re willing to risk disrupting their legacy models in the process.

The use of AI in PR is starting to become hugely popular due to the technology’s ability to achieve outsized outcomes by leveraging big data. Many marketers have tapped into these benefits to help influence decision-making, and the same is emerging in PR. Looking ahead, AI developments point to even more disruptive systems to be reckoned with.

One hugely promising development in PR tech has been the emergence of Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) and a handful of competitors, which in layman’s terms are essentially AI text generation. These massive language-prediction models are already demonstrating tremendous potential by dramatically speeding up the process of drafting communication, boosting pitch writing and media outreach, and even supporting on long-form content creation and the generation of SEO-focused website copy.

Some PR professionals are now even looking to apply AI to predict story arcs and media coverage. Systems are emerging that can crunch millions of past data points in the media landscape, allowing PR agencies to anticipate the size of emerging stories, and which journalists are most likely to cover them. Properly implemented, these trends stand to spread like wildfire throughout the PR market within the next few years. Those that fail to incorporate such technology risk being left behind.

The future of PR tech

Within the burgeoning PR tech market, many business leaders can attest that choosing the right tools still feels overwhelming. Nowadays, practitioners are spoiled for choice. However, emerging PR technologies play decidedly into the hands of smaller, more adaptable PR tech companies.

With more AI tools at their disposal, PR pros will be expected to deliver uber-focused, targeted, and personalized PR strategies. These trends suggest that, in such a competitive market, clients want niche PR specialists that offer services specific to their needs—with an added technological edge.

In reality, it’s likely that big PR tech companies will retain dominance over the market for the coming years, and with their deep pockets have the potential to lead the way in some areas of innovation. However, it’s an exciting time for smaller PR tech companies that are coming to the table with a level of innovation the PR industry has never seen before. And for both  tech providers and the practitioners implementing these tools, positioning yourself as a disruptor in 2023 is a great way to gain an advantage and secure clients looking for the next iteration of public relations.

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Stephen Marcinuk
Stephen Marcinuk is a PR expert with over 10 years of experience. He is the Co-founder and Head of Operations at Intelligent Relations, where he is actively involved in all aspects of operations and growth for the company—this ranges from the generation of the AI PR technology for the platform, all the way across to client services.

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