A passion for data: How this alumna uses analytics to enhance consumer experience

Amy Blasco is senior vice president of experience analytics at RAAP in New York City and a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2018.

Starting out in forensic psychology, Amy Blasco, ’18, is passionate about data. Early in her career, she used data to understand criminal behavior and influence policy. She later pivoted to advertising, using data to understand consumer behavior. Today, she leads experience analytics at RAAP, the Omnicom Advertising group’s data and customer experience agency. As a member of the senior leadership team, she works on the cutting edge of data and technology.

How did you get your start in data analytics?

Many young people aspire to change the world and their communities around them. For me, I wanted to look into the darkest places and shed light on the injustices that go unseen and are often ignored. As an adolescent, I felt helpless when I heard stories about wrongful convictions and flawed investigative work. That feeling led me to the field of forensic psychology, where I used data to fight racial inequality in the criminal justice system and uncover risk factors associated with domestic violence. I saw how data is one of the best tools to enable police and investigators to make better decisions.

Where did you develop your analytical acumen?

At The Vera Institute of Justice, I dove headlong into a project involving New York City foster children in HIV/AIDS clinical trials. It was alleged that between 1985-2005 children in foster care with HIV/AIDS were used as guinea pigs to test antiretrovirals. Community groups were alleging that African American and Latino children were inappropriately removed from their families and placed in foster care to facilitate their enrollment in dangerous and unnecessary medical experiments. This project took us across all five boroughs of New York City, tracking down and collecting records pertaining to these children. It took almost two years to find and review 796 cases of children who might have participated in HIV/AIDS clinical trials. Then we went through the painstaking process of entering a tremendous amount of data into spreadsheets. We sought to uncover things like whether there was proper consent, the causes of any deaths, and how those children became candidates for the clinical trials.

When did you pivot to advertising?

Upon the completion of my role in the AIDS clinical trials, I was recruited by advertising agencies to use those investigative skills to interpret consumer perceptions and behaviors. I soon found myself at Avenue A/Razorfish working on brands like Forest Labs, Capital One, and Victoria Secret. I used data to understand human behavior from a consumer’s point of view and to uncover moments where the brands could create and capture value. I spent the next decade at some of the largest advertising agencies working across industries. Today, my focus is using data to curate personalized experiences based on an individual’s online/offline behaviors and affinities. I use a collection of tools, platforms, data sources, and analytical processes to create highly personal and relevant experiences that move the consumer from an addressable audience to a buyer and then an advocate. It’s about the right place, right time, right message.

How did you sharpen your analytics at MIT?

I stretched my analytics muscle in classes like Analytics Edge, Economics, Competitive Strategy, and System Dynamics. In the final project of Analytics Edge, my classmate Dr. William Daley and I decided to apply what we had learned in the class to see whether data and analytics could have helped solve or prevent a famous old cold case: the 1994 case of the West Memphis Three, which involved three high school kids convicted of murdering three young schoolboys. (Their convictions were later found to be based on faulty evidence, and in 2011 these men were released from prison.)

We obtained the police reports and analyzed all of the witness statements using natural language processing (NLP) and translated what people said into data points. By analyzing the data, we were able to track the victims’ paths before they died, generate new leads for the police, and prioritize which houses to canvas to gather additional statements and clarifications. Obviously, this was done after the fact and we knew the outcome, but this was about proving a process. Wrongful convictions happen far too often, and we know that investigative time is finite. Dr. Daley and I set out to create a data-lead process that could arm law enforcement with tools to help them prioritize leads.

How did the program impact your leadership style?

It unquestionably had a tangible impact on my leadership style. In Prof. Roberto Fernandez’s class, he said to pick a few people who will be in your “kitchen cabinet.” My husband, an alumnus of this program, advised me to “find the people who are radically different than you, and seek them out as friends, sponsors, and confidants.” Within the first semester, I filled my kitchen cabinet with doctors, software engineers, operations executives and filmmakers. They are leaders among leaders, and more importantly, they could not be more dissimilar to me. Watching them for two years was like taking a master class in leadership. The purposefully diverse cohort is perhaps one of the program’s strongest competitive advantages. Individuals from across generations, industries, and leadership styles foster an environment in which everyone collectively learns and grows in conjunction with classes and Action Learning. All of this was incorporated into my leadership style.