A Decision Process-and What to Do if You Do

Lisa McCann
Senior Manager Client Services and Brand Protection, Avaya

For many situations or tasks that brand protection professionals confront, internal resources will suffice, as the chart shows. But for others, engaging an external investigator may be the right approach. So what steps should you take next?

Maybe you need to identify investigator options or perhaps you have a referral or someone you’ve used in the past. Before you engage any investigator, there are important additional considerations you should make to set up you, your investigator, and your company for the best chances of success in reaching your brand protection goals and making good use of your company resources. Whatever your specific need—e.g., digging up some useful information to propose an informed recommendation, or getting a more definitive answer on how much time to spend on a certain task—there are some things you can do to make a thoughtful approach and avoid unnecessary expenses and potentially an outcome that does not serve your purposes.


Start small. If you are using an investigator for the first time, it’s a good idea to perform a pilot or test project with a relatively small scope—though also complex enough to get a good feel for your investigator’s potential.

Understand an investigator’s background and find a good fit that aligns well with your desired activities and objectives. Even if you were given a referral from someone you trust, be sure to ask investigators directly for a recap of their skills and expertise and ensure they are well aligned with your needs. Consider: Have they worked in your industry? Is the investigative task focused and, if so, is the investigator an expert for your specific work?  Does the investigator have a long history of positive results? Make sure you are well prepared to explain to your internal stakeholders why your investigator is reputable. Depending on the task, there may also be a need to defend your investigator’s reputation in a court of law. If so, you should spend even more time vetting, have on file a complete summary of their work and qualifications, be aware of whether they have provided expert testimony in the past, and review that testimony if possible.

What is their operating model? Is this a one-person company or do they coordinate the work with other third-party investigators? Would they be able to scale-up if the scope of the work broadens? How do they ensure your requirements (such as need for confidentiality) will be communicated to others involved?

What are their investigative methods? It is useful to know how they complete their work and to confirm they will be comfortable sharing information in a manner that meets your expectations. Will you have a need for real-time results? Do their methods align with your reporting needs and technological requirements? Asking the investigator to walk through some of ways they’ve addressed a similar task or objective in the past will provide insight into their methodology and allow you to get an idea of the steps that will be performed. 

Discuss expectations. Include service commitments and two-way expectations for confidentiality or anonymity. You will need to be prepared to discuss the need and reasons for anonymity to be sure using the investigator will alleviate your concern in this area. The investigator may also have confidentiality requirements to ensure any actions you require keeps them protected as well. What about those urgent needs for feedback you may have identified? Can the investigator commit to a timeframe during which your work will be performed for future issues that may arise? How available should you expect them to be? Understand lead times, and their planning resource constraints in relation to necessary activities.

Be specific in your instructions and expectations. Being specific will help to avoid a scenario where questions remain unanswered or a result is questioned.  The specific details desired should be covered for the simple “why/how” questions so there is neither confusion nor any unnecessary time spent on redundant information. Specifically ask for the answers to questions that you need answered. If this is work that your team has carried out or had someone else do before, think back to what issues you encountered and how you addressed them, then lay out these potential pitfalls to prevent similar issues from arising with this investigator.

Be broad in sharing your context. This may seem to contradict the step above. But while you should give your investigator enough specific information to understand the particulars of your case, you should also provide context or background information as well as end-goal expectations. This will give the investigator room to uncover the unknown or give you new, unexpected insight into your goal. Maybe the investigator has been drawn to freelance work because they’ve found they thrive on their own terms. A good investigator will lead you as much as you lead them.

Manage the budget. Establish checkpoints and the associated budget for each. Build checkpoints in to align on decisions and next steps and be sure any expectations for invoicing or payment are known. Give projected spend and authorized spend (do not exceed amounts, where appropriate).

Define deliverables. Set reporting expectations and categories. Can you lay out the format most useful for your next step in the internal process, such as reporting and addressing any subsequent questions, or requirements for record and evidence retention? The more you can show the investigator how to help you, the more likely you will get the help you need.

When the first engagement is completed, be sure to critically evaluate the results, how it went, and what could be improved. Were your expectations met? Did the benefits justify the cost or should you look back to internal resources? If your needs change or your expectations are not being met, switch (quickly) if necessary. Be open to change. As business needs change, so should your use of investigators.