This post is the first in a series designed to develop a foundational understanding of when, why, and how to leverage investigations and the use of professional investigators to achieve your brand protection objectives.
There is no doubt that investigations are a beneficial tool to verify facts, discern the truth, and compile evidence. However, no one has the bandwidth to investigate every ecommerce seller, fraudulent website, or social media poser. So, how do you determine when a situation warrants an investigation? The following is a list of 10 areas for consideration with related questions to help you evaluate whether an investigation may be in order.
- Clear Indication of an Issue
- Insufficient Understanding
- High Stakes
- Legal or Ethical Risk
- Available Resources
- Proper Authority
- Failure of Previous Solutions
- Confidentiality & Neutrality
- Likelihood of Resolution
- Significant Risk of Inaction
Clear Indication of an Issue
This seems simple enough. If you have a gut feeling or suspicion, try to determine what is at the root of it and what may be the best avenue for answers. Have you or a stakeholder identified a specific event, behavior, or situation that undeniably raises concerns or suspicions? Does it rise to a level of priority based on the size, scale, or scope? Has it gained the attention of a key internal or external stakeholder(s) that is critical to pacify?
Is your current understanding of the situation limited and leaving you or other stakeholders with unanswered questions? Could a wait and see approach suffice to see what may develop or has this already been lingering for a while? When existing information falls short, a targeted investigation can help fill in the gaps.
Consider the potential consequences of inaction. Could ignoring the situation lead to potential negative consequences for you, other parties, or your organization? Could it have a rapid ripple effect? To quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If not obvious, an investigation also may help determine the true height of the potential stakes involved.
Legal or Ethical Risk
Does there appear to be legal or ethical risks involved that may necessitate immediate attention or action? Have you considered taking it to an attorney to evaluate further? If looming questions or uncertainties keep you up at night, an investigation to determine the facts may help ease your mind – or at least ensure you are prepared with answers and evidence to mitigate potential risks. While an understanding of the facts may provide helpful context, consider a legal consultation depending on the severity of your concerns.
Do you have the necessary resources available, whether time, money, energy, or expertise? Could the potential benefits of the investigation outweigh the investment and any divergence of resources to this aim? Assess anticipated costs to the degree possible, along with whether internal or external support may be needed.
Do you have the authority and responsibility to investigate this matter? Or is it outside your scope of responsibilities? Are there other stakeholders who should be consulted for buy-in? Ensuring that you have the necessary authorization or internal support not only helps justify the investigation but also enrolls others in potential action on any related findings.
Failure of Previous Solutions
Have prior attempts to resolve the issue been ineffective (i.e., online takedowns, cease and desist letters, attempts to serve process), indicating a deeper, unresolved problem or clear disregard for the law? A history of unsuccessful resolutions can signal the need for escalated action, and a comprehensive investigation would compile the facts and evidence to further justify and support it.
Confidentiality & Neutrality
Depending on the nature of the potential concern or topic for investigation, consider the importance of maintaining confidentiality and neutrality throughout the process. Is there a concern of conflict or the appearance of conflict of interest? Could any such conflict negate your findings? Having standard operating procedures (SOPs) to follow regardless of the parties or subjects involved is one way to produce an unbiased, fair result. As an additional way to CYA, outsourcing the investigation may be advisable.
Likelihood of Resolution
Assess whether an investigation is likely to provide the necessary understanding to inform potential next steps or resolve it as a non-issue. Could it deliver meaningful insights and actionable intelligence? Clearly identified objectives will help provide structure to determine what resolution looks like and its feasibility.
Significant Risk of Inaction
Finally, weigh the risk of not investigating. Is there potential for ongoing harm, escalation of the issue, or lost opportunities if you choose to do nothing? Could the timing of an investigation impact what may or may not be recoverable? Or could prolonged inaction lessen the chances of a successful investigation at whatever point you decide to act? Is there historical information worth capturing in the meantime?
If you find yourself nodding your head as you read these considerations, it may be time for an investigation of some scale. Once the decision to investigate has been made, the next step is evaluating whether you have the internal expertise and resources needed to support the effort or if consulting with an outside party may be the optimal path forward.
Sharing our perspective based on 20+ years of investigative experience, we compiled additional top 10 lists for each step of the journey as you enter this realm:
- Should You Outsource to a Professional Investigator (PI)?
- Vetting & Selecting a Qualified Professional Investigator (PI) (coming soon)
- 10 Strategies for Successful Collaborations with Professional Investigator (PI) (coming soon)