If the need is for information on a specific company, and if research seekers are willing to believe what a company provides in its own literature, then it may be worth the effort to spend time evaluating company-provided information. While many materials published by organizations are promotional pieces (i.e., trumpets their successes), there may be a few gold nuggets of information found among the hype. Options for finding information include:
The first step to uncovering company-provided information is to visit the company’s website. For company websites that are densely packed with information, it may be more practical to search the site using an internet search engine. Search engines generally offer more robust search features than search options found on a company’s site. However, be aware that not all information available on a company website is indexed in a search engine especially information only accessible through a user login. Also, Since not all company websites have the same name as the company name, locating a corporate website can be time consuming. Certainly if the company name is known, using a search engine will almost always locate the website address. However, if the company name is not known then consider finding it by searching a business directory.
For publicly traded companies annual reports to shareholders may allude to quantitative information regarding the markets in which a company operates. For instance, these reports may mention the company’s market position within a particular product category. The reports may also suggest spending levels for marketing efforts as well as problems the company experienced while selling within a market. Most publicly traded companies place their annual reports on their website but there are also one-stop clearing houses that collect these reports.
A press release is a document intended to gain news media attention or to provide information to other company stakeholders, such as customers and investors (for more see Types of Public Relations Tools Tutorial). In general, press releases are part promotion and part useful information. For those seeking metrics for an overall market or industry the most useful releases are those provided by market research firms (see Market Research Companies in Data Collection: High-Cost Secondary Research Tutorial), who are using the release to sell their research reports (which are often quite expensive). To entice purchasers, the release may reveal some of the market statistics that can be found if the entire report is purchased. Most companies that issue press releases post them on their website often within a Media section where publicly issued documents are located. Alternatively, research seekers can locate releases through third-party wire services. Searching these sites may yield good data, however, most wire services only retain releases in their database for a month or two while a company site may retain the release for many years.
White papers are detailed, sometimes highly researched, documents intended to offer a much fuller picture of the capabilities of a product or company. Unlike an advertisement or press release, white papers are normally not promotional (though certainly some are) but rather, through strong writing and hopefully good research, these documents attempt to establish a level of credibility for a company and its products or services. Since many white papers are grounded in research these often contain good information, especially in terms of results of customer surveys, sales trends, and industry forecasts.
Unfortunately, many companies place all but the title and a brief abstract of their white papers behind a login (often free but requiring registration) and use these registrations to capture sales leads. Besides the obvious downside of having to give out personal information in order to access white papers located behind a login, search engines often cannot find much detail beyond the title and abstract. Consequently, doing an internet search containing metrics-related keywords (e.g., market share, return on investment, industry sales growth) may yield few results when in fact several white papers with this information do exist.
The best solution is to use search queries describing general industry or product terms (e.g., white paper on worldwide construction equipment) rather than using keywords referring to market statistics or specific market sectors or products (e.g., white paper on market share for tower cranes). The chances are much greater that a general keyword search for white papers will be successful since this information is more likely to appear in a white paper’s title and abstract which are accessible to search engines.
In addition to white papers, more companies are including presentations on their website. Most of these are in the form of slide presentations (e.g., PowerPoint), which may also include audio voice-over or YouTube videos.