Team Wizikey

Written by Team Wizikey

March 24, 2023

“Having a mechanism to obtain data and feedback from the appropriate users and target audience can be transformational.”-Keally from GAF Energy

This episode features Keally, who has been dedicated to environmental causes since a young age and pursued a degree in the same field. She has extensive marketing experience and believes that by finding the story within the data, we can better understand the insights it provides and use those insights to make better decisions and […]

“Having a mechanism to obtain data and feedback from the appropriate users and target audience can be transformational.”-Keally from GAF Energy

This episode features Keally, who has been dedicated to environmental causes since a young age and pursued a degree in the same field. She has extensive marketing experience and believes that by finding the story within the data, we can better understand the insights it provides and use those insights to make better decisions and be more effective in our jobs.

Introduction

1:13 So, I got started down this path as a child because I was very interested in environmental concerns. I’ve always been intrigued by the natural world and concerned about humans’ relationship with it. In college, I studied environmental science and decided to focus on environmental communications within that degree. I realized that much of what we struggle with is not the science of understanding nature, but the things we do with that information. Persuading human communities and individuals to take certain actions and understand their relationship with the natural world is where the work lies. I also enjoy writing and language, so I did a master’s degree in communications.

My undergraduate training was in science and social science related to the environment, and then I did a master’s degree in rhetoric and communication. The master’s degree taught me how to work with data and understand what was happening in human interactions and communications on a personal and mass scale. I worked in solar energy in the Bay area for a partly female-founded company called Sunrun for about four years. I first applied my skills in marketing and then in public policy. In the public policy arena, I focused more on communications and motivating people for specific voting and advocacy outcomes.

Then, I worked for a PR Agency to go deeper into the communications piece and really learn more about that practice. I had a mentor who taught me about social media, relationships with the press, and media relations to get messages out about clean energy. I followed her lead and became a better practitioner, having the theoretical underpinnings from my education. From there, I have been able to incorporate communication into marketing teams and policy work. I currently oversee marketing communications and public policy for GAF Energy, which is part of the largest roofing and waterproofing company in the world. We are a sister company to GAF, the largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer in North America. In 2019, Standard founded GAF Energy to push for energy from every roof and to transform roofing into solar roofing. The goal is that every time someone gets a new roof, they will consider getting a solar roof, eventually making it standard practice. We aim to deploy more clean energy to millions of rooftops.

Challenges in current role

5:22 I am part of the team at GAF Energy and I must say, there is a wonderful energy here. When I first joined the company in 2019, we had around 12 employees. Now, just four years later, we have grown to almost 400 employees. It’s fascinating to be part of an entrepreneurial effort within a larger conglomerate. We are able to leverage the established brand equity, communications, and supply chain of the larger and more established companies, which gives us a leg up in the market. Our go-to-market plan is particularly strong. We tap into the 6,000 roofing contractors that are GAF certified and have known GAF for decades, allowing us to introduce our solar roof product, Timberline Solar, into the market. We work with these contractors to get them to talk about solar roofing when they’re pitching for a roof replacement. As a channel business, we rely heavily on these contractors to carry our message forward, generate business, and originate customers. They also handle a portion of the installation.

We also have a services business that complements the core functions of the roofing business. We handle the design of the solar portion of the roof, the permitting process, and the final electrification. We help the contractors become solar providers without having to make those investments themselves. We sell the hardware with the roofers through the roofers to the homeowner, and then help them make the roof a solar roof and ultimately electrify it and connect it to the grid.

We have made significant investments in brand building, particularly in leveraging the GAF brand, which is venerable and has an incredible domain authority on Google. We’ve been very thoughtful about how we build on that brand and have been able to draft off of that for search engine optimization and paid search. We’ve also been able to push the envelope beyond that foundation. Our communications team is lean, but we maximize our efforts through external agency and resources that we bring in. This approach has worked well for us in building marketing and communications teams, especially within startups that are figuring out their needs. We’ve been fortunate to work with talented external parties, including Sam Boykin and Boykin Industries, who have done an incredible job for us.

Favourite campaign

9:42 I am part of the team at GAF Energy and I must say, there is a wonderful energy here. When I first joined the company in 2019, we had around 12 employees. Now, just four years later, we have grown to almost 400 employees. It’s fascinating to be part of an entrepreneurial effort within a larger conglomerate. We are able to leverage the established brand equity, communications, and supply chain of the larger and more established companies, which gives us a leg up in the market.

Our go-to-market plan is particularly strong. We tap into the 6,000 roofing contractors that are GAF certified and have known GAF for decades, allowing us to introduce our solar roof product, Timberline Solar, into the market. We work with these contractors to get them to talk about solar roofing when they’re pitching for a roof replacement. As a channel business, we rely heavily on these contractors to carry our message forward, generate business, and originate customers. They also handle a portion of the installation.

We also have a services business that complements the core functions of the roofing business. We handle the design of the solar portion of the roof, the permitting process, and the final electrification. We help the contractors become solar providers without having to make those investments themselves. We sell the hardware with the roofers through the roofers to the homeowner, and then help them make the roof a solar roof and ultimately electrify it and connect it to the grid. We have made significant investments in brand building, particularly in leveraging the GAF brand, which is venerable and has an incredible domain authority on Google. We’ve been very thoughtful about how we build on that brand and have been able to draft off of that for search engine optimization and paid search. We’ve also been able to push the envelope beyond that foundation. Our communications team is lean, but we maximize our efforts through external agency and resources that we bring in. This approach has worked well for us in building marketing and communications teams, especially within startups that are figuring out their needs. We’ve been fortunate to work with talented external parties, including Sam Boykin and Boykin Industries, who have done an incredible job for us.

First interaction with data

14:22 So the first time that the data saved the day for me, I was an intern with someone who would later become a continued mentor of mine. And there were, I remember sitting at the table with our CEO, she was the head of marketing and communications at this, at this, the solar startup called one block off the grid. And you know, it was the head of sales. I mean, there were a number of people gathered around the table leaders in the company and everybody had an opinion, right? Like we should do this on the website, we should do this, we should say this, we should, you know, I think, and she just kind of got this look on her face, this like grin and she was like, let’s test it. Let’s see what actually, you know, A/B test. OK. I hear all of you. Let’s, let’s see what works. And it was such an aha moment for me, right? Because so much of the work that we do is subjective. And so being able to have a mechanism to get the, the data and the feedback from the right users, the right target audience is, is really transformative. Turns out her ideal one, I think she probably knew that that was going to be the case, but she then had the data to back it up. And so rather than it, you know, being kind of a an ego battle, it was, you looked at the numbers, you looked at the performance, you looked at the conversion and the business results that came out of that. And so for me, that was the first time that I really internalized and was able to see the power of, of reliable and impactful data.

Metric to measure  

16:03 I focus on audience reach as the most important metric for our awareness play. During our Timberline solar launch, we reached billions of people, which had a clear effect on the rest of our leadership team. They even started calling me Trace Commas, like when you get a billion dollars in a startup, you’re part of the Trace Commas Club. So, I became part of the Trace Commas Communication Club, which helped them understand the benefit of coms efforts quantitatively. We track both qualitative and quantitative data and triangulate between those two. Qualitatively, we had a gut feeling about certain publications with greater reach, like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post, which means something to different communities and American democracy too. We have metrics about tier one media and the targets we have for getting stories in them. We also have a metric to translate reach into equivalent advertising dollars. Although there’s debate about the validity of that, within our launch, the number was almost 30 million in equivalent advertising dollars. As far as earned media value, it’s something people take notice of. It builds credibility, especially with the roofing audience. If they’ve heard about us in all these different ways, they want a piece of that action. We’ve had conversations with roofing contractors in the US who want to sell our solar roof even though we’re not in their state or region yet. They virtually show up at our president’s doorstep, and our head of sales got so many phone calls about the product that it ruined their January. These moments are important data points about how people and target audiences respond to our messages. We want to be the that thing within the roofing industry, and I think we’ve really achieved that this year.

Dream feature in a product

19:50 I believe that having a straightforward dashboard with a user-friendly interface that can provide real-time data would be very beneficial. This would make it easier for me to explain our marketing and communications efforts to management, leadership, and other colleagues within the organization. The dashboard should be simple and elegant so that even someone without a deep understanding of the data can comprehend it. It would be ideal if the dashboard could be accessed by different people within the organization without requiring special login or extensive training. Currently, it feels like we lack a centralized reporting UI that can pull together all the different data sources we have. Although I understand that the systems are fragmented and require logins for monetization, it would be great to have a tool that can translate data into something accessible and understandable at an executive level or for people who aren’t familiar with our work. This would make our lives a lot easier. In the clean energy and climate tech sector, I believe that PR and Comms will continue to play a crucial role in helping people understand the energy transition and the implications of climate change in the coming years and decades.  

Role of PR & comms in clean energy and climate tech  

22:18 I believe that clean energy is still a new technology, and people will want more information presented in a digestible and understandable way. Solar roofing, in particular, is easy to understand, and that’s what makes it beautiful. We need to continue reinforcing how straightforward it is to get a solar roof when you need to reroof your house. We should repeat that message hundreds of thousands, even millions of times and find more compelling ways to talk about energy from every roof.  

Role of PR and comms in coming years  

22:59 I believe that in the next 2 to 3 years for PR and coms, it will be crucial to use data to make a strong case for the function’s contribution to the business in terms of revenue and margin. It’s important to have a good understanding of foundational metrics and measures of success in business and how PR and coms efforts contribute to that. Crafting a compelling message and understanding where to apply it is also crucial. So, it comes down to having a quantitative understanding of business relevance and profitability, as well as a strong grasp of the qualitative aspect of language. It’s a combination of left-brain and right-brain thinking. As a dual motor professional, I believe I can be more valuable to an organization and attractive as a candidate within interview processes.  

My two cents  

24:36 I believe that embracing data starts with just doing it. It may not be easy at first, but having a growth mindset is key. As a PR professional, I used to think of myself as not being a math or data person because I was more interested in human relationships, psychology, and words. However, I realized that we use math every day, even for simple things like calculating a bill or using a calculator on our phones. Business also involves basic multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction, as well as some statistics. These are accessible tools that we can use to understand the business and make informed decisions. I think that if we think of the quantitative piece as a story, it can be easier to understand and demystify it. We are ultimately storytellers, even when dealing with numbers, and finding the story within the data can help us make better decisions and be more effective at our jobs. It’s also important to find mentors who can demonstrate how data can help persuade and be used to accomplish goals for an organization or cause.

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