Niall Harbison is back on the start-up scene just weeks after leaving Simply Zesty, the company he co-founded four years ago. His new venture with model Emma-Jane Power is an online PR hub called PRSlides.com aimed at connecting brands directly with media through easy-to-access quality digital imagery.
Harbison describes PRSlides.com as more of a technology company than a traditional PR or marketing operation.
The company has already signed up 40 international brands, including Harvey Nichols, Littlewoods, Sony, Philips and Harvey Norman, as well as local brands Butlers Chocolates and Dubary.
Simply Zesty, which UTV plc acquired last year for about stg£1.7m, was set up by Harbison and Lauren Fisher in a spare bedroom in Dublin. In January, UTV revealed it was merging its web design agency Tibus with Simply Zesty.
In recent weeks, Harbison and Fisher announced their departure from the company.
Harbison told Siliconrepublic.com that by making it easier for press to access high-resolution imagery, PRSlides.com can generate press coverage for brands complimenting, or effectively replacing, traditional PR methods.
Power, who has appeared in international campaigns for Nike, Cosmopolitan and Coca-Cola, as well as acting in TV drama The Tudors, felt there was a need to create an online hub. While working on a fashion column, she discovered how difficult it was for media to access high-resolution images.
“I heard Niall speak at a conference and I knew he would be the ideal person to team up with. Fate intervened, and a couple of months later he was present at my first ever pitch for investment. Following this, Niall was assigned as a mentor for my business and the rest is history,” Power explained.
The start-up appears to be targeting an international marketplace currently served by players like PRnewswire.com, as well as clearing up the clutter caused by traditional PR businesses who, overtaken by the digital revolution, can’t differentiate between the needs of traditional press and the burgeoning online media space.
Building a global tech business
Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Harbison said sorting out the problem of supplying quality to mainstream and online imagery will be a prime driver.
“While there are a million things that we could add, including videos and press releases, we think that tackling the problem of imagery is big enough. Journalists get photos via Dropbox, email attachments and other cumbersome tech from brands and PRs. We are essentially a platform that makes life easier for everybody and cuts workloads for both PRs and journalists.”
Harbison added that he doesn’t think the traditional PR model is totally broken.
“The relationship between brands or PRs and journalists is an important one but there is a lot of time wasted around images. We think we are solving a huge problem and will end up making people’s lives easier than they are today. Social media has been changing PR over the last few years but it still plays an important role.
“We like to think about it in the same way as a site like Daft. Estate agents were worried about it at first but they now see it as a crucial part of the trade and it has made everything better. It is time for more technology in the PR industry and we are here to help with that.”
Harbison emphasised that the venture is more about creating a global technology business out of Ireland rather than competing with a traditional industry in dire need of change.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if it was just to target the Irish market. Our aim is to build a huge tech company based in Ireland with all our staff here and show that we can compete with Silicon Valley and other start-up hubs from Ireland. The business is well funded at the moment and already profitable but scaling globally is a big challenge so we will be looking at all funding options,” he said.