Competitive Intelligence in 1985

ImageWhen I wrote my Pecha Kucha presentation for our SLA Competitive Intelligence tournament, I decided to go back in time to 1985, the first year I focused entirely on competitive intelligence. This is the first in a series about how I evolved in my career in competitive intelligence, and what I have learned over time. Overall I am glad I had a start back then for the critical thinking and deeper relationships I developed. I am glad to still be in this field today where I can reach out to sources quickly that I would never have dreamed even existed, thanks to social networking.

1985 was a very different time and I will focus on the US.

  • Gas was $1.09/gallon
  • Movies were $2.75
  • Rent averaged $375/month
  • The Fed’s interest rate was 10.75%.

Technical differences were also noteworthy:

  • Windows 1.0 was introduced
  • CDs were introduced in the US in 1985
  • The first mobile telephone call was made in the UK by Ernie Wise

I started to focus on what we called competitive analysis just before the Society of Competitive Intelligence (SCIP) was formed, and didn’t learn about SCIP until 1989, two years before SCIP published its first membership directory. I worked for Bell Atlantic, a new company then, a Baby Bell from the initial AT&T divestiture. We were working out our company infrastructure as I was figuring out how best to provide and collect competitive intelligence.

I did not have a PC at my desk. My telephone was the most immediate form of communication with most of the company, although I could easily have in-person meetings with our product and marketing managers who sat close-by. In fact I had to be careful not to attend too many of their meetings else I wouldn’t get my work done. It correlates somewhat to spending too much time on email and social networks today.

We shared a fax machine among many of us, and waited in line at the photocopy machine. Secretaries typed up memos and reports. We took notes by hand. We memorized people’s phone numbers and had a Rolodex of names. I cross referenced my Rolodex names by job function in case I forgot a person’s name. We used company mail and US mail (which we didn’t call snail mail) for written communication.

Presentations would be typed up, given on overhead machines or written up on flip charts. I spent less time putting together presentations through these primitive means than I do today on PowerPoint decks since our standards were lower. I think people spent more time listening to what you had to say back then, since what you produced wasn’t much to look at. It also meant you had to know your stuff since there wasn’t the crutch of media to support you. People asked more questions and had more comments since they couldn’t easily get smart before a meeting like we can today by accessing the Internet to read up a bit.

I read the news in hard copy. We distributed news sources like Time, Business Week and Fortune among ourselves. I got my own copy of The Wall Street Journal which I read daily. We noted who got which industry consultant reports and subscriptions throughout Bell Atlantic. It could be that our Philadelphia office would get the only copy of an expensive industry report, and we would have to wait our turn to read it due to copyright issues.

The first organizational thing I did was a personal SWOT. My strength has always been visionary. I can see the big picture pretty readily and am creative. I am not strong with the details and execution although I am highly intuitive. I was lucky and found a wonderful lady to work with who was great with people and had a similar work ethic to mine. Unlike me, she was attentive to detail and great with execution. Over time we became a strong team, and are still friends some 25+ years later, although we live 2000 miles apart.

Our opportunity and our immediate threat were the same thing:

  • Learn how each of our regions communicated
  • Learn each region’s culture
  • Learn how individuals were motivated to share
  • Learn how individuals and each region would accept facts and ideas from a centralized group outside their region, namely us

We had to talk with each other more often than we do today, since there was no email; no voice mail or social media connection. I got copies of company’s (competitor’s) press releases from my company’s industry liaison person soon after she received them, so I could pass on the scoop to my company clients.

We had to use our creativity to achieve real-time intelligence, since people were our only real-time source, and we had fewer people we could reach out to since our world was smaller. On a positive note, our relationships with people were deeper, perhaps since we had fewer relationships. Our critical thinking skills were naturally sharpened with these deeper relationships. I had a few people outside the company that I had provocative discussions with often. These people helped me reach outside of Bell Atlantic’s culture and expand my vision of the competitive environment.

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2 Responses

  1. Fascinating story Ellen – keep ’em comin’!

  2. Thanks Arik. I need to be egged on since I haven’t had too much time to blog this summer. The PK was fun, and my prep took me back to my roots. We often get hung up in the present and looking forward that we forget to look back, and retain good practices from the past.

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