Ed Harrison’s mission to bring Isentia back from the cold

2018 was a horror year for market intelligence firm Isentia with the writing off of the company's King Content acquisition, the departure of long standing CEO John Croll and having the dubious honour of being the year's worst performing ASX media stock.

Current chief executive Ed Harrison spoke to Mumbrella's Paul Wallbank about how technology and the company's Asian assets are key parts of his plan to get the business out of the doldrums.

If the burden of running a company that was Australia’s worst performing listed media stock last year seems heavy, Isentia CEO Ed Harrison isn’t showing it.

Harrison, the former CEO of Yahoo7,  took the reins of the struggling media intelligence firm in August 2018 to replace long-standing boss John Croll who stepped down after two tumultuous years which had seen the company struggle with a floundering share price and the $48m writing off of the company’s  disastrous King Content investment.

Isentia boss Ed Harrison: “We have this great recurring revenue base through subscription channels”

By the end of the year, the once dominant media monitoring firm had the ignominy of being the worst performing media stock on the ASX for the year.

Despite the setbacks, Harrison told Mumbrella he was optimistic about the company’s prospects: “I’m really happy about where we’ve got to. In one year, it’s really everything I expected it would be,” he said.

“We have this great recurring revenue base through subscription channels and all of that stable, great client base and we still have the vast majority of Australian corporates and Australian government clients.”

“Our focus right now is on our core business and our core business is providing tools for PR and communications professionals and whether that’s through platforms and automation or whether it’s through people – remember we do have a large capability in research through people – that’s really where our efforts are focussed right now.

“I think as PR and comms comes closer and closer to marketing there are some opportunities that present themselves in that space, particularly in our insights business.

“We are looking at some really new exciting products that start to play towards this space. It’s a little too early to be calling them out right now but there’s certainly some interesting areas that we can play in.”

Compounding Isentia’s current woes is the company’s once dominant position in the Australian media intelligence market is under siege from upstart rivals including global player Meltwater and local startup Streem, however Harrison remains upbeat about the business’ market position, saying: “It’s really robust, we renew the vast majority of clients that come up for renewal,” he said.

“But it is a competitive market, so we do have a battle on occasion and there have been occasions where clients moved away from us.

“In fact I’ve got a personal experience with that because I was with Isentia for many years, moved to a competitor and after one year came back. So I know exactly what this company is able to deliver – the better end to end capability that we’ve got as a business.”

Harrison laid out a three pillar strategy for Isentia’s comeback, saying: “Number one is an efficient operating model. That’s all about automation and the best possible tech tools. And the second one is a world class market centric innovations. And then the final one is creating regional scale to strengthen Asia-Pacific leadership.”

“Asia is very much a core part of our strategy and we’re really keen to leverage that opportunity. And when we think about you know moving to a single platform and the scale benefit you get of one platform across all markets is an outstanding opportunity for us.

“In the Southeast Asian markets particularly we’ve had really strong growth over the last year and frankly we’ve managed to achieve it with very little capital investment.

“Part of the investment there is in multi market sales. So you know we may have a client in one or two or three markets. Well how about the other nine, or eleven if you extend it to Australia New Zealand.

“So we’re very very strong there, particularly in social media. Across Southeast Asia or the whole of the Asian footprint there’s a bias towards social media rather than more traditional formats. We have the original acquisitions we made and that’s now in the existing business and are very focussed on social media.

“So now we see that as an opportunity to actually bring some of that capability back into the Australian market. So we’re building Asia first for many of those features and then Australia and New Zealand will benefit from those as well.”

Former Isentia CEO John Croll had a made a number of key technology investments before resigning in early 2018

Despite Croll’s ambitious market expansion coming unstuck, Harrison was complimentary about the technology investments made by Isentia’s previous leadership: “The team prior to me had built a very strong core in our primary product, Mediaportal, and it’s got a very very good modern core to the product so it’s really great base for us to start from.

“We’ve got some new talent including chief technology officer Paul Russell who I was with at Yahoo 7 and chief product officer, Jen Marshall, who’s ex- Fairfax and Brainmates. They have a new perspective in terms of how product development works. But, yeah, we’re building on a great base that the previous team left us with.

“And now it’s just building on top of that and accelerating those programs.”

A key part of those investments is the extension into analytics and self-serve dashboards for clients, Harrison said: “There’s a lot of analytics and new charting the way people can build and analyse their different metrics and dashboards. So being able to generate reports really early.

“We also have quick access to video streaming so one click and you can watch video from broadcast.

“There’s also real time alerts, if you’re a business or client of ours now, you can set up keywords and whenever those words are mentioned or phrases are mentioned in the broadcast environment you’ll be passed through that click to view in real time. So that’s a significant improvement.

“We’ve also done a lot around sentiment as well. So we’ve been able to better understand whether you know stories or groups of stories positive or negative. Those will be the main things we’re tackling.”


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