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All of a sudden, media monitoring has become the hottest game in town

Partners at Green Square, Corporate Finance Advisors to the media and marketing sector, cast their eyes over the latest industry deals and look ahead to the next tranche of acquisitions.

Over the two years or so we’ve been doing this blog, we’ve written many times about both data and the changing world of PR.

Data is, as my colleague Tony observed last week in this very column, the driver behind much of this year’s M&A activity. And PR is no longer a business about punting out press releases to the media, or 'command and control' crisis management; it’s about influencing, talking and, increasingly, listening too – and data has become as important to both PR types and even (although many wouldn’t care to admit it) journalists as a good contacts book.

These two strands came together very nicely earlier this week in a £200m mega-deal which saw media intelligence outfit Cision buy out its great rival Gorkana, netting the latter’s private equity owners Exponent a substantial return on their investment. It’s thought that Exponent (which also owns Immediate Media, publisher of BBC magazines like Radio Times and Gardeners’ World) paid about £25m for Gorkana back in 2010.

Gorkana, which is arguably the better-known of the two brands, isn’t a PR agency in the traditional sense – it’s a big database of media and PR contacts, and media jobs. It’s a striking example of how the PR industry has changed over the years. Gorkana started off as an 'old world' press cuttings service (originally known as Durrants), which has over the years completely reinvented itself for an online world via a series of acquisitions and mergers. So, the cuttings agency Durrants merged with a monitoring service called Metrica, and the Gorkana database, to create the Gorkana Group.

Given that the group had adjusted earnings of just £16m in its most recent financial year, it’s likely that what really attracted Cision was Gorkana’s huge contacts database, and its social media monitoring capabilities, which are the fastest-growing part of the business.

So what do we have now?

We’re all used to hyperbole from senior management after a merger, but when Cision CEO Peter Granat said on Wednesday, “The future of PR is here”, he wasn’t really exaggerating. Rather he was pointing out, or emphasising, what many people already knew. Thanks to the Gorkana/Cision takeover, PR professionals, journalists and bloggers now have a one-stop shop for all their needs, be they job-hunting, monitoring, finding contacts and asking for help. It is, as said elsewhere on The Drum, a true “PR giant”. (Gorkana is used by about 35,000 PR pros and about 100,000 journalists worldwide, so it’s definitely a player).

Cision is obviously hugely ambitious. Granat said (again on Wednesday): “Our acquisition of Gorkana is the next step toward achieving Cision’s mission to be a global leader in PR and social software with the most advanced and comprehensive suite of solutions and services in the market.”

Again, this isn’t hype. Cision has been incredibly busy these past few weeks. Earlier this month the company fully incorporated Vocus PR Suite, a monitoring tool, media database and social engagement software package whose ability to identify and engage with key influencers has found favour among many PR professionals (both Cision and Vocus are owned by GTCR, a Chicago-based private equity house).

And back in September, it acquired Visible Technologies, one of the world’s biggest social media monitoring platforms. What’s interesting about Visible is that it’s not just a piece of software. It provides users with social media monitoring, enriched data analytics and insights, and customer engagement and configurable dashboards, so that marketing folk and PR pros can monitor brand information, competitors, industry issues, market events, consumer sentiment, and trending topics in real-time across social networks;

But it also has an insights services team, which provides clients with expert analysis of the platform’s data, helping them make informed business decisions. As we saw in last week’s column, making use, and sense of data, is as important as gathering it.

And Gorkana CEO Jeremy Thompson, who will now report to Granat, told the media earlier this week that further Cision acquisitions could be expected. Who these targets could be hasn’t yet been revealed, but it’s reasonable to assume that names like Intelligent Media, Moreover and PressData would be in the frame.

Whatever, it’s obvious that PR services companies are hot property right now – in June, Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP, via its Kantar research business, shelled out for a majority stake in another media monitoring specialist, Precise Media, that valued the latter at more than £70m.

And it’s hard to believe that Sir Martin, Maurice Levy or any of the other big holding company chiefs are going to sit idly by as the likes of GTCR build up empires in spaces that they may feel they should be occupying. And the other companies said to be interested in buying Gorkana (including private equity firm 3i, business information and events group UBM and Germany’s information, monitoring and consultancy giant Unicepta) will be miffed as well, so competition and prices for monitoring, databases and PR services companies can only go one way, and that’s upwards.

I’ve a feeling this particular space is going to get pretty exciting over the next 12 months.

Barry Dudley is a partner at Green Square, corporate finance advisors to the media and marketing sector

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