One of the very first things you hear when you attend a Competitive Intelligence (CI) seminar is that CI is the ethical gathering of intelligence. The reason that ethics is stressed so highly when discussion CI, is that if your CI team is dabbling in unethical behavior (and that gets exposed), it reflects upon your whole organization and casts a shadow upon everything you do.

It seems that there are some reporters at Bloomberg L.P. may need to sit back in on some of those classes on ethics. The report in the New York Times states that reporters used information found through Bloomberg Terminal usage from banks and traders to break stories on certain people being fired from those companies (based upon users that suddenly “went dark” … i.e., were no longer logging into their Terminals.) That type of information, while effective, falls squarely on the unethical side of the ledger, and as a result gives all of Bloomberg a black eye.

Immediately, we all started wondering what exposure law firms had to this type of research, and if there were additional issues that were at play. According to Jean O’Grady’s blog, Dewey B. Strategic, the Bloomberg Law platform was not included in this type of internal research strategy. O’Grady contacted Greg McCaffery, CEO of Bloomberg Law, and got confirmation on that point. However, as Jean also points out, many law firms have the Terminals as well as Bloomberg Law access. It brings up ligitimate questions like the one Ed Walters of Fastcase asked on Twitter yesterday:

Alledgedly, Bloomberg reporters where systematically using this type of research on a regular basis. Hundreds of reporters used the technique according to the NY Times article. It simply makes Bloomberg look bad.

In this age of instant communications, hacking, and whistle-blowers, unethical behavior is very difficult to keep covered up. This should be held up as an example to others in the world of information gathering, that if you are performing unethical practices, you should expect that eventually those practices will be exposed. When they are, you will need to spend years repairing the damage.

This same type of damage can happen with Competitive Intelligence research. Be very careful how you conduct your gathering processes, and ask yourself what would happen if those practices were exposed to the public.

Tips for Delivering CI via Email

Social media advocates predict the end of email but, while it is always interesting to consider new, improved ways to disseminate intelligence, most law firms are not likely to drop email any time soon.

Scenario: A litigation partner is leaving for a lunch with a target client and needs intelligence on the company, person, opportunity, competitors and our relationships within the hour.

It’s nice to imagine that you will have time to conduct an interview to determine the appropriate intelligence topics, perform thorough, in-depth research, develop a complete and insightful analysis, AND format your findings/results into an attractive document.

Or, better yet, you’ll upload your beautiful report to a social, sharable, fully-indexed and dynamic web/portal/SharePoint- or app-based report to distribute to all appropriate members of the practice/industry group or client team. Or, you could do something else even cooler and better..

But, the reality is that it’s all you can do to run the searches, scramble for the necessary analysis and shoot off a quick email for the attorney to read in the back of the cab on her way.

That said, here are some tips to effective intelligence delivery of intelligence via good old-fashioned email.

  • Put important stuff at the top – If you are delivering a handful of answers, put those answers right at top. When laying out your information, just think of a small mobile screen and remember that they won’t get past the first few lines.
  • Keep it short – We learn in school that a paragraph can be between 3 and 5 sentences. But in business emails, you want a double line break between almost every 1-2 sentences, especially if they are longer sentences.
  • Use bullets – In fact, wherever possible, avoid sentences and stick to bullets. Attorneys in particular are very familiar with the outline format and so feel free to group by heading and subheading and keep it very brief. No more than a sentence in length.
  • Double- and triple-proof – Check for common typos, grammar, punctuation etc. The smallest mistakes can undermine your credibility and the entire intelligence product.
  • Attach reports – You can almost assume that most anything attached to the email will be, at best, briefly skimmed and, at worst, completely ignored. If you want the attorney to know something, type it into the email. You might also point out the attachment (“Please see attached…”) and direct them to the page.

I’m sure there are a ton of other good ideas and I hope our commentors will share their tips!

Recently, I had a unique experience of being privy to “insider information” on a hot-topic issue that ran on the front pages of major newspapers across the country. In a way, watching news story after news story come out, it was kind of like being in the middle of a sausage factory, watching it all being made, and being a little disappointed in the process. Without going into any details (my blog is my personal endeavor and I try to keep it that way), I have to say that my eyes were opened at some of the laziness of professional reporting, and my experience has made me think twice about accepting what I read in major news sources simply because they are major news sources.

Here are a few things that I saw that I would have thought were questionable tactics from reputable news sources:

  • The same story getting “repackaged” and “re-titled” over and over again within the same week. I noticed this actually came from the same parent company owning a number of different news titles and needing to fill space. Perhaps one benefit from this was that some of these resources were regional in scope, but most, if not all, were Internet resources, so the story was still accessible to everyone with a web browser. The problem really came from the fact that it looked like the story was presented as being somehow different from the initial story, but when you compared them, it was simply a reprint with a different title and publication date.
  • Reporters quoting other reporters as “facts”. This isn’t new, but it was interesting watching one reporter quoting the story written by another as part of their “fact gathering” process. Most of the cross-quoting was taking pieces of the initial reporter’s conjecture and twisting it into an assumed fact. It was like watching a game of “Telephone” and seeing how it morphed over and over again as the next reporter added another layer of conjecture to the story.
  • Research based completely on what was available on the Internet. I know that the days of Woodward and Bernstein meeting with Deep Throat in a car garage are over, but I at least expected reporters to pick up a phone, or meet with a source in person before writing a story. Instead, what I saw was reporters taking press releases, sending out a “can you give me a quote” email to one or two people, and then writing the story without interviewing a single person. For goodness sake, Above the Law does a better job talking with insiders on a story than some of the most respected newspapers in the country. I watched as reporters chimed in on the comments section of their story saying that they sent an email, but are still waiting on a response. However, I guess in this day of being “first to print,” no one really has time to get out and talk with anyone anymore. After all, if that person does respond, that means a follow-up story can be written and a one-day story can turn into a two-day story.
I guess I expected better out of the corp of professional reporters. I know that they constantly complain about the tactics that the blogosphere takes in running with a story without doing any serious research on the issues, and injecting conjecture into the story in such a way that you can’t really tell what parts are facts versus what parts are conjecture. In this case, however, I watched as a number of professional reporters did the very same actions that they despise from bloggers. 
Ethics and solid professional processes of reporting are two of the most important aspects that hold professionally trained reporters and the sources they work for above the fray of the blogosphere. If professional reporters decide to take short-cuts with those two processes, we all suffer the consequences. I expect better, but I fear that I will just continue to be disappointed.