Public Affairs Startup Speak4 Sees Room for Disruption in the Advocacy Market

A startup backed by a mega consulting-public affairs firm is aiming to challenge the market dominance of Capitol Canary (formerly Phone2Action) in the advocacy space.

Speak4 has been in “closed” beta testing for about a year, but is now going public to court additional clients. The startup, which delivers advocates’ messages to lawmakers in DC and all 50 states, is an offshoot of FP1 Strategies LLC and PLUS Communications, which together have about 250 staff and partners.

“I think the market is ripe for a little more disruption,” said Joe Mansour, who’s been a partner at both shops. “We’ve been incubated and supported by the team at PLUS Communications, and that’s given us the resources and support to scale this pretty quickly.”

The company’s origin story goes back to the start of the pandemic. “In the depths of the covid pandemic I saw a lot of our clients were turning exclusively to digital advocacy channels [because they] couldn’t do fly-ins to lobby their lawmakers on their issues,” Mansour said. “They couldn’t do in-person meetings or town halls. It was all relying on digital channels.”

As a practitioner who was using the tools to advocate through those digital channels, Mansour saw “system flaws and problems” with existing platforms — problems that weren’t being addressed, he said, despite being raised with the providers. It caused enough frustration that they: “… got fed up. We’re like, screw this, ‘let’s go build our own mouse trap.’ That was sort of the genesis.”

Luckily for Mansour, he was able to draw on his connections with developers to get a product built.

“Because I’ve been in this digital, technology, political-public affairs space for a while, I’ve built a network of good developers to work with and partnered with two rock solid partners who have a small shop [Parapxl] on the West Coast that we’ve done a lot of work with over the years,” he said. “They came in as the CTO [Dewey Bushaw] and chief design officer [Mat Masoni] and really built out our core tool. They’re co-founders with me.”

Now, the challenges for a startup in the public affairs space are two fold: Client education is paramount, but so is timing a pitch.

“The other side of it is there are baked-in contracts. Now some of those other providers are trying to lock folks into multi-year contracts,” Mansour said. “You’ve got to time it and reach out to folks before their contract renews so they’re aware of [the] other options to consider.”

To put the scale of Speak4’s challenge into perspective, Capitol Canary boasts a client roster of “[m]ore than 1,200 organizations, including 25% of the Fortune 100.” Speak4 had about 30 clients during its beta testing, who’ve sent around 1 million messages to lawmakers. Moreover, Capitol Canary has been on a buying spree, fueled by capital from Frontier Growth. Last year, it acquired KnowWho, “the world’s largest directory of public officials and influencers,” and GovPredict. The moves were made as advocacy clients have developed a preference for turnkey solutions.

But Mansour argues that those kinds of moves have made legacy players in the space too “bloated.”

“As you add additional features and integrations that may or may not be well synced or well tied in, the feature set can become bloated, cumbersome and just frankly a little stagnant,” he said. “Philosophically, we’re not trying to be all things to all people. We’re trying to build the best digital advocacy platform that is simple, streamlined and super easy to use. We’re particularly laser focused on being a service for agencies.”

Mansour expects to continue building out features for their product, including one they’re calling “storyteller mode,” which allows the agency to collect video submissions and then share them with elected officials, or repurpose them later for digital or TV ads. At the same time, they want to be a competitive price while still expanding.

“We want to constantly be growing this — adding more functionality and making this the best in-class tool and not be resting on our laurels because that’s the point where you start to stagnate,” he said, noting that they’ve hired two additional developers since soft launching last spring.

“We’re focused on constantly innovating this and we’re building out a product team that’s going to support that over the long term.”

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