How startups can automate and scale their PR

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets Tom Lawrence, founder and CEO of MVPR. Tom shares how MVPR is allowing startups to automate their PR and improve how they communicate with journalists thanks to data. Tom also explains why your T&Cs need to be aligned with your company and clients' goals and why all contracts should be concise.

Listen to the episode below:

Learn more about MVPR

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Charles: Would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and MVPR?


Tom: Sure. Thanks for having me on. So for background on MVPR, and I guess it ties into my own. So I've been nearly 10 years in the PR industry. I started out by working with boutique PR agencies, and I was a shoe-in CMO for seed to series A stage companies for a while, and then most recently, I joined the largest PR agency in the world which is called Edelman, and I helped them build their offering for early stage start-ups. While I was working there, and before, it has to be said, you can't help but notice there are a ton of different issues and cracks that exist within the PR industry as a whole, and yes, by working with mostly growth-stage companies at Edelman, I realised that there was this, essentially, a disconnect between how companies and start-ups communicate with journalists, and how journalists reach out to companies for information. I realise that Edelman, essentially, what we were doing was we were charging companies a lot of money every month in order to connect them with the right journalists, and nearly always the problem that I encountered was companies that wanted to use earned media to either gain credibility with the audience they were going out to, whether it was employees, or whether it was investors, or whether they wanted to gain more customers, the challenge they had was not necessarily what they wanted to say, but actually, who they could say it to, and who would be interested in receiving content from them. As the conduit for that information at Edelman, as I mentioned, we're charging companies, in most cases, tens of thousands of pounds a month to effectively match them with the right journalists. So I thought there was something more that we could do to automate that process because the PR industry as a whole is barely digitalised, let alone automated, and so we began building MVPR, and MVPR started out as a place for companies to share information with journalists in a way that journalists wanted to receive it, and it's grown more into a platform that helps companies communicate with journalists, give them access to journalists, and then also collect data on the back of those interactions, so that in the future, you can actually improve how you communicate, and not just rely on somebody external, usually, to advise you based on their experience what you should do. Yes, that takes us up to date, I think.


Charles: If you're automating PR, do PR agencies feel like you're eating their lunch?


Tom: Yes, they do. I think it depends on the agency. I know there are a number of agencies we've been in contact with, naturally because of my history and the contacts I have, but there are some agencies that absolutely feel like we're eating their lunch, and that's because we are. And there are some agencies that actually see us as a huge benefit because, just because we provide our technology to, at the moment, early-stage companies and SMBs, we do reduce a huge amount of the manual labour work that everybody has to do when they do PR activities. Because it doesn't really matter whether you're doing those activities in-house or in an agency, they're the same. So, yes, some agencies, many of whom have actually-, the owners of those agencies have invested in us because-, and then they've adopted us to use on their own clients. Now, in the long term, we'll see how that fares, but what we do allow those agencies to do is to move away from the kind of manual labour work that they usually have the juniors do on accounts, and actually move into more of the strategic advisory which, in my opinion, will always be necessary. So, yes, to answer your first question, we are eating their lunch, but not everyone's completely reticent to working with us.


Charles: What's been your favourite moment so far?


Tom: My favourite moment so far? I always use the analogy of-, so my old man's an architect, and whenever the roof goes on, there's an old school celebration called 'topping out', where, basically, after you've built the structure, the roof goes on and everyone celebrates because now you can work on the thing inside without worrying about rain getting in. I think probably the largest moment so far has been when we got out first press page up and, so to speak, the roof went on for the earliest MVP we released. Well, the earliest MVP we released was on notion, actually, it was a notion page, but the first tech version we released was the first press page. So I think that moment was probably one of my favourites, and then tons since then, but I think you always look back to the beginning.


Charles: What do you wish you had known before starting MVPR?


Tom: Oh, god, all sorts of things. Maybe not wished I'd known, but I wish there were some way of telling founders in advance how much of your time will be spent on the things you really enjoy, like product, in my case it's product and hiring, versus how much time you'll inevitably have to spend on, yes, the things that are less interesting like picking through the problems that you have with Stripe, and other things like that. That said, I think one of the major benefits of being a founder in general is-, I was actually talking with my girlfriend about this last night, is, yes, okay, you may work through weekends sometimes, but there's never a moment where you dread going back to work. So yes, okay, maybe sometimes I'm fixing problems with Stripe, or working out how to automate invoices, and stuff like that, I think is a problem that lots of people have, and looking forward to it. Maybe it's something I wouldn't have admitted earlier in my life, but yes. So that's mainly one thing I wish I'd known in advance, but now that I'm doing it, you'll obviously know this too, but every second of that is pretty fun.


Charles: You mentioned your automated PR for start-ups. Where do you see yourself and MVPR in the next 5, 10 years? What's the big vision?


Tom: I am awful at doing a 10-year vision. I work on a 6, 12, 18 months timeline, which is probably a little bit more product focussed than I care to admit I am. Let me start with the easier bit. So, in 5 years, we will be an operating system for anybody who wants to do PR activity. So if you think of us as a marketplace, on the one hand side, you have, basically, companies that want to share information. On the other hand side, you have journalists that want to find information. So from the companies that want to share information, yes, we'll be an operating system. They'll do all of their PR and comms activities. Anything to do with earned media will happen within MVPR. Sharing content that you have on socials in a structured way, that will happen on MVPR. Looking at the data feedback that you get after pitching a particular campaign, looking at exactly which journalists engaged, and how they engaged, down to the likelihood that if you pitched them again, they're going to publish it. All of that will happen on MVPR, and even the automation of, yes, the creation of texts and messages that we know will land with journalists in a particular way based on data feedback, again, that all happens with us. Then from the journalists' side, we will have advanced the search function so that journalists receive exactly what they want to receive, they're able to literally pick and choose the information that they get into their portal, their dashboard, themselves, and into their inbox. I think that the starting point is always reduce the amount of emails about useless things that go into journalists' inboxes, and that's where we start, and hopefully by the end they'll just come to us for all the information they need.


So that's 5 years. In 10 years, tough to say. I think the media industry is changing so dramatically. At the moment, it's very difficult to see what a 10-year road map might look like because I think the key for us is just to remain flexible. If I look at the trends that are happening at the moment, though, yes, things like automated newsrooms, or the use of machine learning and AI in newsrooms themselves to source information. We're looking at the way that media itself is changing. Lots of people consuming news especially via lots of different channels, and sometimes that's via a 7-second video, and other times it's through a 15 minute-long read. I think the thing that's coming together for me across all of those platforms is the communities around which news is shared, they're getting smaller and smaller, and so I think news in the future, or media content in the future, is going to be very community-focussed. I mean mostly, these days, people find out about articles-, well, I say people. People of my age group, my millennial age category, we find things on Instagram or on LinkedIn. We find things on, yes, occasionally on TikTok if that's where we are. We find things in WhatsApp, or we get sent emails, or forwarded emails from newsletters, by friends, and so the way that we read news and receive it is very local. So I think what we have to do in the interim is think about how that information is ultimately going to be read, and be flexible enough to adapt to it in the future, rather than necessarily worrying about how we'll actually get there in 10 years' time.


So I think predicting that is going to be too difficult, too far out. If I was going to make a prediction, I would say that it's pretty likely we'll become a new source in our own right. When we have as much company data on MVPRs as we will at that scale, we have a lot already, but when we do have, I'd say we have 1,000, 10,000 customers on board, there'll be a lot of information there that people can use to write articles. So I see us becoming a new source in our own right.


Charles: That's interesting and I guess with media evolving it might mean also broadening the definition of journalist on your platform to influence newsletter or whatever.


Tom: Well exactly, individuals that can share content with credibility I think that's typically what influencers are as we know them, but I think we think of influencers right now as Instagram influencers or TikTok influencers that share content. Sometimes there's advertising behind it and sometimes there isn't, and it's tough to know if there is or if there isn't.


I think one of the biggest advantages we have is we keep factual information predominantly and we have what's in the industry known as double sourced it. So the information we have we know is accurate at a point in time. And I think for sure, I don't know what your perspective is on this, but I'm seeing amongst my peers in any case, people want to read factual information and know its accuracy. And I think there's a really interesting opportunity in the new space more generally to share the factual content or a factual grading of an article, even if it's thought an opinion piece or somebody writes a leadership piece off the back of something that is factual, you want to know what's the rating on it. Has it got absolutely nothing factual in it and it's always entirely based on opinion, which a lot of what we read is. Or can it be verified.


So I think there's a really interesting opportunity there. I mean we could go into talking about decentralised news networks and how I think a DAO might be the future, a version of the dow might be the future of news, whereby factual information is tokenised and freelance journalists use tokenised information to write articles that have high token value that are then read by readers that will set their thresholds at which they're willing to read articles. And then either pay per article or share their data in exchange for tokens that will buy them access to the articles that they know have factual information in them. That's where I really think we're going and I guess we have to be in a position to support that.


Charles: That's very interesting and seems like a valid blockchain news case.


Tom: One of the first, yes I know.


Charles: Yes.


Tom: Well actually about that too. I suppose you're thinking about crypto use cases as well as Legislate.


Charles: I mean potentially although I think if you think about contracts, you might want to stamp a version of the contract on the blockchain to certify that this is the contract that was signed, we probably have to be in private blockchain because I doubt companies or employees would even want their employment contract stamped on a public blockchain. And second of all, contracts do get changed all the time, amendment letters are written, so I think that's something that we need to anticipate and work out how to do that in a clean way. But if we're thinking about for verification purposes, I reckon using Onfido or one of those identification verification APIs is a much more effective way. Or even simple email domain verification is probably the most effective way of determining if this person has the right to create a contract on behalf of the party that is present. Or even things, if landlords prove ownership of their property, there are APIs that exist to do all of that right now and it's not necessarily something that, we can put it on the blockchain for the sake of putting it on the blockchain, but I think for us, the value would more be certify that the contract hasn't changed in Legislate, between or post signature.


Tom: Yes that makes a lot of sense, I think as you say, whether it goes on the blockchain or not is not so important.


Charles: As a founder of a growing product and growing, what are the key contracts you interact with the most?


Tom: I think employee contracts is obviously I think some of the first things you create. I mean realistically I think if in my, I'm a second time founder, I think in my first time founder views, an NDA was probably the first thing I would create. And while that's obviously always still relevant to an extent, difficult to uphold. I think you stop writing NDAs I think after you finish your first start-up. But yes I think employee contracts, contractors as well, partnership contracts is a big one for us, we have a lot of partnerships and having those kinds of contracts in place is really important. And then naturally all of the things around investors. I mean we raised 100k in November using an ASA. Incredibly challenging process, not least if you're coming fresh to the way that ASAs work, there's a ton of stuff that has nothing even to do with the ASA that you need to understand around EIS and SEIS and stuff like that. So I would say that those are the kinds of contracts I guess that we use most frequently. And then of course client contracts, which we have, to an extent, automated the production of but they change all the time so it can be a challenge.


Charles: With those contracts had there been any areas of friction maybe around employment or NDAs or partnership agreements, are there any common patterns that you've identified and have you found a solution?


Tom: I think openly less with the ASAs. But with partnership and client contracts, absolutely, yes. Usually it's tighter privacy for clients, which is a good thing. And occasionally it's to take some of the clauses around privacy that we have out, so that they can share it more widely.


Very early on, for example, something that we thought would happen, but weren't sure would happen, would be people adding MVPR's press page to their websites in the footnotes, in the footer, to have as a stand-alone press page. And we had a clause in the contract originally that implies they couldn't do that and which we obviously had to take out. So that was one of those things where earlier you realise you are literally shooting yourself in the foot. So of course that was one that came out very quickly. But of course every client has slightly different demands, especially when you're dealing with companies in different countries. So the laws, for example, for information sharing are much tighter in Germany, in Europe than they are in the UK and the US. We often have US companies will question a couple of clauses that we've got in our standard European contracts around information sharing.


So every company is different, it depends on the jurisdiction they're in and then it depends on how large the company is too, what they expect. So that on the client side for sure. And then definitely on the partnership side too. We partner with VCs, accelerator programmes, we partner with ecosystem players in different ways and while those are becoming more uniform over time, I think we're still in the phase where we're adjusting lots of those contracts, so kind of suit in individual entity rather than just having a very clean partnership sign up, 'You have 3 options, here you go.' We're still very much adjusting as we go.


Charles: That's very interesting and I guess from an SEO perspective you want your clients to link back to you.


Tom: Yes, it's daft.


Charles: Yes, well lesson learned quickly I guess. So, if you're being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?


Tom: If it had Legislate on the header. Is that the correct answer?


Charles: That's actually the first time anyone has ever said that, but you'll be pleased to know that on Legislate you can add your own logo so that MVPR is on the header.


Tom: Very cool. What would impress me in a contract? That's a really hard question to answer. The things that impress me most with contracts are our simplicity. I think-, no lawyer, so I'm not the best person to comment on this, but yes where I find you often have the option to have a contract that's 15 or 20 pages long or you could do that in 4 pages or 5 pages. And I find where there is simplicity there's a lot to be gained on both sides. So that tends to impress me. When someone could send over a very complex contract, naturally they send over one that's much, much more easier to understand, from a layman's perspective, which I am.


Charles: Yes well it sounds like you've described Legislate, we simplify the language so that it's easier to understand for non-lawyers, but when contracts are long, because sometimes they have to be long, we do like to summarise the key terms at the top but also in a more of a question and answer type format so that you can digest your contract in the format which is easiest for you.


Tom: For the listeners, I haven't tried Legislate yet, so that wasn't a pre-recorded answer. That's really cool.


Charles: Great, well, maybe we should do a second episode once you've started using Legislate.


Tom: Thanks Charles, I would love to.


Charles: Well thank you Tom and best of luck conquering and automating PR.


Tom: Thanks Charles.


Charles: Bye.



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