Be Careful What You Wish For

June 12, 2018

Our local newspaper, the Reading Eagle, has a weekly supplement, Business Weekly.

I want to dissect a piece there (without mentioning the name of the firm because that is not relevant) to show you what can sometimes be found on private companies in local newspapers.

This piece focuses on a private local company that has moved into new quarters.[1] Here is what it disclosed:

  • The size of its former manufacturing facility.
  • The location of the new space for the firm’s factory and office.
  • The size of that new facility and how much space is dedicated to production there.
  • The cost of renovating the new facility, as well as the source of a public loan for that work. Often the files associated with such loans can contain other competitively sensitive data.
  • Data on a solar power, including what percentage of the plant’s total energy the 50 thousand watt array provides (which lets you calculate its total power consumption).
  • What kind of injection molding equipment the plant uses.
  • A statement that an additional machine is on order to join to the current (specified) number already on site.
  • What its customer surveys show about the reasons customers pay a significant premium for the firm’s products.
  • Year over year sales increase percentages for the past 7 years. Fortunately, the base amount is not specified, but one year might be available from other sources. That would allow you to calculate the current sales levels.
  • The company’s plans to change all its packaging.

Think of this as a research suggestion as well as a warning to companies to be careful about what they reveal to get local media coverage.[2]

[1] Jeff McGaw, “Brush with success”, Reading Eagle Business Weekly, June 12, 2018, pp. 8-11.

[2] Interestingly, our new book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right, contain a case where a private firm finds that a published interview with the CEO is the source of leaked competitively sensitive data.

(Some of) The Reviews Are In

May 8, 2018

As I hope most of you know, Carolyn Vella, my significantly better half, and I have a new book out: Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right. We were very fortunate to get some pre-release reviews, which said, in part

“In this book you get to listen in on real conversations and solve real issues.”

“Long experienced in competitive intelligence, Vella and McGonagle provide insightful lessons for those who need intelligence to compete, profit, and succeed.”

“This is an essential addition to every librarian’s shelf.”

“Anyone involved in CI, or trying to rescue their CI program, will find Vella’s and McGonagle’s book informative, insightful, practical, and executable.”

For the full texts of these previews, just go to the publisher’s page for Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right.

Since its release, the book has been reviewed several times, with all reviews saying very positive things (click on the quote to read the full review):

“Any knowledge producer — researcher, practitioner, or manager — will learn something valuable here. Likewise, the user of intelligence — business owner, executive, or investor — will benefit by becoming an “educated consumer” of intelligence work products and by seeing what is possible, even with limited resources.”

“This is a must read for strategic planners who want to understand why and how competitive intelligence is done, and how it enables smart decision-making.”

 “This book is designed for managers at every level of business, and for all size businesses from the smallest to the very largest.”

“Conscientious decision makers in large multinationals and/or do-it-yourselfers will glean valuable insights from Vella and McGonagle’s workbook/thinkbook.”

“[C]omprehensively breaks down what companies should aim for as realistic goals and how the market is affected by factors outside the company.” Reading Eagle, December 31, 2017, p D6.


To all these reviewers, thanks for your kind words. For my blog readers, why haven’t you purchased it yet? (VBG). To help you, here is a link to you can use. Thanks.

(End of shameless commercial plug.)

Open Records?

July 11, 2017

This week, a local paper[1]reported that applicants for Pennsylvania medical marijuana licenses were permitted to submit two versions of their applications: one for evaluation by the state’s licensing authority and a second, self-redacted version, for public release.

What was released to the public was a bewildering mass of blacked-out text. In addition to blacking out notes on proximity to health care facilities, maybe, maybe, a competitive or confidential issue, they variously redacted page numbers (?), the business’ name and address (!), and the business’ expected impact on the local community, which seems to be exactly what should be released. One applicant is described as redacting “nearly its entire 186-page grower application, including [the official] instructions” (?!)

The article quoted a Marijuana trade association official who said that these companies were “looking at what their competitors are going to see” and redacted that. Page numbers? And, Pennsylvania officials say that they cannot un-redact what has been blacked out. Then, consider the questions of why a filer can ever exercise absolute control over what is disclosed from public records, and why Pennsylvania ever created this public/private record system.

Ever wonder why Open Record laws don’t work?

[1] Nicole C. Brambila, “Marijuana firms redacted many parts of applications”. Reading Eagle, July 10, 2017, A1, A3.

The Truth is Out There?

August 12, 2015

Our local paper, The Reading Eagle, recently ran a column on trustworthiness in the news[1].

The columnist, Andy Andrews, mused about recent developments raising substantial questions about the reliability of “news” on the Internet. In particular, he focused on online trolls that are continually spreading misinformation about business in the form of news releases or stories, ranging from chemical explosions to takeover offers.

These all had in common (1) that they were hoaxes, and (2) that they were believed by many readers because they “looked right”.

Lesson: When you find something new in the news on the Internet, particularly if it is just an emerging story, verify, do not just trust (with a tip of the hat to former President Reagan). While it is important to get new intelligence in circulation so you and your firm can (re)act, it is much more important to get it right!

The same danger lies in giving credence to stories in an emerging situation, from reliable or official sources. Many of details of a “breaking” story, whether about business, politics, or crime, are almost always incomplete, inaccurate, misdirected, or miscommunicated (select any or all of the above). Always keep that in mind.

You are not in the news business. You are in the intelligence business. Your job is to be right, not first.

[1] Andy Andrews, “In news we trust, part 2”, Reading Eagle, August 9, 2015, p. F1.


What you hear is not what you always get

December 12, 2014

As I’ve indicated before, before beginning primary search in a competitive intelligence project, it is important to conduct and conclude, as much as possible, your secondary research.

Secondary research work is very often viewed as merely a “collect and compile” process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever is collecting and then analyzing secondary materials has to be sensitive to things like false confirmation, as well as the real sourcing of the data that they are reviewing.

Now, if you are dealing with a trade industry publication, you can be pretty well certain that most of information about a target in the article or table was provided by the target itself. From there you have to decide whether or not you want to treat that as wholly reliable and accurate – or not.

But in dealing with other sources, predominantly general news sources, we tend to rely on the overall reputation of the source, such as BBC or the New York Times. However, a recent article in my local newspaper points out that our broadcast news sources, when it comes to non-US news, may not even be coming from the “source” that broadcast it.

Ben Dalton, now with World Learning, recently discussed with the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading (PA) how the news media covers global conflicts[1]. He pointed out that many news organizations have reduced (or even eliminated – my observation) foreign coverage budgets. This means that they now rely on outside sources for their foreign coverage. He pointed out that there are wide variety of organizations, largely NGOs, providing such reporting, as well as freelancers or even stringers, that is staff not regularly and fully associated with the broadcast organization.

Dalton pointed out problems with such sources:

“While there are nonprofits that are increasingly capturing compelling stories, the primary goal of these agencies is advocacy.… If they’re covering specific international stories it is in their interest to do so.”

In some countries, Dalton indicated, reporters, including of course freelancers and stringers, face kidnapping, being held for ransom, or even assassination. Certainly these factors color what they are able to report on and exactly how they report it.

The bottom line here is that no longer when we are looking at global news stories should we just rely on the reputation of the “source”. We have to dig further, and find out who is really providing the “story” – and why – before we can go further.

[1] Bruce R. Posten, “Media coverage of global conflicts addressed”, Reading Eagle, Dec. 11, 2014, B2.