Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence (CI) is defined as “the focused and coordinated monitoring of an organization’s competitors, wherever and whoever they may be.” (1)

CI also concerns what an organization’s competitors will do before they do it. The objective of CI is not to steal a competitor’s trade secrets or other proprietary property, but rather to gather in a systematic, overt (i.e., legal) manner a wide range of information that when collated and analyzed provides a fuller understanding of a competitor firm's structure, culture, behavior, capabilities and weaknesses.

Some Common Goals of CI are:

- Detecting competitive threats
- Eliminating or lessening surprises
- Enhancing competitive advantage by lessening reaction time
- Finding new opportunities (2)

CI in Public Relations

PR practitioners understand the importance of CI in enhancing the efficiency of communications activities and, more important, ensuring the positive impact of those activities on the financial performance of the firm. CI is valuable as a flexible foundation for the tools communicators use every day, and CI invests those tools with the intelligence required to guarantee their success. By transforming “information” into strategic intelligence, CI has become the driving force behind improved awareness and understanding of critical competitive issues, resulting in enhanced communications programs and clear competitive advantages for communicators. (3)

Major ethical mistakes in CI

Some organizations have been known to use underhanded tactics to obtain CI. There are many examples of ethical and legal violations by companies that have crossed the line in their CI methods. (4)

A famous example is detailed below:

In a prominent Canadian case which took place in 2006, Westjet airlines admittedly used a former Air Canada employee’s password to gain access to Air Canada’s employee website in an effort to obtain confidential information about the airline. WestJet also said the decision to garner data about its rival by using a former Air Canada employee's password to gain access to an Air Canada Web site hundreds of thousands of times "was undertaken with the knowledge and direction of the highest management levels of WestJet" and was not halted until Air Canada complained.

In addition to paying $5.5-million to Air Canada in damages, WestJet agreed to donate $10-million to children's charities in the names of both airlines. That is in exchange for having the legal proceedings against it dropped and Air Canada's claim of $220-million in damages withdrawn. (5)

About the SCIP

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is a global nonprofit membership organization for everyone involved in creating and managing business knowledge. The group’s mission is to enhance the success of their members through leadership, education, advocacy, and networking.

Specifically, SCIP provides education and networking opportunities for business professionals working in the rapidly growing field of competitive intelligence (the legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors). Many SCIP members have backgrounds in market research, strategic analysis, or science and technology.

Established in 1986, today SCIP has chapters around the world, with individual members in nations around the globe. In addition, SCIP has alliance partnerships with independent affiliate organizations in many countries. (6)

SCIP Code of Ethics for CI Professionals

The SCIP holds members accountable for adhering to the following code of ethics. This code of ethics is the widely accepted and acknowledged code among CI professionals. It requires members:

- To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.
- To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.
- To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one's identity and organization, prior to all interviews.
- To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one's duties.
- To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one's duties.
- To promote this code of ethics within one's company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.
- To faithfully adhere to and abide by one's company policies, objectives and guidelines. (6)


(1) Swartz, N. (2005). Competitive intelligence underutilized. Information Management Journal, 39(3), 10.
(2) Sammon, W. (1985). Business competitor intelligence. John Wiley & Sons: New York.
(3) Penoyer, R. (2002). Public relations, communications and CI. Retrieved Wednesday, November 11, 2009 from

(4) Carr, M. (2005). Super searchers on competitive intelligence: The online and offline secrets of top CI Researchers. Information Today, 22(3), 43.
(5) Ratner, J. (2006). WestJet apologizes to Air Canada for snooping. Retrieved Thursday, November 12, 2009 from

(6) Garrison, K. (2008). Society of competitive intelligence professionals. Retrieved Friday, November 13, 2009 from