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Thursday
Dec132012

[FIND] Expertise - Education Media Publishing Expansion

 

We've been a bit remis in our attention to the [FIND] Blog of late. Storyboard EMP, LLC is the reason. Nashville Private Investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, founder of [FIND] Investigations has partnered with, Jim McLeod, founder of InfoCode Corporation, to creat a new investigation's centric publishing house known as Storyboard EMP.

The EMP is open to interpretation. Some think of electromagnetic pulse. Others think Educational Media Partners, or Educational Media Publishers. We don't really care. The long story short is: Storyboard EMP is up and running and we're very excited about the next few months. 

Stay tuned for more.

 

Monday
Oct152012

[FIND] Expertise - Marketing (or not)

I've been thinking about marketing a lot lately. Marketing. Ah, that nasty word. It conjures up images of Yellow Page ads, SHAM WOW!!!, varying font sizes, and colors...bright, bright colors. Marketing: there's even something a little bit tawdry about the word. Meanwhile, there's branding—that overused hipster coinage. It conjures faded hipstamatic photos and "old school" paperback notebooks, all perfectly colorwheeled and packaged. Either way, whether a thing is luridly "marketed" or oh-so-subtly "branded," there's a certain feeling to the whole affair of being manipulated to acquire something you don't actually need.

But here's the deal, and this is not a small point, so pay attention: Branded to perfection or simple, to the point website, the trick is - DO THE WORK. Show up to the office and do the work day in, day out. Sometimes, people focus so much on the selling that they forget that the marketing isn't the thing. The work is the thing.

I am humbled by some of my fellow investigators, their dedication, their drive, their willingness to work 15-hour days for weeks on end. Their willingness to spend hours, days, weeks, months of their lives away from family and friends to do the work. 

If you're a baseball player - show up to batting practice early, swing the bat, work on your form. Do the work. If you're a basketballer - shoot free throws, dribble, work on the fundamentals. Do the work. If you're an investigator, improve your camera skills, talk to people, ask questions, get comfortable with interviewing. Work on the basic skills necessary for the job. Do the work. And then devote a little thoughtful energy to getting the word out about what you do so well.

Seth Godin wrote this morning about kindling, that small pile of wood used to start a fire. It burns hot and fast and is necessary to get the flames going strong. But the slow burning embers, the hard wood at the center, that part that keeps going, doing the work day in and day out—that's the part that counts.

Mr. Godin likens kindling to the brushfire mentality of some sham-wow marketers who fan a flame and get people's attention in (sometimes) less than subtle ways. I tend to agree: it's the hardwood fuel that is stored up and preserved that carries the day. It burns longer and dimmer, but it cooks the meal through, and warms you through the night.

The best investigators I know do not trouble themselves with bright colored ads in the Yellow Pages. They show up and do the work on a daily basis. They stick with a case and chase the leads. They build a reputation over a number of years by doing the work. No, it's not glamorous. No, it's not going to drive huge numbers to your website.

But it's fundamental. Do the work. In the end, that's really the only thing that matters. 

People will come.

 

 

Monday
Sep242012

[FIND] Lexicon - Ethics

In which Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, goes on a little rant.

Here's what got me fuming about ethics this weekend: Whilst on a long, Saturday-afternoon drive, I tuned into one of my favorite Public Radio shows, This American Life. Love it or hate it, you have to admit - they know how to tell a story.

The Incredible Case of the PI Moms is TAL's take on the convoluted story of Chris Butler, by now a wholesale notorious ex-private detective in California who became so obsessed with becoming famous that he created an intricate (and bumbling) crime empire to sustain the fantasy-PI life he'd created for media comsumption. It's a fantastic case study in ethics—or in this case, the utter lack thereof.

Let's start with the lexicon:

Ethics: n ('e thics) - 1 plural but singular or plural in construction: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

2 a : a set of moral principles. b: theory or system of moral values. c: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. d: a guiding philosophy.  e: a consciousness of moral importance 

3 plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) 

Origin - Middle English ethik, from Middle French ethique, from Latin ethice, from Greek ēthikē, from ēthikos First Known Use: 14th century

For the backstory, check out the original Diablo Magazine feature, which you can read here and hereHere you can listen to the full This American Life treatment, which continues the tale of a man so entirely corrupt and self-aggrandizing that his abysmal decision-making, amateurish criminality, and hubristic ignorance defy belief.

This story raises a great many questions: Is it okay to stage a ride-along for the media? Is it okay to craft a story for a client, improve on the facts a little bit, stretch the truth? Is it okay to pretend to be law enforcement? Where is the line?

First: The media. Do not fuck with reporters. Competent journalists will dig for the truth, just like you do. They will vet all of your claims. If they do not, the press you're getting is likely not worth the paper (or web-space) on which it's written. If you stage a scene for a reporter, (s)he will find out.

Keep in mind that the media has access to the same data sources we PIs do. (IRB is a LexisNexis product. Clear comes to us via Reuters.) Reporters are resourceful, creative, and tenacious. (Sound familiar?) How, pray tell, do you think investigative reporters break such amazing stories? They interview witnesses, search public databases, visit the crime scene, follow the long and winding thread.

conclusions: It is not okay to stage a scene or a case for the media, even if it's a "reenactment." Look at it this way: How would you feel if a client fed you a BS story? Would you check the facts with extreme prejudice? After being treated like some gullible rube, would you, perhaps, develop a certain motivation to uncover the truth?

Nobody likes to be lied to or manipulated. 

Second: The client. Do not create fiction for your client. Do not exagerate facts. It is in no way okay to craft a story (even if it's a case that you screwed up) for your client. Tell the truth. If you missed a key event, just tell them you missed it. Don't "get your story straight." Don't try and backdate the video. It's a disservice to your client, to the public, and to the business when you lie. It's also a disservice to your character.

Third: The law. Don't break or bend it, no matter what you may have seen Jim Rockford do. We are not, in any way, exempted from laws. It is never okay to pretend to be law enforcement, unless you are law enforcement. For certain, avoid the temptation to break and enter into another person's house or office. Also, probably best to try and avoid tresspassing. (I had an unfortunate event a couple of years ago involving a property line dispute. My property-line survey was eventually proven correct, but I still got to enjoy the interior of a police station while that fact was determined.) And in many states, placing a GPS tracker or listening device in someone's car is not legal. That's why I never do it. In short, obey the law. I would even argue that as PIs we have a responsibility to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

I have, in the past, scoffed at the requirement to attend yearly ethics training. After hearing the Chris Butler story again, I think it's not such a bad idea. I doubt a one-hour ethics primer would have changed Mr. Butler's methods, but it never hurts to expose people to common sense. Corruption happens gradually, one small compromise at a time. First, you're staging scenes to impress a reporter. The sham grows and morphs until it supplants the real detective work you once did. Next thing you know, you're dealing confiscated methamphetamine with your corrupt cop buddies to fund your PI-company Potemkin village. 

The biggest lesson of all, for me, is that if Butler had just stuck to the ordinary gumshoe work of breaking cases and taking care of clients, he'd probably be doing just fine right now. Instead, he's doing time.

 

 

Tuesday
Sep112012

[FIND] Schedule - a day in the life

Thomas H. Humphreys, Nashville private investigator, schedule.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012.

6:00 - Wake up. Start Coffee

6:30 - Walk with wife/partner/writer/friend, Kim.

8:00 - To Kenny Polly's Shell station for coffee and conference on how to solve the world's problems, all of them.

9:00 - Front porch coffee, review current events via iPad, enjoy chilly morning air and return emails.

9:30 - Brentwood to pick up 9 client files and another cup of coffee with attorney client.

10:30 - Back in office. Another cup of coffee. Research, blog post, plan for the rest of the day. 

11:00 - Meeting with Allison, the world's most competent assistant/PI/manager/etc...

12:30 - Yoga

2:00 - Client meeting.

4:00 - Report-writing marathon.

6:00 - Cocktails with my buddy Josh, one of the most amazing chefs in the country.

Unknown - The cows come home...

 

Tuesday
Jul242012

[FIND] Expertise - Altruistic Reciprocity

How do we take simple truths from life and apply them to our business? Why do we so often forget that the way we conduct business is a reflection of the way we live our lives? 

M.L.K would ask if you plan to, "..walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." 

I have long held the belief, probably based on my early exposure to Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar, that the way to get the things I want is to help other people get what they want.

I watch PIs hoard secrets all the time. Find a new method, a new gimmick, buy a hot new gadget and then try to keep everybody else from learning about it. I see established PIs try to discourage others from learning their particular skill.

"I am the one who does surveillance the best. How dare you try and do what I do?" 

"How can you consider yourself an expert? You haven't done as many murder cases as I have." (Actual quote from an older investigator to one of the best criminal investigators I know.)

"I've spent years learning how to research, why would I dream of helping someone take my business?"

These attitudes are short-sighted. I like the idea of giving, freely and openly, without any specific agenda. Not just a Christmas box of cookies to the guy who assigns stories. (Though this is not a bad thing, it's nothing but marketing.) A gift of time, information, or friendship-sweat-equity, throwing in a few extra hours to help make a friend or colleague's life easier. 

Seth Godin says, "Sending someone a gift over the transom isn't a gift, it's marketing. Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment."

The winner, the gal who is seen as the leader in her industry, is often the one who freely trains and advises. The winner, the guy who owns the most successful company, is often the one who has time to grab a coffee. The winner, the boss who is a true leader, is often the one who encourages you to create your own business.

Winners are not afraid of losing. They know that helping other amazing people reach their goals is the easiest way to maintain their position of influence. And they honestly enjoy lending a hand.

Pay attention to the leaders in your community. Church, industry, rotary, chamber of commerce, whatever...the leaders, the ones who stand out, are always giving. They always have time to volunteer, to write a post, to share their tips, to lead. They always remember your name.

Here are a few leaders in our industry. These are the people who take the time to share their tips and tricks, their stories, their ideas. Pay attention to these folks, they are leaders. They give.

Brian Willingham, CFE, Anonymous PI, Scott B. Fulmer, Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, Dean A. Beers, CLI

Pay attention, too, to leaders in the business of encouraging startups: Seth Godin and Chris Guillebeau constantly inspire me with their energy and optimism, their generosity and approach to life.  -THH