Probably now more than any other time over the last several years, private investigators and process servers are required to become their own cheerleaders. In good economic times, the professionals in these fields have concentrated on surveillance, skips, and other related areas of operations and those services sold themselves. But with times being lean everywhere, they are having to put on yet another hat in order to not only keep their sales numbers up, but in some cases, even to survive. This seldom used hat, or in some cases brand new hat, is the hat of private investigator marketing and advertising.
Advertising can be a part of marketing, but marketing is not exclusively advertising. Marketing is anything that a business does to promote itself. There are literally hundreds of books and articles that have been written by successful entrepreneurs on how to market retail and even service businesses. But investigative and process companies are not only service businesses, but ones that at times, touch on high emotions and the personal lives of their customers. This combination can make marketing difficult. So what can an investigative firm or process service company do to stay viable?
When thinking about advertising and marketing for a detective agency, a lot of things come to mind. Unlike a typical retail business whose target demographic is within a few radius miles, this business has a demographic that is sometimes worldwide. That may amount to a small overall percentage of the year-end total, but every little bit adds up anymore. So as opposed to a local newspaper, flyers, or even radio advertising for a typical business, a detective agency has a lot more avenues that it can consider.
A detective agency needs to really sit down and map out who their clients are or who the clients are that they want to attract. They then need to figure out where these clients are located and just how they might go about connecting with them. Unlike a small retail or local business that is probably boxed-in to being local or maybe regional, this type of business can be local, regional, statewide, nationwide, and even worldwide.
A typical retail or local business may benefit from joining some associations. But, will it bring them any real additional business or sales? Most of the time, the best they can hope for is helpful hints and advice. Such advice or hints may include: how to lay out their floor plan, what a new product might be that is about to come out, or any number of cost cutting methods. But, this is not really the case for a detective agency.
Joining an association or a local chamber of commerce can help a private detective in at least two different ways. It can possibly open up the agency to any advertising or publicity sponsored by that group such as trade magazines, shows, and the like. It may also put the agency right in the middle of a networking bonanza, especially if that investigator is in a smaller area with not much competition. Should another agency who is out of that area need to accomplish some work in the area of you are in, they now have a possible source to get that done so they won’t have to travel a great distance.
Speaking of networking, there is probably a local chapter of a business networking organization in your area. The most popular one of these is based in California with several chapters throughout the United States. They meet once a week and the membership is around $300.00 a year, give or take. You have an optional lunch and then a networking meeting. The main goal is to keep as much money in the group as possible. There is only one type of business in each group also. One lawyer, one detective, one flower shop, etc. They work very hard to spend money back and forth in the group before going outside of the group.
What about different websites that gather together investigators and paper servers and their information? Subscribing to these can open you up to nationwide and worldwide exposure to potential clients. That is not only to target individuals; but law firms, insurance companies and again, the all-important networking aspect, too. Some sites will mention your company under a general heading, while others give you a chance to embellish yourself and your services. The cost varies widely and so does the style of the site and the benefit for you.
The tried-and-true method for your local and regional demographic area is the dependable yellow pages. There is a true benefit to being placed in the phone book. A lot of people still pick it up when they need something local, while checking the internet if it is out of their area. I have only tried this method of advertising once. I didn’t notice a big jump in business, but I don’t remember how and what I listed either.
Local advertising can be accomplished many ways and usually has a lot more flexibility than anything else mentioned. Newsletters, whether created in-house or purchased from a vendor, can accomplish a great deal. While establishing name recognition, they will also build credibility and will educate the reader on just what it is that you can do for them. Most two-sided newsletters can be done in-house for about ten cents apiece. I think the key to these is to hand deliver as many as possible. Mailing is fine also, but you don’t get the chance to walk into another person’s business and see them face-to-face. Idle conversations can sometimes lead to a new case or a new client.
Newspapers, radio, and television can help you with your local and regional markets. Newspapers, while seeming expensive, can get you into a small demographic that is still out there. Write a small article and offer it free to a newspaper and see how many comments you get off of the street if it gets published. They are still relevant, so far. The problem is figuring out what days and where in the paper to put your ad.
Radio and television cover a lot more area and are more widely used. Whether you want to target an established area you already have, offer a new product or service, or you want to expand your name into a new area, these two mediums can be very useful. The nice thing about radio and television is the flexibility. You can produce your spots and find that they are either not working or you may realize a new opportunity that just came to light by some area circumstance. An editing can be done on a portion of the spot without having to redo the whole commercial and problem solved.
There are several little things that an agency can do to help itself, also. Business cards, pens, and other novelty items can help. Have you ever noticed that everyone needs something to write on at one time or another? How about ordering some pads of paper with your business information across the top? The next time you are in the courthouse at the public terminals, drop a pad of 100 pages next to each computer. Three computers? There are 300 little business cards ready to walk out with some of the very people who are in your demographic!
Don’t hesitate to appear at a meeting, local or otherwise, and give a talk on something related to your field if asked. By donating your time and expertise, you have built some goodwill and name recognition. Have you been to a school or some type of training lately? Type up a paragraph about it and submit it to all your local media. Radio, television, and newspapers need fillers for their outlets at different times. And, they will publish these for free as long as they are not blatantly advertising your business.
One of the things that I have been doing the last month or two, is emailing fraud alerts for free to anyone who wants to be notified. The alerts may be local problems, like a rash of burglaries, or they may be a nationwide credit card fraud. Either way, people eat this kind of stuff up and think you are an expert in your field. I sent one out on New Years Eve and got a call from an Indianapolis radio station. They called back later at an agreed upon time and interviewed me live on the air about the alert. Didn’t cost me a dime. The nice thing about these is that you can subtly (or not) promote your business and services that you offer. They are your emails, your creation, and they are free. They can’t complain too much.
Lastly, consider publishing a monthly “Poop” sheet for your county. Take the civil and criminal records from the County Clerk’s office and compile them into a readable format. Add the deeds, mortgages, liens and releases, plus the federal bankruptcy information, and you have a collection of information that is desired by banks, real estate people, leasing companies, and short term lenders. I charge $15.00 a month. This also does something else for you. It puts a lot of people’s names in front of you that you are probably looking for to either serve a paper to or to investigate. This can be a wealth of information for your subscribers and for you at the same time.
Figure out a way to get to the important people in an attorney’s office, the secretaries, by maybe taking some snacks in to them every once in a while. Come up with new ideas that get you recognized by the local attorneys. It is all a production, so be your own star.
Dale R. Seward
P.O. Box 51
113 South Washington Street
Dale Seward had about ten years of law enforcement experience prior to starting his own private detective business. He has around six in the private field and specializes in business services, but also investigates criminal and several civil type cases.