Aug 21, 2013 · 2 minutes

If you don’t believe that large companies pay serious heed to how the press reports on them, you need look no further than the media scoresheet that a Google public relations dude recently sent to journalists by mistake. The PR guy, as VentureBeat reported, had graded various news outlets according to the type of coverage they had previously afforded the company.* The AP, Wall Street Journal, and the New Yorker had all been awarded “A” grades for their work, while Reuters, ESPN, and Bloomberg each had to suffer the private indignity of a “B.”

That PR rep had gone to painstaking lengths to manually log his findings in spreadsheets. He might have had an easier time had he known about Austin-based startup TrendKite, which is today coming out of stealth with the launch of an analytics tool for press mentions. The company has also announced that it has raised a $1.2 million Series A round led by Silverton Partners, with participation from a group of angel investors and DreamIt Ventures, an accelerator it went through.

TrendKite’s defining idea is that it thinks quantitative data – counts of mentions, tweets, discussions, and the like – are not all that useful. Instead, it focuses on presenting qualitative data to clients, stressing themes, values, sentiments, and breakdowns by markets. That way, it can give its clients a better idea of what the media is saying about them, rather than just how often their name is cropping up in news stories.

Such an approach to qualitative analysis is effectively a way of automating that grading process that Google’s clumsy PR person went through in a spreadsheet. In that sense, TrendKite is of a kin with fellow early-stage optimization startups, Topsy (social media), ThinkUp (social media), and Spinnakr (website analytics), all of which want to show insight through intelligent feedback rather than raw numbers.

Like those companies, too, TrendKite  puts design on a pedestal, presenting its data in highly visual charts and a mobile-friendly layout, boasting all the requisite white space and rounded rectangles to place it firmly within the era of the design-centric Web. In that way, it’s also consistent the consumerization of enterprise software.

TrendKite’s founders, Matthew Allison and AJ Bruno, say the company’s main competition is actually Google Alerts, since it provides reports to clients on ongoing media activity. More realistically, it’ll face a serious tussle with the likes of the well-established Vocus and Cision, not to mention the hundred other startups about to move into this space. After all, in an increasingly social Web, sentiment analysis is hot right now.

TrendKite's platform is currently in beta, and it counts OpenStack and Nikon among its customers. Today, only its dashboard and reports features are available, but more granular functions – such as a Flipboard-like news page that displays all the stories relevant to the client – are on their way later in the year.

The seven-person company plans to use its funding to work on product and grow its sales team. It ultimately aims to integrate its system into other analytics tools, such as Marketo and Omniture, in order to track the true return on investment for a company's media efforts.

Google later clarified that the chart was a template from the PR person’s former job at an agency, but you get the point.