Public records are documents and records that relate to actions managed by various government offices and agencies. This may include applications, memos, meeting minutes, voting records, applications, real estate records, court records kept at the federal, state, county or municipality level. Business records that government agencies keep are all public records, including proposals and contracts. Public records by definition have to be available and accessible to the public in some shape or form. Some public records, such as property deeds, are maintained in a central, searchable database, while others, such as government contracts may need to be formally requested. In some cases, processing and copying fees apply to certain record requests. These are usually nominal and meant to cover the paper and processing time expense. 

Public records access is supported by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the US. FOIA is a federal law that grants people in the US the right to request federal and state agency records. Records requests are usually formal written requests. Not all public records require written FOIA requests – many can be printed from online databases or requested in person at government agencies.

Public Records Use

Public records are used in all transactions and processes that involve public entities. From contracts to deliver business to the government, to real-estate related business, to personal actions like marriage, divorce, birth and death. If a person wants to get married, buy or sell property, pay tax or file for divorce, she generates public records to do so. Public offices retain those records and use them for city planning, tax billing, preventing fraud, and many other functions that fit under their respective purviews. Real estate professionals, builders, school systems and other types of businesses access public records in their daily operations.

Outside of public use, public records are being compiled into online databases and used by businesses to segment and target potential customers. Companies and small business owners can conduct public records deep search steps in order to get data that will help them promote their businesses, or figure out a strategic direction based on the specific needs of their customers. An example of this would be a bank that seeks public records of home purchases in a certain geographic area in order to target the buyers with marketing about home equity lines of credit, or refinancing options.

Public Records and Digital Marketing

Digital marketing efforts are most effective when they target specific groups. Most digital marketing expenses break down per click, so it becomes very expensive for companies when their online ads result in clicks by people who are not positioned well to buy their products. Sophisticated digital marketers are looking at different sources of data and utilizing complex marketing campaigns that rely upon data analytics.

Public records can offer many businesses an abundant amount of highly valuable data. Demographics like income levels, gender, age, homeowner status, and family status are just a few examples of information that can be pulled from public records. There are a number of ways that companies can obtain public records data for digital marketing purposes:

  1. Invest time in researching which public records are available through which sources, and taking steps to download or request the necessary data, then compile it into marketing lists. Example: Looking at the Registry of Deeds for counties in which a business operates to develop a list of homeowners to target with home improvement offers. Cost: The cost of Registry of Deeds database access, which is usually nominal, and the cost of staff time to download, refine, and format the data.
  2. Pay for an online database of public records that allows individuals and businesses to search for specific metrics and generate ready-to-use lists of data. Example: Using a public records database to pull a list of emails and social media profiles of recently married people over 30 to target them with life insurance policy ads. Cost: A single search could cost $10 – $20 dollars, or businesses can get a better value by getting a monthly membership that allows them to conduct unlimited searches.
  3. Businesses that market to public entities can request previous vendor contracts from them to provide insight into how to best price and market their services. This allows businesses to target large contract opportunities in a more focused way. Example: A state college is looking to build a new building. The builder interested in bidding submits a FOIA request to see the contracts for the last three buildings this college has built. By reviewing terms and pricing that was accepted the previous times, the builder has a better idea of how to tailor their bid to the college. Cost: Most FOIA requesters are only charged small administrative fees.

Public records are vital to the running of government operations, but by understanding how to mine appropriate data from them, businesses can develop an edge in their marketing and stand apart from their competitors. Public records offer a wide array of demographic data and provide background check information of potential customers, usually at a relatively low cost. They are reliably available for extended periods of time due to legal mandates. Businesses of all types can benefit from exploring public record sources and incorporating relevant data into their market research and customer segmentation strategies.