In my last post, I talked about the portrayals of investigators and investigation, and how often Hollywood gets it wrong. Today I want to talk about how those fictional depictions have shaped the public’s perception of what private investigators do.
For people that have never hired or talked with a private investigator, Hollywood portrayals define the public’s perception of us.
TV and film not only shape the public’s perception those of of us in the investigative profession actually do; for people that have never hired or talked with a private investigator, these portrayals define the public’s perception of us. For better or worse, I’ve accepted this as a reality.
What I find really amusing is when all the silliness finds a way to bleed back into reality.
Case in point: Take a look at just about any Web site for a private investigator. You’ll find nearly universally-used stock photos that feature some guy in a Humphrey Bogart Fedora and trench coat, the Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and pipe, and (worst of all) the detective’s spy glass. Long before the Internet, all the Yellow Pages ads contained these photos.
Later, when I first hired the web development and marketing firm that has been working with us for nearly 10 years, they correctly identified this issue and imposed a strict edict to avoid these sorts of cliches on the Martin Investigative Services Web site and in our marketing materials. As much as possible, we’ve tried to put forward the reality of our business and profession – in an honest, straightforward manner. So far, I think we’ve accomplished this.
Another amusing thing I see in TV and film are the private investigators that dress up in casual clothing. Magnum PI comes to mind, but there are a number of examples.
Professional private investigators typically wear suits or business attire. Aside from the professional appearance, it’s likely also for reasons of habit: Many of us used to work in Federal or State law enforcement. While it’s true that anyone can get a PI’s license, for the most part professional private investigators (or at least the ones with any talent for it) have some sort of law enforcement experience in their background.
People usually believe what they see in entertainment is what we do. If you think about it for more than two seconds, nobody in their right mind would even consider hiring a private investigator wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a deerstalker, etc. The things we are willing to accept on television and film are often very different than the things we are willing to accept in real life.
What we actually do
Private investigators discover proof. What that proof is varies from job to job.
I often find that most people believe that the main thing we do is trail and catch cheating spouses in the act. While this is something we do on a regular basis, it represents probably about 15% of our overall case load. The remaining 85% concerns cases that run the gamut from employee theft at corporations, finding missing persons and teen runaways, bug sweeps, investigating fraud, supporting attorneys with evidence and expert testimony, and providing thorough background investigations, among many other types of cases.
I’ve worked thousands of cases. I’ve seen some very odd and shocking things. I’ve got hundreds of great stories that I can talk for hours about. But I’ve never seen a case remotely as fantastic as the ones that typically on TV each and every week. Sorry to disappoint, but most of our jobs are fairly straightforward.
The people that hire us
On the other hand, the reasons people hire a PI are actually somewhat in line with the popular conceptions and Hollywood portrayals.
Our clients require proof that can free them of a problem. They typically want to move forward, gain closure, see justice, or get an edge over a competitor.
Our clients require proof that can free them of a problem. They typically want to move forward, gain closure, see justice, or get an edge over a competitor. Their reasons are often personal, or have direct relevance to running a business smoothly.
What people tend not to see in the romanticized view of professional investigators is what separates the best from the rest: The ability to gather this proof in a manner such that it is fully-admissible in a court of law. This simple distinction can make all the difference in a court case.
On a personal level, the next steps are almost equally important. What comes after the truth is revealed? Put yourself in the shoes of the client that finds out his best friend and business partner has been stealing money and assets from him, or the wife that finds out her husband of 40 years has been having an affair. I think it’s a responsibility (or at least it helps me sleep at night) to help people with the next steps. That can mean helping to find an attorney, psychologist, or other professional that can not only establish a resolution to the problem, but with the means to move forward in life.
I suppose you see some of this depicted in film and TV. Triumph over tragedy or adversity is a great ingredient in the stories we all love. From time to time we hear back from our clients, and I feel a great amount of pride when I hear how well they are doing many years after our case together.
Private investigators discover and present proof, and maybe help people move forward after that. That’s it. I find that the work we do, at one point or another, applies to just about everyone.
If you are finding there are seemingly near-insurmountable obstacles in your path, call our toll-free number and my staff will make every effort to assist you.