CI, competitive intelligence, business development – it goes by a variety of names. And it takes time. It takes time to perform the work, and it takes even more time to learn which sources to use to find the information. CI also takes money, to do it really thoroughly.
First, it takes time to do the research. Our researchers respond to CI/bus dev requests from different people in the firm. We receive requests from the attorneys directly, we receive requests from the marketing group on behalf of an attorney, and we receive requests from the marketing group on their own accord, as they try to be proactive. The requests from the attorneys are generally the simplest. Pre-COVID, most of the requests were last minute requests made about an hour before the attorney was due to meet a potential client for lunch. For those requests, a company report pulled from one or two sources was enough to give the attorney some talking points.
If we were lucky, we got a day’s notice, or a few days’ notice, of a client meeting and we had time to do more in-depth research and tailor the result. For those requests, the starting point would be a company report from one or more sources, followed by more in-depth research. The research could be conducted in public records, looking for state and/or federal filings. These filings would include corporate filings with the state Secretary of State and state agencies, federal filings with the SEC as well as any other relevant federal agencies. Litigation/court filings can also provide interesting tidbits about a company. If the requesting attorney is a litigator, they are very interested in how often the company is involved in litigation. Transactional attorneys are more interested in company deals, merger and acquisition activity, and real estate projects. The more lead time that you have, the more information you can gather, and the more time you have to make sure you only provide relevant information in your final product.
How much information should you include? It depends. And I’m not just being facetious. It depends on how much information you can uncover, and it depends on the requester. There isn’t as much available information on the small and mid-size private companies as there is on public companies. And, there’s not as much public information on individuals as there may be on a corporate entity. I try to include a summary, as well as some recent news, and information about relevant litigation or transactions. Doing CI does involve some analysis or judgment. This isn’t the same as performing legal work, you’re not going to violate anything by doing this. You do have to read the information you’ve gathered and determine what is relevant and how you should put the information in your report. I use the term “report” somewhat loosely; it can be an email, a memo, or a full-blown report. You do not want to simply give an attorney (or any requester) a “data dump”. You have to take some time to analyze the information and weed out irrelevant material. When I provide reports, I will frequently attach full documents to the back of the report, or attach them to a summarizing email. That way, the requester can look through them at their convenience. One caveat, you must know your requester. I do have one attorney who wants everything, and he does mean EVERYTHING. And he’ll read it, maybe not immediately, but he will go through it. Most of my attorneys just want the most relevant and/or recent information, so you probably will need to weed out some articles/filings.
The easy questions are the ones that ask for information on a specific client. Harder questions more frequently involve industry information rather than specific companies or people. These requests often come from our marketing group, but sometimes they will come in from an attorney. Finding this information can be harder, depending on your resources. You can pull an industry summary report on many services. And many of these reports will identify the leading companies in that industry. Where you go from there depends on the actual question – news, company website, other subscription-based service.
On a side-but-related note, litigation alerts on a potential client are not generally something for CI, because there’s usually not enough to wait for results to hit, but they something that you should be setting for any potential clients. And, it’s a really good way to get yourself in front of your attorneys and gives you some talking points.
Second, it takes time to learn. Each firm or institution will have its own resources. It’s going to take time to learn which ones are available at your current position – they may or may not be the same ones you used in a prior position. And then, it’s going to take time to learn how to use those systems effectively. Sure, anyone can go in a pull a report from whatever system they have access to. Then you have to spend time learning how to do different types of searches. Learning how to pull different reports. Which report works best for what question? And are there other resources that you should use? For effective CI, you don’t want to just pull a company report. You need to learn to use the news databases, whether through a paid service (all of the Big 3 offer news sources) or through your local public library (probably free). If you’re lucky, there’s someone in your organization with experience who can guide you to the appropriate resources and give you pointers on how to use them. Take the time to learn and learn to use the resources yourself.
Finally, and possibly out of order, there’s the timing of the response. As I said earlier, you might only get an hour’s notice or you might get 3 days or 2 weeks’ notice. Remember, how much information you can provide depends a lot on how much lead time you have. Some experienced CI professionals and firms that have a CI department have request forms for their attorneys and marketing groups to fill out. These forms also detail how much information can be provided in the given time frame. It’s a good way to let the attorneys and marketing professionals know what resources are available and how long it will take to put everything together. With everything being done electronically these days, a fillable form could be posted on your library’s page for everyone to access. In addition to having a request form, you should have a standardized format for your CI responses. Unless you’re a solo librarian or solo CI professional, requests come to different people. If there’s a standard format, there’s less chance of overlooking a resource or forgetting to include something in the report. It just takes time – to learn the resources, and time to do the work.
Editor’s Note: This article is republished with permission of the author with first publication on RIPS Law Librarian Blog.