Have you ever heard of telematics? By 2020, some 87% of all vehicles in the U.S. will be equipped with it (opens in PDF).
Telematics is data collection. Data collection about your car – and how you drive and where you go. It’s feasible, your car seat could potentially catalog how much you weight and report that data to your health insurer – or anyone else willing to pay for the data.
These are all issues I’ve read about by following Stacey Miller. She’s a former colleague and friend and currently heads communications for the Auto Care Association. She’s my guest on this first edition of the Off Script Q&A series of 2020.
She talks about key issues she helps her organization communication, transitioning from a corporate role to work with an association and how she deals with the challenges we all face in PR and comms – like proving value.
1) What is the Auto Care Association and what do you do for the organization?
SM: The Auto Care Association represents everything that happens to your vehicle after you’ve purchased it. We work with the entire supply chain of what’s called the auto care industry: manufacturers of parts (like brakes, headlights, or oil filters), warehouse distributors of parts, retailers of parts (like the AutoZone or O’Reilly down the street) and the service centers and technicians that install the parts on your car (your shop). We provide resources that help those businesses thrive, and in turn, enable consumers like you and me to keep our vehicles on the road safer, longer through proper maintenance and repair.
I’m the senior director of communications, responsible for external communications to members, non-members and media on behalf of the organization. This includes running a team of seven PR, email, website, social media, multimedia and creative experts. In short, our main goal is to increase the profile and influence of the association through data-based storytelling and creative communications that inspire our audiences to learn more about what we do and become a part of it.
2) What are the key communications challenges facing the organization?
SM: I look at our challenges in two ways: internal and external. Internally, we were faced with disparate technology systems and metrics that made it hard to create a baseline and goals for our team. I welcomed that challenge as an opportunity to implement a stack of technology that enabled us to determine what our current audience and awareness really is, and measure that over time to show the effectiveness of our communications.
For example, when I came on-board, we had three different systems that we were using to send emails to members, not realizing that there was overlap between the three and no way of consolidating the metrics in one place. Now, we have one centralized platform that allows us to manage the external emails, segment and target them more effectively and measure their success.
Externally, we’ve been accustomed to operating within our industry and hadn’t yet seized the opportunity to address a larger audience that should know about the auto care industry – we were the big fish in the small pond. I wanted to tackle the challenge of making our brand more prominent in mainstream media. We have lots of data on the industry but what we need are the stories around that data – what does the data mean, and how does it affect other industries, economies, or people?
My team tries to distill this data, extract the meaning, and then craft storylines around it to get coverage – such as “Americans are delaying maintenance on their vehicles at an alarming rate” or “Tariffs could raise the price of your brake job by a couple hundred dollars” or “Auto Care is the recession-proof industry Wall Street loves” – all based on data. We’re still working to be better at this and the incentive is that the storylines we have come up with have resulted in increased coverage.
3) Data privacy seems to be a marquee issue for the association. What should people know about how data is being collected, and what does the association suggest they do about it?
SM: If you’ve ever wanted to repair something on your car yourself or be able to choose where you go to repair it, that very choice is currently at risk. Simply put, cars collect important data as you drive, including vital repair and maintenance info. It used to be that you could take your car to the technician of your choice, they’d plug in a diagnostic tool and then know the necessary information needed to repair a vehicle.
This data is now wirelessly transmitted back to the car manufacturer. So, what’s the problem? Car data is important for maintenance and repair. If auto manufacturers control it, they could limit the number of places you can take your car for service. You could be stuck with a more expensive option or have to take your car somewhere that’s inconvenient for you. They could also limit the data you get, when you get it, and how much you have to pay for it. In addition, they could sell your data without your consent or knowledge.
We believe consumers should control who has access to their data, and we’re actively fighting for that right. If you want transparency around the data collected from your car and prefer to choose what happens with your data, I’d encourage you to sign the petition at yourcaryourdata.org and share it with your family, friends and colleagues.
4) Before Auto Care, you worked for a PR technology vendor. How has the transition from a business to an association gone for you? How are things similar or different?
SM: To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect! I made the switch to an industry that I feel extremely passionate about – and it’s a dream to work with members at brands that I’ve installed on my own cars throughout the years. There’s a lot of similarities I’ve found between working for a corporation to an association – we both have brand “suites” of other brands we acquire or manage that require more targeted messaging or alignment with a “parent” brand.
For example, Cision owned PR Newswire (for sending news releases) and Bulletin Intelligence (media intelligence). PR Newswire and Bulletin Intelligence were brands with their own communications and awareness with certain audiences that we had to work to align with Cision and bring those audiences together and communicate the value of those brands together. It’s the same thing at Auto Care – Auto Care is our parent brand, while we have multiple branded “communities” that bring together members of the industry with similar goals and roles. While they have unique communications and brand operations, we bring them together and communicate their value as part of the Auto Care family.
We also both create technology platforms and products that are vital to the day-to-day of our clients. For example, Cision sells media monitoring that for a PR pro, is absolutely necessary for their media strategy. At Auto Care Association, we sell products that help our members standardize their data, understand trends or the demand of products in the industry, which helps them adjust their business strategies and how they sell parts.
One of the things that’s different and I’ve really come to value is how tight-knit the Auto Care industry is. It’s massive – 4.6M employees in the U.S. – but the industry players have a lifetime loyalty to the business and truly value 1:1 relationships. The tech industry I felt was even more massive and you could really get lost at a networking event or conference, and there seemed to be a lot of turnover, so relationships can become more digital, and more transactional. In the Auto Care industry, you see the same faces at events and there’s a lot of trust-building that makes it an awesome place to be once you’ve established yourself.
5) What aspects of working in PR and comms in the tech sector that have helped you in the transition? On the flip side, what did you need to learn?
SM: Working in tech, especially working for the vendor’s brands when they were in the “small business” stage up to enterprise-level really taught me how to make the most of my resources, problem solve, and be hyper-adaptable to my environment. Whether I have a small budget or large, I learned how to make the most of my dollars while making a tremendous impact or save dollars even when I had more to spend. Tech is also fast-paced, and every day brought new products and tactics we needed to learn in order to implement them quickly to stay ahead of our competitors. Agility was key.
One thing that was apparent for me to learn in the transition was how to communicate progress and success with brevity. I’m used to (and love) providing deep dives on campaign dashboards and summaries of strategies that led up to the achievements of our objectives – and I had the luxury of working for a company that was just as passionate about PR metrics as I was. However, that’s not the case everywhere! I needed to learn how to summarize what my team has achieved with the most pertinent story and stats possible while holding the “background” information in my pocket because not everyone has the time for a Stacey Miller Deep Dive Session. I guess I’m a big fan of providing the entire context!
6) What is one aspect of PR and comms that you think goes undervalued?
SM: I believe the ROI of PR and comms goes undervalued because it’s either difficult for some pros to prove, or difficult for their organization to understand. It’s not always as cut and dry as say, gathering leads and tracking them through to conversion like marketing. However, you can apply a marketing approach to PR to prove conversions specifically from PR efforts, and other key brand metrics that should be just as valuable to your executives, such as awareness and coverage. We have dashboards too, and we are making an impact!
7) Just for fun: in just a word or a phrase, fill in the blank:
- One app on your phone you can’t live without is…(SM) Aflete (fitness programming).
- One PR tech tool you can’t live without is…(SM) Cision.
- If you suddenly got 10% more marketing budget, you’d spend it on… (SM) building in-person, 1:1 media and influencer relationships.
* * *
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Storytelling is the Essence of Brand Development; Off Script No. 44: Jeffrey Crow, 2x CMO
Image credit: Pixabay