Feature of this issue:

Damages claim, leadership exit loom over Cision

by Greg Hazley

O'Dwyer's April Social Media PR & Broadcast Media Svcs. Magazine

Apr. '12 Social Media PR & Broadcast Media Services Magazine

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The Sweden-based PR software company said March 18 it would nix three proposals ahead of its March 26 annual meeting because of “continuing uncertainty” surrounding the litigation threat.

That included a proposed 30 million SEK ($4.5 million) dividend, a plan to implement a long-term incentive plan for no more than 13 executives, and a proposal to authorize purchase of its own shares. Cision currently holds 69,442 of the company’s 14.9 million shares and its holdings cannot exceed one-tenth of the total. 

Cision said March 8 that it had been threatened with a copyright infringement action by a U.S. publisher it has declined to name. At the company’s annual meeting March 26, Cision said only that CEO Hans Gieskes addressed the situation regarding the threat adding that further information will be disclosed “as soon as possible.”

CEOs exit

In February, Cision’s North American CEO Joe Bernardo stepped down with acceptance of an early retirement package, effective March 1. 

The PR software provider named North American President/COO Peter Granat to take over Bernardo’s duties under Gieskes. 

Bernardo, who joined the company in 1998, has overseen a restructuring and overhaul of Cision’s operations in the region and its transition from printed media directories to digital services in recent years. The company reported 12% growth in the U.S. for the fourth quarter of 2011, although Canadian operations were down 14%.

“For the past 13 years, Joe Bernardo has been key to Cision’s success in North America, as the company transformed itself from a news clipping service and publisher of hard-copy media directories to a global software and technology company,” said Gieskes. 

Bernardo was previously president and publisher of Futures magazine after stints in tech and publishing. 

Granat is the former President of Cision’s European operations, joining from the 2003 acquisition of MediaMap.

Just weeks after announcing the exit of its North American CEO, Cision said in March that its European CEO is leaving the company at the end of the second quarter.

Yann Blandy, CEO of Cision of Europe, is slated to take that same post at Sweden-based Intellecta AB.

Cision CEO Hans Gieskes said Blandy leaves behind a European operation “in better shape than ever.”

Publisher threat

Cision said March 8 that it has been threatened by a “major U.S. publisher” over copyright infringement but does not yet know if or how the claim will affect its operations.

“It is at present not possible to quantify the likely potential liability that Cision could incur as a result of this claim,” said a statement from Hans Gieskes and CFO Tosh Bruce-Morgan on March 8. “However, it cannot be excluded that the impact on Cision’s full-year earnings could be significant.”

That revelation sent the company’s Sweden-traded shares sinking by more than 25%.

The company said it intends to work toward an “amicable solution or otherwise invoke such defense as it sees fit.”

Revenues slip overall, but rise in U.S.

Cision in February reported fourth quarter revenue slipped 6% from 2010 to 252 million SEK, but organic growth swung positive to increase four percent on strength of its U.S. performance.

It posted 12% growth in the U.S. in 2011’s fourth quarter on revenue of 165.1 million SEK, although revenue slipped 2.5% for the full year 2011 at 598.2 million. 

“There are clear signs that our 2010-11 investments in sales and marketing in the U.S. are paying off,” said Gieskes in releasing the earnings, noting improvements in Europe also boosted revenue.

The company continues to struggle in Canada, where revenue fell 13% in the fourth quarter. 

Divestments and currency effects put a 28 million SEK hit on revenue for the fourth quarter, but net profit jumped 150% to 25 million SEK for the quarter over 2010’s fourth quarter.

For the year, operating revenue hit 969 million SEK, down 14% from 2010 on divestments of its Germany and Finland operations, but organic growth was 0.4% for the year. Gieskes noted it was Cision’s first full year of organic growth in four years. 

Fifty-eight percent of Cision’s revenue for 2011 was derived from subscriptions. It counted 13,305 customers at the end of the year, including nearly, 9,000 for its CisionPoint PR software.

Cision shed 118 staffers in 2011, although it added headcount in the U.S.