Ex-Oracle Boss Kevin Akeroyd On Building A Marketing Cloud For Earned Media

In his previous gig, Cision CEO Kevin Akeroyd oversaw $6 billion worth of acquisitions as GM of the Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Now he has a similar vision for earned media.

Since Akeroyd’s appointment as Cision’s chief in 2016, he’s spearheaded several acquisitions and shepherded the now-public company through a $2.4 billion merger with investment firm Capitol Acquisition in March 2017.

Cision, which owns media distribution services PR Newswire and PRWeb and media database Gorkana, is making the case for a communications cloud – a marketing cloud-esque stack for earned media professionals.

Since the company’s launch in October 2016, Akeroyd claims that more than 8,000 clients, including large enterprise brands like Cisco and P&G, have signed up, and it’s growing at a clip of about 500 new customers per month.

Akeroyd spoke with AdExchanger about how earned media is taking a page from the paid media and advertising playbook.

AdExchanger: Why isn’t earned media as addressable as advertising?

KEVIN AKEROYD: There are some fundamental blocking-and-tackling things that aren’t getting done in the world of earned media, and the first one is: Everyone’s got their own tech stack except for communications professionals.

Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce have built really big tech stacks for marketing, but comms is still living in this world where they’re logging into one vendor for an influencer database, one vendor for traditional media monitoring, one for social listening, one for wire and content distribution and another for analytics and real-time alerts.

Aren’t most of those capabilities available in traditional marketing cloud offerings?

The overlap among marketing, advertising and comms is virtually zero. The sophistication of where marketing and advertising are with their data management platform and marketing automation tools is kind of irrelevant, because the worlds have been completely separate. That’s kind of a problem because the CMO wants to execute across paid, earned and owned.

There’s been no way to track engagement with earned media content and no way to track the behavior down to a success metric like an ecommerce purchase or lead form or website visit or rating or review. [Tracking content] is what digital advertising did, and it’s what took it from $20 billion in 2010 to $120 billion now. Believe it or not, in 2017, that capability still didn’t exist for press releases or earned media.

How are you borrowing tactics from paid media to pull that off?

If Cision placed a banner on WSJ.com, my tracking pixel goes onto the million people who came and looked at that ad, so an advertiser would know how many unique and repeat users visited the article. Out of one million people, we could figure out what the firmographics were and how many people visited the website and filled out a lead form and how many turned into pipeline. So, I can measure that I drove $11 million in pipeline from an ad buy on WSJ.com, using simple ad tech.

We’re doing the same for earned content. Cision launched Cision ID, where we pixel all of our own networks. PR Newswire [gives us] 300 million uniques a day. Then, through a relationship with Mediamath, we’re syncing against cookieless, anonymous IDs, so even if we don’t have a pixel on that WSJ article, we’d know if we saw that user before [and could track the conversion]. The big step is to get this ad tech – the Cision ID – scaled in earned media so we can begin to track the way paid has for a long time.

What KPIs can you measure?

You can do the basics like validate reach, uniques, audience data and engagement across the funnel, as well as conversion. Cision ID is the actual data, and Cision Impact is the attribution part. You can almost begin to run an A/B test. With paid media, you would be able to measure the people who went from the banner ad straight to a landing page and lead form – and converted.

Then you could run a test to drive the same person via a banner ad to an article, then through to the lead form. You’d be able to test, using third-party earned content, how that impacts conversion or improves the efficacy of the paid media, so it becomes a lot more trackable and measurable.

What’s your biggest challenge to driving adoption? Does communications really need its own tech stack?

Adoption isn’t the concern. It’s sophistication. Marketing had to go through this development of skill sets, hiring data people, analytics people, so it’s really more the transformation of skill sets and filling the talent gap that is the biggest inhibitor.

The biggest challenge we’ve seen is this idea that [you’ll need a lot of help]. Seventy percent of chief communications officers now work for the CMO in the same organization, so that’s been a really big accelerant.

What’s your upside, competitively speaking?

Google, Facebook, Adobe, Marketo, Criteo, The Trade Desk – these guys only focus on owned media and paid media. None of them touch earned. The entire marketing and ad tech industry was built for paid and owned, and earned media have been ignored, but this is a time when even the CMO would agree – third-party influencers and earned placements are pretty damn important.

Interview condensed.

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