Automated PR – is this the future? Media pros, don’t panic just yet

Scotland B2B finds out more about the tech that looks set to transform news release writing for small businesses 

Last month we reported on the launch of a new, automated DIY PR machine that looks set to disrupt the industry as we know it. Sarah Lee, founder of Edinburgh-based Hot Tin Roof, whose client portfolio reads like an impressive who’s who of digital tech, had taken a leap of faith and branched out to launch her own innovative platform, PingGo.
But we wanted to find out what impact this new, disruptive tech might have on the future of the PR industry as businesses continue to look to more automated services. How did this new offering sit alongside Hot Tin Roof and other such consultancies, for example? And can clever software really replace the expertise of a good media professional?
We caught up with Sarah Lee to find out and, reassuringly, discovered that the PR industry doesn’t need to panic just yet…

Q & A with Sarah Lee  

Q: How long has PingGo been in the making?
A: It’s taken about three years and a long time to get the tech just right. Believe it or not, it’s really hard to get a simple idea to function simply.
Q: Is this your first foray into developing your own tech?
A: Yes
Q: Was it harder than you imagined?
A: Yes. It took a lot of sheer hard work but the most difficult bit by far was finding the right digital studio to work with. Managing a team of developers is hard and not something to undertake lightly. I thought I knew about tech but it turns out I didn’t!
Q: How and when did you first come up with the idea?
A: I had been sitting in a meeting with an innovation specialist who asked me what I could automate about the PR industry and it got me thinking. At first I thought there was nothing but when I really thought about it, I realised that wasn’t strictly true. Writing a business press release is formulaic, starting with the five Ws of who, what, where, when and why. The details change but the structure is still the same.
Q: How did you fund its development?
A: I basically bootstrapped the project through its sister company, Hot Tin Roof. We also won some Innovate UK funding but it was a hard slog. We initially launched on Product Hunt, a US-based platform where the latest products ad services are launched for its community to vote for their favourite. We launched at 8am UK time and got some really good comments while picking up the US audience later that day. We got a lot of sign-ups from that and think that our success was thanks, in part, to PingGo being a global product and the first of its kind to market. In the end, we had to raise around £80,000 to fund the project, which was much more than I initially thought it would cost. I had initially anticipated a spend of around £5,000. If I’d known the true scale of it I might not have gone ahead.
Q: Aren’t you worried that there’s a conflict of interest going on between Hot Tin Roof, a traditional PR consultancy, and PingGo, an automated PR service? Doesn’t it take away from traditional PR?
A: No, because there’s so much more to PR than just news releases. News writing – and PingGo – just focuses on the hard facts; the nuts and bolts rather than the creative aspect. There’s always space for sophisticated campaign planning and crisis management. Writing press releases is only one element of PR. The new platform can also be used as a training tool for young PR professionals who are just starting out and can add value from day one.
Q: How much can small businesses expect to pay for the PingGo service?
A: There’s a monthly subscription fee of £25 which can be started and stopped at any time.
Q: What advice would you give to other professionals looking to develop their own tech?
A: Speak to your customers first and be really harsh on the idea before you spend any money. Validate your idea with real customers and find a team that can carry out the entire project, from start to finish, because it’s not all about coding. The project is also much more than software development. But, above all, if you really believe in an idea, keep going with it.
Read more about PingGo, which also offers a service for journalists, here > 
New automated PR service launches DIY option for start-ups