It’s nice to see you again – why information professionals rely on face-to-face meetings

The process of intelligence gathering is as old as society itself. For one purpose or another, in peacetime or in war, people have been seeking relevant and actionable information that makes the difference between understanding the full picture, or not.

For businesses, fact checking ahead of a merger, acquisition or senior personnel appointment traditionally relies as much on face-to-face intelligence gathering as sourcing information from databases and registries. When Covid-19 and nationwide lockdowns stopped face-to-face meetings in their tracks, the business investigations and intelligence industry, which, amongst its many services, carries out due diligence and background checks on behalf of clients, was forced to cope with the new world order as best it could.

Restructure and recalibrate

Immediate restructuring and recalibration was required to adjust to the restricted landscape. This is why, as we ease out of this lockdown and with 17 May in our sights, information professionals are breathing a sigh of relief. Zoom and Teams calls may have filled some of the gaps, but in my view nothing beats a face-to-face meeting between an ‘inquirer’ and a ‘source’.

Of course, we are well aware that information gathering meetings carry a whiff of the mystique and thrill common to spy thrillers, but there’s no getting round the importance of going out into the field and speaking to people in person.

Questions over coffee

Over an informal meeting, coffee, lunch or evening drinks, we can ask much more naturally about the success, failures or issues within a company or with an individual. This aspect of information gathering is incredibly valuable for a company in the process of an acquisition or senior hire. From talking in person to a well-placed source or contact, we can interpret more accurately the important points someone is trying to convey, which outshines any public records research. These nuances are just not picked up from a phone or video call.

While Zoom and Teams calls seemed to have helped at the start of the first lockdown, the longer a lockdown lasted the more video call fatigue set in, and by the end of each lockdown it had become obvious that our intelligence sources were not engaging on a deeper, more meaningful level when talking to us via screens.

Deals are back

Now as the UK is exiting lockdown, businesses that might have been quieter over the past 12 months, may have rebooted their systems and are once again making deals more fluidly.

If your clients are operating in Europe or other parts of the world, they will need to be mindful that many countries are back in full lockdown and this will still add an element of delay when trying to obtain public documents such as company filings, property ownership details and archived court papers. And because of earlier lockdown delays, registries in countries working with fewer Covid-19 restrictions will still be working their way through the backlog of earlier enquiries, again slowing normal response times during due diligence. For the PR industry, this can make the difference between having to plan major announcements at least a month longer than normal while waiting for the due diligence to be completed.

Delays aside, the investigations industry is delighted to be emerging once again into the field, with the ability to deliver the scope of work that simply cannot be done from behind a desk.

Written by Nick Whetherly, MD of business intelligence agency Pelican Worldwide