By Cynthia Hetherington

Thorough research is necessary in any type of investigation and requires knowledge of available sources and services to accurately answer the questions asked. Whether you are an investigative journalist, researcher, a special agent, or private investigator, it is necessary to implement a consistent methodology that allows you to approach your research in a systematic way, record your findings, and report your analysis.

In this 4-part series, Hg’s Cynthia Hetherington walks you through online and offline resources, how to collect and track information, the importance of understanding the market and industry, and how to use government agency resources. Last week, she discussed how to collect and track information. This week, she shares a corporate case study and how understanding the market and industry informed her work and benefited her client.

Know the Market & Industry

 “I may not have a lot of knowledge, but I know where to find mountains of information.”

Good investigators locate information by knowing where to focus their research efforts. Looking for data about an insurance company or an auto manufacturer will still require a Dun & Bradstreet report. Knowing that A.M. Best Company and International Insurance Industry are sources for rating insurance companies will enhance the report from standard off-the-shelf generalist information.

A great resource tool for industry and corporate research for general business information is Hoovers has both free and fee services that offer quick and concise information. Hoovers provides key points such as geography, industry, people, company description, and competitor identification; however, it will not tell you how a company’s property and casualty insurance compares to its competitors.

Using media sources, you may find a hundred articles written about Ford Motor Company. However, you will not see any detail of union concerns or gain insight as to why its plants are closing until you search further and read the trade magazines that focus on auto manufacturers.

As cases come and go, you will be exposed to many new, unique markets that you did not know a thing about before you started, but as you finish your final report, you will feel like an expert. In one case, I was tasked with locating peanut processing plants in South America. My client wanted to sell his peanut factory and requested that I find the top three likely purchasers. I started searching by peanut processors but was too limited in my approach. So, using the taxonomy principle, I built a word list that included the term “nut.” However, searching for nut processors broadened the search too much, resulting in a list that included all legitimate and inappropriate contenders. Once I realized that I was searching too broadly, I stepped back and decided to educate myself on the peanut industry. I went to Hoovers and searched by industry keyword “nuts.” The results came back as follows:

  • Crop Production (found within Agriculture)
  • Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Production (found within Agriculture – Crop Production)
  • Hardware & Fastener Manufacturing (found within Industrial Manufacturing)
  • Industrial Manufacturing
  • Snack Foods (found within Food)
  • Steel Production (found within Metals & Mining)

Choosing Crop Production offered an insight into this industry, defining it as companies that grow, harvest, process, and package agricultural crops both for food and non-food products. Further research also led to the following:

  • Most-Viewed Crop Producers
  • Other Industries Related to Crop Production

By using a combination of taxonomy, tracking, and common-sense research, I was able to get a sense of the market, who the players are, and what other industries are associated with peanuts.

Using Industry Journals

Specialized trade journals, reference sources, and industry-specific publications offer in-depth analysis of the minutiae within their targeted industry. Industry journal writers are generally experts in their fields. Since the writers may be business developers, company presidents and chief executive officers, they tend to write at a higher level of specificity. Generalization is exchanged for details. Interviews with key people turn into personal exchanges between interviewer and interviewee. Mutual trust and respect between journalist and interviewee increases because each speaks the same language, resulting in a knowledge-based exchange that can be very insightful. Often, movers and shakers in the industry are profiled in each issue, noting who is moving to which company, who has been bought or sold, and what new products are being released. These specialized journals are published by trade associations, industry-targeted publishers or companies themselves. Keep in mind that advertisers need to be appeased, so there will be some bias.

Are you an analyst or investigator looking for introductory training on conducting OSINT investigations? If so, check out Hg’s recorded webinar, Open Source Intelligence—Start to Finish. This introductory primer series will teach you the types, differences, and jargon of open source investigations; learn how to in-take an online case, understand the parameters of the work, establish goals, and create investigative notes.


With over twenty-five years of global experience in open source investigations and one of the first investigative firms to conduct online social media investigations, Hetherington Group develops advanced cyber investigations unique to your needs. Learn how Hg’s analysts can clear through jargon and uncover answers buried deep in open sources, social media pages, and Dark Web sites.


Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.