The Vendor Experience – the tools of our trade

Here at Phelps Research, we use a wide variety of tools for gathering and processing the information our clients crave. Without these tools, I couldn’t run my business, and without the benefits I receive from my membership in the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), I wouldn’t be able to access them without charging much higher fees for our work product.

These benefits are in the form of special discounts and pricing models for information-related products such as databases, document delivery services, and more. Most – especially in the case of the database products – offer transactional pricing instead of requiring pricey subscriptions and long-term contracts, both difficult for our members, who generally run small, independent businesses. Of course, AIIP Industry Partners and Affiliates, as they’re called, receive the usual sponsor benefits, including exhibit opportunities and access to the member mailing list. Another benefit – one that’s pretty difficult to measure – is how much influence AIIP members often have over decisions our clients (often in large enterprises) make about buying information content. Also, many of our members are thought leaders in the industry and frequently speak and publish articles about these products.

Today I had the honor of participating in the Vendor Experience session at the AIIP annual conference in Irvine, California. During this session, a group of AIIP members and vendors discussed how the association’s vendor benefits add value to our businesses. It was great hearing from our representatives at ProQuest and Reprints Desk about their current offerings. Even some local reps from Dow Jones attended, although we don’t currently have an AIIP  agreement with the firm – which as I take as a good sign that the company is renewing their interest in our small, yet mighty, group.

After that, Mary Ellen Bates, Cindy Shamel, and I shared examples of how we use our vendor benefits. While we have different types of business models and clients, all agreed on three basic issues regarding fee-based information sources:

1. These tools are essential – Yes, we can often get it for “free,” and you can find more and more great content on the free web, but professionals know that the fee-based sources are worth their weight in gold.

2. The tools we use and the way we use them have evolved over the years as our clients, projects, and the tools change. – As a professional, it’s always a good idea to refresh sources and learn how to finesse their features to get the most out of our investments.

3. Our knowledge of and access to these premium databases elevate our value in the eyes of our clients – Recommendations and suggestions regarding information sources often help fill unmet needs. We are constantly seek out ways to make a client’s job a little easier.

After we shared our examples it was clear that, as a due diligence specialist, I use these tools differently from my colleagues. It’s not a matter of deciding which to use. For me – and everyone on the team at Phelps Research – it’s a matter of using them all. In due diligence, “good enough” depends on the client’s level of risk, but the very nature of the work requires us to be comprehensive – or at least as comprehensive as possible (“Finding Everything” is another topic for another post.).

We use what’s known in the business as “The Big Three” for our media reports – LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva, and ProQuest Dialog – the largest premium databases of articles from newspapers, trade publications, and other business content. In addition, I’ve developed a process for using them, which allows us to work quickly and efficiently. Here’s how it works:

1. Start with LexisNexis – Thanks to our AIIP benefits, we have access to one of the largest libraries of business news, with precision tools for speed and focus. And thanks to the excellent flat-fee plan they offer, we’re able to download as many relevant articles as possible, sometimes hundreds relating to one subject.

2. Move to Factiva – With it’s unique Dow Jones content, including the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s – essential for creating investigative profiles on investment professionals – this is a must-have resource. We scan results for articles not found through LexisNexis. Great per-article pricing makes this unique content accessible (Yes, I know Factiva no longer offers transactional plans. I was fortunate enough to be grandfathered in.)

3. Finish with Dialog – Since moving to its ProQuest platform at the end of 2013, Dialog dropped a lot of its business content, causing its move to the last stop in the process. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable, because Dialog helps us find that golden nugget – a press release from 1980 that fills in some blanks in the work history or a wedding announcement with a first wife’s name.  Dialog goes back far and digs deep, essential for due diligence investigations.

Our investigative research process also includes the free web, social media, public records, and more, and we have processes for those, too. But we can’t do without our premium sources  – each and every one of them.

What are your go-to premium tools for media searching?


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