AITech Interview with Michelle Songy, Chief Executive Officer, Press Hook

“At Press Hook, we have strong overall objectives, but we also like to attract free-thinkers and problem-solvers,” states Michelle. Delve in for more.

1. Michelle, please tell us about yourself and your professional experience in the PR sector.

Sure. My break in PR was probably different from most people’s. I had to self-teach on the go as the founder of a mobile payment app called Cake in London. It was a challenging experience getting Cake off the ground because I had absolutely zero connection to any journalists in the UK. I tried just about every hack and stunt you can think of and, eventually, managed to get a couple of pieces of coverage for the business on my own. One thing that stunned me was just how effective and powerful those pieces of coverage were in terms of drumming up investor and client interest. It also really put us on the map in what was – and remains – a very competitive space.

To put it bluntly, I had to get pretty scrappy with PR and learn how to do it while running the company. I didn’t really have any idea how to keep up with the media – who was writing about what and when, or even how to pitch effectively. It cost me a lot of time and effort, and I was kind of shocked that there was no tech solution to help with such an important area of business.

Like most business leaders who find themselves in that kind of position, I hired an agency. But even the agency ran into similar challenges, pouring their resources into trying to find relevant writers and publishers and landing pitches in their inbox at just the right time. One thing I learned was that the media landscape moves at breakneck speed, often with an incredibly tight turnover when it comes to content generation. Even if you find the perfect coverage opportunity at the opportune moment, blink and you’ll miss it. So there were a lot of missed opportunities in those early days – I know it.

2. Tell us about your venture, Press Hook, and how it is connecting media to brands and publicists at scale.

Press Hook seeks to solve some of the problems I outlined in my response to the previous question. It’s the first two-way, collaborative platform that connects brands with journalists – and vice-versa. Think of it as LinkedIn meets Google, but for the media. Brands can create digital press kits with brand assets, and pitch news stories that journalists can browse or surface with search queries. If a journalist working for say, Good Housekeeping, is putting together one of their popular gift guides for the holidays, they can actively search for products or brands that might appeal to their readership, and get everything they need — product descriptions, images — an entire digital brand media kit is at their fingertips within a few clicks to build the story. Likewise, brands need only pitch once on the platform to be discoverable by journalists, massively reducing the leg work that’s usually involved in manual pitching.

It’s the first platform where the media are truly in control of their own profiles and can search by beat, product, pitch preference, and more, instead of relying on traditional media databases that scrape the internet and often present misleading or out-of-date information.

Publicists and PR agencies can join too, creating an agency account and building press kits for each of their clients. They can even create press releases and then search for media by interest in order to quickly pitch to a relevant media audience on the platform.

3. What are the vision, mission, and values of your organization?

Our vision is empowering authentic content. We want to make it easier for those on both sides of the media equation – brands and journalists – to publish and source powerful, engaging content that is relevant to a particular readership.

Our mission is to build the world’s largest media relations network – one that facilitates meaningful connections between PR professionals, journalists, publicists and brands and empowers the creation and publication of high-value content.

Our core values are authenticity, transparency, accessibility, and diversity.

4. How does the new AI-powered press release generator launched by Press Hook function? What are its USPs?

Finding the perfect way to communicate with the press is a huge pain point for small and medium-sized businesses looking to dip their toes in the PR landscape. Our Press Release Generator functions by simplifying this process, breaking down a press release into just a few easy-to-fill form fields. After a user tells us the “what and when”, their answers are sent through Open AI’s ChatGPT-3 language model for processing. Within just a few seconds, users receive a solid first draft that they can easily fine-tune that hits all the right notes and will get them noticed. While not meant to replace humans, it’s a tool that businesses can use for an effective press release draft that can be easily edited, and therefore, speeds up getting announcements to the market.

5. What was the inspiration behind establishing Press Hook?

I touched on some of this in the first question with regard to the pain points Press Hook addresses for businesses. Beyond that, we want to inspire, motivate and help grow businesses – especially smaller businesses or those just getting off the ground. It can be very difficult to “get the word out” when you’re growing a business, and relying on paid campaigns can be debilitating from a budget perspective. Earned media is better, because it gives businesses and brands real credibility and legitimacy. Anybody can pay for an advertisement, but getting mentioned in a well-respected publication is invaluable and can provide an immediate and long-term boost to brand awareness and reputation.

I saw that firsthand after ending my last venture. I traveled to a remote area in Indonesia and realized that the local tourism there depended on earned media exposure and press to bring in visitors. You might be wary if an influencer visited a far remote island and started recommending it, or if you saw a sponsored ad in a travel magazine, but if you Google the location and see that respected publications like Travel & Leisure or Culture Trip had visited and written positively about it, you’d be more inclined to take the leap. That’s exactly what I did and it was the trip of a lifetime. In fact, I spent a few days at a small homestay there, talking to the owner about ideas to get him more media exposure – that’s what motivated me to launch Press Hook.

6. How would you describe your leadership style? What do you think is the most significant factor that pushes employees to reach their full potential?

Leadership is incredibly important for any business, but I think tech is quite unique in that it requires a more hands-off approach when it comes to creativity and problem-solving. Leadership should be strong and offer support and direction, but it should not stifle innovation. At Press Hook, we have strong overall objectives, but we also like to attract free-thinkers and problem-solvers to make our offering the best it can possibly be.

  1. Driving a deep understanding of customer needs (across all customers). Ingraining/integrating different types of customers across our organization, whether it’s an advisor or customers we’ve kept a close relationship with, we bring all aspects of the team together with them to collaborate continuously. Which sparks new capabilities, features, and alignment on priorities.
  1. Emphasizing and encouraging innovation from the ways we work internally, to the way we build new features, as well as the way we communicate this focus to our customers.
  1. Levering every member of the team and their voice  – ensuring every member of the team’s perspectives on how we’re organized are heard and inputted in how we organize our priorities.
  1. Not giving up on people/team members. It’s easy to let go of someone (or onboard someone else from scratch) but harder to train them and push them to find their role to bring their own success to the company. It’s really getting to know the people you hire and not giving up on them. It’s maybe just not the right role for them, so before you let someone go, see if there’s somewhere else on the team that’s a better fit for their skillset. We’ve had a lot of movement across the team in the first 2-3 years from account management to sales, to marketing to tech roles.

7. As a leader, how do you see modern technologies like AI and ML changing the landscape of PR?

AI and ML are going to be invaluable in helping to alleviate pain points for brands and journalists. We know this firsthand because our two-way platform and press release generator tool both leverage these technologies to make media relations more seamless and effective for all. I don’t think AI/ML will ever replace humans, but it can help to automate routine tasks like pitches and press releases, freeing up PR professionals and journalists to spend more time on building relationships, sourcing content, and working on strategy and solutions.

Smaller businesses in particular will benefit from the ability to generate content without the resource-intensive process of doing it manually, even if AI just helps with idea generation or drafting. AI and ML aren’t “replacers”, they’re amplifiers. They will democratize PR and allow more people with less expertise to get the coverage their stories deserve.

8. How do you strategize to scale Press Hook’s offerings in 2023 and beyond?

Up until now, our focus has primarily been on consumer brands, helping to bridge the gap between businesses and journalists. Soon, we plan to branch out into B2B, hospitality, and more, replacing the inbox with our end-to-end solution. From a journalist perspective, we’re planning on moving beyond traditional content and into podcasts and other forms of content creation. Additionally, while currently, our dashboard includes metrics for our customers to measure the number of impressions, press coverage wins, and sample requests they’ve received, we are also enhancing our tech to include tracking and reporting so that publicists and brands can more easily assess performance (lead gen, revenue, ROI metrics).

Michelle Songy

Chief Executive Officer, Press Hook

Michelle Songy is an experienced public relations executive, serial entrepreneur, and change-maker who is transforming the PR industry. She has more than a decade of experience developing, managing, and marketing businesses from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

After relocating to London in 2014 for a finance management position with Coca-Cola, Michelle founded her first company, Cake Technologies. It became the United Kingdom’s largest mobile payment platform for restaurants and was sold to American Express just three years later, in 2017.

In 2020, Michelle founded her second entrepreneurial endeavor and passion project, Press Hook, a tech-enabled earned media platform specializing in promoting brands, especially small businesses. The Press Hook platform offers the first two-sided marketplace that intelligently connects brands seeking publicity with journalists seeking content. With Press Hook lifestyle and consumer brands can easily and affordably get the media coverage they deserve with unprecedented speed, volume, and reach.

Michelle is a graduate of the University of Georgia, in the Terry School of Business with a degree in Management Information Systems.

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