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Cision CMO Chris Lynch on its race to integrate

PRmoment founder Ben Smith caught up with Cision CMO Chris Lynch while he was over in London for CommsCon, to chat about the integration of Cision's various acquisitions. 

According to my calculations Cision has now spent well over $1 billion on acquisitions over the five years. Here’s a non exhaustive list: Vocus, Visible Technologies, Viral Heat, Gorkana, Prime, Argus de la Presse, PR Newswire, Bulletin Intelligence and Cedrom-Sni in Canada and Share IQ.

That’s a lot of money and a big investment. It dwarfs any other acquisition cycle within PR. It’s also an ambitious project with the objective of sewing together the full length of the public relations workflow.

We discussed how the integration of all of these businesses into the Cision Communications Cloud is going.

Ben Smith: How many acquisitions has Cision completed in the last five years?

Chris Lynch: Cision has completed a total of 10 acquisitions over the last five years. The latest was visual recognition start-up ShareIQ, now known as Cision ImageIQ™. It enables customers to monitor, track, and measure the performance of images they use within their campaigns in the same way they would with text.

BS: And this is all presumably with the end goal of creating an integrated cloud across communications incorporating planning, distribution and measurement?

CL: Yes, the goal is for the Cision Comms Cloud to be the go-to app for Earned Media Management. By definition, Earned Media Management is the unification of technology, data, processes, and analysis to modernize the comms function from an expense into a business driver. Cision has acquired each individual business – and its technology – to help communicators be more data-driven in their job. We want to enable brand marketers and communications professionals to have all the tools they need to plan, deliver, measure, analyse and optimise the performance of their campaigns across earned media.

Overall, each acquisition further promotes Cision’s mission in helping communicators deliver campaigns that map back to the core objectives of their businesses.

BS: The thought of integrating all of that makes my head hurt. How’s it all going?

CL: Having worked in businesses that had acquisitions as a core part of their strategy – namely at Oracle and its Marketing Cloud business – I can say with experience that it’s going very well. The Comms Cloud is taking the best parts of the capabilities we acquire, and weaving them into a cohesive workflow for the communicator. Although it seems daunting to integrate so many different moving parts, it’s an integral thing for us to achieve in order to create an essential platform that earned media managers rely on.

There are two keys to doing it well: One is an embrace of constraint. Not all features make sense to build into the platform, so sometimes it’s as much about being disciplined about what you say no to. The second is a commitment to innovation, and pushing us – and even sometimes our customers – a little out of our comfort zone.

Our Innovation Labs definitely makes that process possible. As our core research and development team, they identify current sector challenges and anticipate the industry direction. They then offer new solutions that haven’t been thought of before in addition to what we acquire.

As the drive around Earned Media Management continues to grow, technological innovation must support this, which is what Cision does by continuing to evolve the Comms Cloud.

BS: And presumably every time you acquire a new business, an integration cycle starts again?

CL: Yes. The good news is, we get better at each one because we try to learn more each time. When we integrate new products and capabilities, whether by acquisition or internal development, it enables great conversations with our customers.

BS: What have been the chief challenges of integrating all of these products together?

CL: You have to remember that you’re bringing in new people, not just products, with most acquisitions.

If it were just about integrating functionality from one software app into another, that would be one thing. But aligning teams, legacy internal systems, and other behind-the-scenes elements can be quite time consuming. What we try to do is find the best parts of each team culture, and empower them to let that permeate the Cision team culture as well. We’ve also been making a lot of investments in our ops and customer experience, most recently with the hire of my colleague, Gregg Spratto, our new COO. He has years of experience doing this at Autodesk, and he’s already hard at work implementing a lot of those best practices.

BS: Are you seeing a trend of Cision clients buying integrated services across planning, distribution and measurement?

CL: We do see that comms want a unified approach to influencer identification, measurement, and distribution, and that’s essentially been core to our corporate direction. They are sick of silos. We recently did our second straight year of market research with more than 400 CCOs, and we found that nearly 61% of them said disparate point solutions impact their ability to provide cohesive campaigns. It’s a huge challenge, and one we feel we are best suited to solve.  

BS: Are Cision clients in the UK spending more with you now than they were?

CL: Whilst I can’t comment on individual client cases, we have worked hard to nurture the growing need for customers demanding a single-point solution to facilitate their entire workflow. I will say it’s interesting to see how heads of communications are looking at budgets. When they add up all that they pay on various point solutions, it may be that unifying on one platform like the Cision Comms Cloud for all that functionality actually saves them money in the long run.

BS: Is the Cision Communications Cloud now up and running or is it still in development?

CL: The Comms Cloud has been available for over a year and is available to customers on a global scale. But the work is never done. Our Innovation Lab is always thinking about the next big capability that is going to push the industry forward. Our Cision ImageIQ product is a good example of this.

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