MarTech Interview with Steve Marcinuk, Co-founder of Intelligent Relations

Join us as we delve deep into Steve Marcinuk's vision, exploring the inspiration behind Intelligent Relations and the unique approach they bring to the industry.
MarTech Interview

In this exclusive interview, we had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Marcinuk, Co-founder of Intelligent Relations. With a strong entrepreneurial background and a passion for marketing, Steve has embarked on a remarkable journey that led him to the field of public relations. He shared insights into his personal background, his inspiration behind founding Intelligent Relations, and the unique approach the company brings to the PR industry.

Scroll through to know more!

Steve, please tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in the field of public relations.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur first and a marketer/PR guy secondarily. From the lemonade stand at five to my first small business at 12, entrepreneurship is in my blood and I found an interest in marketing mostly in college.

I studied marketing undergrad and was always interested in the data-driven side of things. I was one of the first students to be involved with the Wharton Consumer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) and was inspired by the work of Dr. Peter Fader and Eric Bradlow.

My interest in PR came after I had been running my own digital marketing agency for several years – I was getting into the weeds with generative text AI in 2020 and sensed that this was only going to get better and better, and the PR industry seemed like a natural application for the looming tech – it was an industry ripe for AI analysis and all the needed training data was public (press releases, articles, etc). So that’s when I co-founded Intelligent Relations.

What inspired you to start Intelligent Relations, and what unique approach do you bring to the industry?
I saw the PR industry as one that was ready for a new approach, powered by emerging technology. The legacy “relationship broker” model – in which national agencies essentially charge $20k+ monthly retainers to make intros to their journalist friends- lacked transparency and priced out a lot of companies with good stories to tell.

So we re-invented the Public Relations process from the ground up – offering both a DIY Platform and a “Full Stack” option that leveraged our proprietary tech and a strategic services layer for clients who needed more support.

Can you shed some light on the new AI-powered PR platform launched by Intelligent Relations? Tell us about the USPs of the IRPR platform.
The goal was to build the “Essential” PR platform for non-experts. Like Canva empowered non-designers to do effective design, and Squarespace is an elegant and simple tool to make websites, IRPR makes it simple for a regular entrepreneur or marketing person to executive effective PR campaigns.

We streamlined the process of winning media coverage, adding AI enhancements at each stage. From media monitoring to idea generation, pitch writing to journalist list building, email personalization sending, and follow-up – we deconstructed everything that goes into a successful outreach campaign and trained AI to offer value at each touch point. All of this is built into an elegant CRM for managing your journalist relationships, and we put that on top of our own journalist database with hundreds of thousands of journalist records.

So, the end result is a platform that LEARNS your company, and then recommends pitches and who to send them to, then does it.

We had our doubts about whether it would work, but as technology accelerated, our platform got better, we’ve since seen users get wins in some top-tier publications – WaPo, The AP, CoinDesk, and probably hundreds of niche industry publications – so when that started happening, we knew we were on to something.

Can you describe a particularly challenging project you worked on, and how you overcame any obstacles you faced?
One of the biggest challenges we had originally was finding ways to automate the process of intelligent pitch personalization at scale, in a way that didn’t seem “too smart.”

I.e. No one wants an email that says “It’s been 37 days since we were last in touch, I had another idea for you” – that’s some creepy serial killer sh’t. So we approached this like most problems in the company – we broke the issue down and tried to solve each piece independently.

We took thousands of examples of personalization from real pitches and used those as inputs into the model as examples of what ‘good’ looked like. Then we tested a number of inputs into the personalization. Commenting on an article was okay and we still use that sometimes, but we also experimented with concept extractor models to get the ‘gist’ of what they covered and that seemed to work better. Then we had to string it all together, iterated some dozens of times, and deployed the current version. But this is one of those “never-ending improvement” categories… we can’t rest on personalization.

How do you prioritize competing demands and manage multiple projects simultaneously?
I spend a lot of time planning my productivity, then executing the plan.

I have 20 different key outcomes that I believe will drive us to ultimate success with the business, these are divided into 3 business domains that I drive – product, operations, sales, and marketing. Every week, I choose 4-5 outcomes that I want to progress toward and set weekly objectives that I set out to accomplish.

Then every day I set those as my top priorities and work on them first thing in the morning before the chaos begins (usually from 7:30 am to 9:00 am or so). I start the day with the hard stuff completed.

I’ve been doing this consistently for a few years now, and it’s the most productive I’ve ever been.

How do you measure the success of a public relations campaign, and what metrics do you use?
We report on everything we can and hope to innovate on the metrics side in the coming year because PR has always been a bit ‘soupy’ on the metrics side.

We report on:
Count of emails sent, opened, clicked, and responses. All with percentages relative to the campaign.
All journalist lists and publications are visible.
We sort replies into positive, negative, and neutral.
We divide wins into categories as well along the usual lines (byline, feature, etc)
We use monthly site visitors to approximate reach.

We believe this level of transparency helps our clients understand what we’re doing and leads to better conversations around strategy.

What advice do you have for businesses that are just starting to develop their PR strategy?
It’s important for businesses to keep in mind that journalists aren’t interested in promoting their company or products. What really catches the eye of journalists are newsworthy stories that can captivate their audience.

Businesses need to focus on developing compelling stories that are relevant to their target audience and try to fit their company into those stories. It’s also important to make the story timely and newsworthy by tying it to current events or trends in the industry.

Also, you can see more success by providing journalists with all the necessary information to write a compelling piece in the outreach – such as background information, quotes from key stakeholders, and any relevant data or research. Being responsive to any follow-up questions or requests from journalists can also help to build a relationship and increase the likelihood of future coverage.

How do you develop relationships with journalists and media outlets, and what is the key to building strong relationships in this industry?
The first step is identifying the journalists worth building relationships with. Any number of media databases can help you with this, or you can just poke around on the internet looking for articles that are relevant to your company and building your master list of high-priority people you should connect with.

The foundation of these relationships, in the beginning, is offering value – what can you offer them? Can you be an expert source? Do you have original insights or data? Do you have a case study, or maybe you are aware of a trend that people aren’t talking about yet? All of these can be good content for an original pitch to the journalist.

Do occasional outreach to these folks, offering value, but not being too pushy. As you get a response, make it easy for them to work with you – show up to the interview, answer the needed questions, and don’t do annoying follow-ups (can you change the title?). Then, in the future, when you reach out, keep it casual and to the point – again focusing on offering value wherever possible and they may just include you in subsequent coverage.

How do you stay organized and manage your time effectively, given the fast-paced nature of the public relations industry?
Similar to what I mentioned above, I pre-plan the important stuff, and that frees me up to remain reactive. As the founder of the company, it’s also about empowering your team to make good decisions, so when urgent things arise, only the most important things would filter their way up to me, most of the others are handled by our managers and principals who, frankly, can usually take care of them as well or better than I can.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the PR industry in the next few years, and how do you plan to address these challenges?

Simply put, the industry and the companies operating in it need to evolve or they’ll go out of business. Advances in AI will affect the industry in 2 ways. First, customers will come to expect faster, more effective services from agencies and consultants as more and more adopt this technology into their operations. If you’re still manually list-building and writing every single thing from scratch, you won’t be able to compete.

Secondly, slices of the PR pie will be taken over and automated into software that people can use to do themselves. Social media posts, for instance, will be largely generated by algorithms and punched up by people… so if that’s your primary business, there’s a high risk that more companies will just in-house that.

The pivot is to have people become strategists and focus on the “service” side of client services. Dealing with truly in-depth work that requires care and understanding, and leverage the technology to offer an incredible service to your clients.

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Stephen Marcinuk, Co-founder & Head of Operations, Intelligent Relations

Steve is a serial agency builder and Magna Cum Laude Marketing graduate from Wharton. Steve built and runs the core functionality behind IR’s Public Relations and operational infrastructure. LinkedIn.
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