‘Using search to unlock real value’: Benjamin Thiele-Long of Petco on how AI-powered media monitoring empowers comms teams

Petco harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to automate media monitoring, identify narrative opportunities, and craft its comms strategy.
9.6.23 / 5 min read

Communications teams are relied upon by the businesses they serve to deliver value for their stakeholders every day. But with more information and media to track than ever before and competitors increasingly vying for share of voice, unlocking that value can be an obstacle. That’s the challenge Benjamin Thiele-Long has faced consistently throughout his more than decade-long career leading media relations programs. Media monitoring tools are a critical part of that, but when they’re inefficient and unreliable, they become a drain on resources, forcing comms teams to spend valuable time crafting complex queries while still failing to identify topics that haven’t been thought of.

Fortunately, with Signal AI, Benjamin and his team have found a trusted partner, with a platform that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to identify relevant topics and uncover narrative white spaces. With Signal AI spotting critical signals in the noise, Benjamin and his team are freed up to concentrate on what people do best: creating, reacting, strategizing, and making decisions. This puts them in the position to deliver real value from their work every day, unlocking the synergy of artificial and human intelligence working seamlessly in tandem.

To learn more about how Signal AI supports Petco, we recently sat down with Benjamin, vice president of corporate communications and diversity community management, for a conversation.

How do you use the Signal AI platform? What are some of the topics you look at? 

Benjamin Thiele-Long: In PR and communications, real value is derived not just from being a good communicator, but being a good listener. Communication strategies thrive when the team has a firm handle on the conversations that are happening in their company’s space, and knowing who is saying (or writing) what about their business, their industry, and their category. 10 years ago, that meant reading the morning papers as a team with a round of toast (for the Brits), or bagel (for the Americans!). Now, the sheer volume of online news – from broadcast to news sites, blogs and social media means getting to those answers quickly and accurately is the biggest challenge. 

Signal AI is my team’s starting point to understand what’s likely to shape the day, the week, the quarter, or the year. We look at coverage relating to our company, the retail sector, the pet category, and even the broader financial markets to understand what is relevant, and to inform our immediate “to-do’s” and our longer term understanding and approach. It shapes our focus for the day, guides what intel to share with our execs, and helps us hone in on the white-space opportunities. 

You probably worked with a fair share of other products before you found Signal AI. What were some of the shortcomings of those previous tools?

BTL: Before comms, I worked a decade in law. Many research tools for case law share the same major shortcoming as many media intelligence tools: You don’t know what you don’t know. As a result, you either get a very narrow search that doesn’t deliver anything helpful, or you get a hugely broad search, with too much information to wade through… especially when the judge and jury are waiting!

So, having a tool that is able to intelligently filter in a digestible manner while still allowing for human interpretation is the key. And I say that very deliberately. I love what Signal AI does. I love the way that it works. I never want it to replace my team; I want it to enhance their work and their thinking. I want the team to have informed ideas and decisions by applying their point of view on reliable insights. And when the tool is reliable, it also frees up time to do the proactive work and chase down the next media opportunity that can drive awareness of the business.

Over the past few years Petco has increasingly gone into the wellness space. How has Signal AI been helpful in navigating that brand pivot?

BTL: It’s hard to call Petco a retailer because we’re actually a pet health and wellness company. We provide merchandise and services that create an entire petcare ecosystem, including a veterinary network, with both online and brick-and-mortar locations. That gives us a lot of areas to explore when it comes to proactive media relations. That’s where Signal AI comes in, with data that enables us to understand the broader trending topics in pet health and wellness that are outside of traditional retail, helping us position our industry experts as thought leaders.

This is especially important as a publicly listed company. As communicators, we can make the mistake of thinking that our business strategy and story is told only four times a year. But there are 361 other days in the year where we can sustain the narrative of business relevancy, performance, and growth. Signal AI helps us–and it can help any other business–identify how we’re different, what our competitive advantages are, and how we can develop those into white-space opportunities. Ultimately, that’s how you get more share of voice.

How does Signal AI help you measure success?

BTL: The simple answer is KPIs will always be important because you need to have a yardstick to benchmark your efforts. But they can’t be the be-all and end-all because they don’t capture the value of a fresh idea, the hustle that goes into making it happen, and how it opens up new opportunities. 

The number of media hits your team or agency achieves needs to become a less relevant focus. Not all coverage is created equal. A quote in a trade publication or a front page article in the New York Times have different value to different stakeholders. Media monitoring and reporting is not about quotas or reach, but impact. That includes the impact on your team when someone from the c-suite takes the time to come by and personally say “great job,” or shares the new business lead the coverage garnered.

Finally, what is your favorite Signal AI feature?

BTL: My favorite thing—and I wouldn’t even call this a feature—is the team. I’ve worked with Signal AI for almost seven years now, and the team can consistently be relied on to listen, to be thoughtful, and to be responsive. 

With Signal AI, I can do 99% of the things that I want to do myself reliably. And that is a key element, knowing that it is reliable. Then the last mile I sometimes need help with — when there’s a late-breaking request from an exec or an urgent issue that needs monitoring. That cannot be done by machine alone, and that’s when the team has always been there for me. It’s AI plus EQ, emotional intelligence. That’s what makes it unique, which is hard to measure, but important to value.

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