Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Big Data and Analytics at Chevron: Forrest Anderson Interviews Dave Samson

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Dave Samson, General Manager, Public Affairs, at Chevron and current Chairman of The Arthur W. Page Society, is one of the PR industry’s leaders in using big data and analytics. He’s also at the leading edge of digital PR. Dave agreed to answer some questions about big data and how Chevron is using it in public affairs…

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Dave Sampson, General Manager, Public Affairs at Chevron Corporation

Forrest Anderson: What is Chevron doing with big data today? How is it using it and why?

Dave Samson: We are using data in every aspect of our communications function to predict the actions of our key stakeholders and to actively engage those stakeholders most critical to advancing the interest of our business. At the same time, data and advanced analytics give us the ability to better predict risks to our business and to get ahead of those threats. As a result, we can better identify, engage, and activate stakeholders to take action favorable to our company. We are also forging new internal partnerships, including with our technology colleagues who are critical to helping us deliver on our vision of the future.

Forrest Anderson: How do you believe Chevron and other organizations will use big data in the future? What will the applications be? Do you have any sense of how organizations will make that happen?

Dave Samson: Technology and data are transforming the communications function and, by extension, the skills and capabilities now required to do our jobs. If you think about it, many of the engagement models we have today were created in an analog world, targeting a Baby Boomer generation. We are now operating in a digital world and targeting a growing Millennial generation. As a result, as communicators we must reassess all of our engagement models within this new context. Likewise, we must build fluency in several new areas, including digital engagement, advanced analytics, and behavioral sciences.

In the past, we would track and/or measure the stated intent or opinions of our stakeholders. We then based our engagement strategies on the expectations we perceived them to have about our respective companies or industry sectors. But now, we can track people’s actual actions and behaviors, giving us a much more detailed understanding of these stakeholders and their motivations. This dynamic is a game changer in our profession. While experience and intuition still matter, the real power is when we can combine experience and intuition with vast amounts of stakeholder data, giving us the ability to predict whether a certain stakeholder’s stated intent is likely to match [that stakeholder’s] actions.

“While experience and intuition still matter, the real power is when we can combine them with vast amounts of stakeholder data, giving us the ability to predict whether a certain stakeholder’s stated intent is likely to match [that stakeholder’s] actions.”

Forrest Anderson: Obviously, organizations today are using big data in communications and public affairs in part because it is now available and was not in the past. But is the movement to the use of big data a part of a change in the way communications and public affairs are being practiced today? If so, could you characterize that change?

Dave Samson: Our aim is to accelerate our move from being a proactive function to being a predictive function. Here’s why we are headed in that direction.

We spent the last few years moving from a corporate-reporting function to a proactive function focused on driving advocacy through enhanced stakeholder engagement. This approach has served our team well and advanced Chevron’s interests. As a proactive function, we:

  • Are business-facing;
  • Are strategic versus tactical;
  • Are two-way in our communications verses simply pushing information out to a particular audience; and
  • Measure our success by business outcomes versus the volume of our output.

Through this approach, we are driving greater advocacy through more strategic stakeholder engagement and we have established our team as valued advisors inside our business.

But the real promise is if we can move to being a predictive function that takes all the data and information at our disposal and the use of advanced analytics to create real-time actionable intelligence and the ability to predict and manage risks to our business. For example, as a predictive function we move from simply driving advocacy to driving actions that enable business outcomes. We become more data and results-driven. Our communications moves from being two-way to omni-directional. And we move from simply being valued advisors to being an indispensable partner to the business.

“…as a predictive function we move from simply driving advocacy to driving actions that enable business outcomes. We become more data and results-driven… And we move from simply being valued advisors to being an indispensable partner to the business.”

Forrest Anderson: How are you organized at Chevron to take advantage of big data? Do you have a statistician or data scientist on staff? What role does this person play? How much does he or she understand about communications in general and Chevron’s communications in specific? How much do your staffers with more traditional PR backgrounds know about big data and analytics? How do you actually generate the insights?

Dave Samson: Our team’s structure and processes are different today than they were just three years ago. At the same time, we are developing and acquiring new capabilities, particularly in data and analytics, content creation and distribution, as well as social engagement and paid advocacy.  Likewise, we are working to accelerate the digital fluency and proficiency of everyone on our team. No one is exempt from developing these new skills.

And the changes are visible. Three years ago, we did not have a digital strategy and communications team. Today we do. Likewise, we did not have a data scientist on the team. Today we do. At the same time, we now have a manager of insights and analytics, a manager of digital content and distribution, and a stakeholder intelligence advisor. All of these are new and important roles within our team.

Forrest Anderson: What kinds of corporate resources were necessary for you to get started down the big data path? My hypothesis is that big data use in communications will likely happen first at larger organizations that use big data for other purposes and that savvy communications leaders will tap into those existing resources and then, perhaps, go on to develop resources specifically tailored to communications. Does your case support this hypothesis or not?

Dave Samson: Chevron business is driven by geology—we go to where the resources lie and we use data and technology to identify the most promising resources, and then we extract them safely and responsibly. As the head of public affairs, my team’s job is to help manage the geology above the ground, the “social geology,” and data is my team’s natural resource. And, depending on where we are doing business in the world, the above the ground geology can be extremely challenging. We are using advanced analytics and all the data at our disposal to create real-time, actionable intelligence and the ability to predict and manage risks to our business. As a result, our stakeholder strategies are better informed and engagement activities are more targeted.

While Chevron has a long history of using data to create predictive models and improve its decision making, I strongly believe that all companies now have the opportunity to use data and analytics to modify or change their engagement models and strategies. In my mind, this is no longer a nice to do, it is a business imperative.

“…all companies now have the opportunity to use data and analytics to modify or change their engagement models and strategies. In my mind, this is no longer a nice to do, it is a business imperative.”

Forrest Anderson: How important is digital and analytical fluency for members of your staff?

Dave Samson: Every communications professional—at every level—must build digital/social engagement fluency and proficiency. If they fail to build these capabilities, on a perpetual basis, their skills will become obsolete.

Forrest Anderson: Thanks again, Dave, for sharing great insights on the use of data and analytics in PR and communications!

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Forrest Anderson

Forrest Anderson

Forrest W. Anderson is a 30-plus-year veteran consultant in developing message architecture and managing corporate relationships and reputations. He works with organizations that are going through a change in strategic direction and that are concerned about what will happen if they mismanage their relationships with their key stakeholders. Forrest is a founding member of the IPR's Measurement Commission and teaches Communications Research Methods in George Washington University’s Masters Program in Strategic Public Relations. He holds an MBA in marketing and management policy from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Forrest Anderson
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