Perfect Pitch: Public Address is looking to change the game for PR professionals
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For media professionals — whether journalists or PR consultants — it’s common knowledge that communication lines can often get blurred.
Unanswered email pitches, for example, are a relatively frequent occurrence.
Entrepreneur Shane Allison has plans to change that paradigm (or at least sharpen up the process) with his startup Public Address — a B2B software platform that provides a one-stop shop for PR firms to manage their communication needs more effectively.
As a former client services director in a national PR firm, Allison has plenty of experience when it comes to landing a pitch. And after kicking around the idea for a couple of years, he launched the company in 2017.
Speaking with Stockhead, he said his lightbulb moment arrived when he was seated next to a prominent tech journalist at a corporate event.
During the 45 minutes the pair were sitting next to each other, Allison estimates his counterpart must have received “somewhere between 50 to 100 emails”.
“The targeting of those pitches to journalists is often poor, and it’s partly because in economic terms there’s very little cost to send an email,” he said.
“But ultimately from the PR side, you’re better off making an investment to better target your pitches.”
“So that was the technical foundation of the problem we were looking to solve — providing a platform for PR professionals to land their pitches with the right types of journalists,” Allison said.
Breaking it down further, he explained the product offering is built around fixing two key problem areas.
“Firstly, it was about how can we provide a simple mechanism for PR reps to see if a journalist is opening their email,” he said.
“Secondly, we wanted to help PR pros communicate better with reporters across the board; whether that’s interview bookings, or sharing images, audio and video — each of which are important supporting elements of a story.”
Public Address operates a SaaS-based model, with different monthly pricing structures depending on the level of functionality customers choose.
When setting up the model, Allison took into consideration his own pain-points as a customer. “A lot of software providers in the communications industry would charge a usage fee or provide a limited facility, which is frustrating for consumers,” he said.
“We’ve got a tiered pricing system but it’s not usage based, so it’s the same monthly charge whether you send 1,000 or 5,000 pitches. I think that’s been a key to our early growth in terms of getting people in the door, letting them sign up easily and get going with using the product.”
While user growth is always key for any SaaS startup, Allison said a key priority for Public Address over the next 12 months is data-based; to build “the first predictive pitching tool for PR professionals”.
“We’re really focused on delivering a product which will enable PR professionals to understand what differentiates a successful pitch from a non-successful pitch,” he said.
“That means leveraging the insights that we’re seeing about what resonates in terms of information structure, information types and the timing of releases.”
“A critical piece of the puzzle for us is to be able to apply machine learning to those metrics, and that’s where we can generate intellectual property from the algorithm that we’re building.”
Turning to private capital markets, Allison said he’s a “big believer” in getting interests and skill-sets aligned when accepting external capital.
“I was fortunate in that I had an early set of backers who I’d worked with previously who trusted me, as well as the vision and execution of the concept,” he said.
To get the initial idea off the ground, Public Address raised a seed-round from that group which it used to build out the first piece of software.
“Getting early-stage investment is great but you do need people who understand what’s going on to back you,” he says.
For example, Allison said his investment team understood the importance of an incremental approach. What the PR industry doesn’t need is a one-size-fits-all solution.
“If we can demonstrate the success of the core platform and start building out other product offerings around that, that will help put us in a dominant position” in the communications sector, which he said is spending around $15 billion globally on new tech solutions.
But like any tech startup, execution is easier said than done.
For one thing, building out the product incrementally requires different skill-sets at different times.
“A fair chunk of my time at the moment is going towards finding engineers who can bridge that divide,” Allison said.
The end-goal is “hockeystick” growth — when the platform hits a critical mass of users and revenue goes from 0-100 (real quick). But Allison also offered a reminder that jumping off the startup deep end isn’t for everyone.
“I think we’ve glorified the ‘hustle’ culture a bit too much, which has led to some dangerous ideas that everyone should have a startup,” he said.
“Ultimately, I believe the industry as it stands right now needs to be more transparent and frank about the challenges involved in starting a business. We’re not trying to sell a pipe dream by offering all things to all people, and providing a service which everybody can use but nobody loves.”