Why is it that when I think of the current state of the measurement industry I can’t get this image out of my head?:
In less than two years we have gone from an industry populated by a wide array of different providers each with its own strength and capabilities to one in which there are significantly fewer options:
- Dominating most of the western world, you have the Empire of Cision that was born of the marriage of Vocus and Cision and now expanded to include Gorkana and Visible, with rumors that more acquisitions are in the wings.
- Reigning in the East is iSentia, holding a virtual monitoring and measurement monopoly that stretches throughout Australasia.
- In the Middle East you have News Group, which has consolidated CARMA, KDPaine & Partners, and Report International under its Salience Insight brand.
Floating over all is the fact that LexisNexis’s purchase of Moreover puts a lock on about 60% of the content collection. Never mind that NASDAQ and Thomson Reuters have cornered the “big data” segment, weaving everything from media monitoring to stock prices and legal briefs into their databases.
And of course there are still a number of Han Solo operators out there who will certainly offer very attractive alternatives: Prime Research, CyberAlert, and BurrellesLuce (although there are already rumors about the latter getting sucked into the Cision vortex).
Some will welcome this consolidation. For years most PR people have been bewailing the proliferation of sales people and tools that seem to bombard them at every turn. For them, having fewer choices is a good thing, because it means one less annoying salesperson bugging them. (Unfortunately, we’re still stuck with the most annoying sales team of them all — until Meltwater gets sucked up by someone.)
The market capitalist in me is of course leery of all this consolidation and confusion. Anyone who’s taken Econ 101 will know that eliminating the competition generally leads to an increase in prices. Also, there is the confusion and frustration that will inevitably arise as clients transition from their old platforms to the new ones. This has never been an industry that loves learning a new technology platform, and I can already hear the gnashing of clients’ teeth as they try to navigate the integration process over the next 18 months.
More concerning from the measurement perspective is the implications for quality and innovation.
I am also seriously dreading the deluge of bad data that is bound to come when clients start trying to merge databases and compare year-on-year results. The data is dirty enough already, and will be getting much worse before it gets better, if it ever does. (See our past article, “Dirty Data Dooms Measurement: Here Are 5 Tidy-Up Techniques.)
For the same reason that Tesla has left the big car companies in the dust when it comes to EVs, consolidation tends to depress innovation as companies scramble for efficiencies to pay off the huge debt most of these deals required. I also know from experience that the faster a company grows, the harder it is to train staff and maintain quality standards.
But the biggest concern of all is the implications for advancing measurement standards.
The real elephant in the room is “Earned Media Value” or AVE. You’ll find it as a standard metric in many of the major platforms. All of the planets in the Cision empire are still pushing AVE’s on their clients, as does iSentia. These companies control the measurement universe. What incentive have they to conform to the Barcelona Principles if they can just rake in the money without them?
None of the major brands in the Cision empire have even pledged to support the standards (and thus drop AVEs eventually), even though many of their senior staff sit on the committees that wrote them. In fact, of all the companies I’ve mentioned in this story, only CyberAlert and Salience Insight are on the list of those that have taken the standards pledge. (If you have a company that uses or produces measurement, and haven’t yet taken the pledge, go do it right now.) May the force be with you and all of us. ∞