I recently read an article by Joe Forward of the State Bar of Wisconsin titled “Lawyer Must Pay $4.2 Million for Unlawful Content Marketing Strategy”. It’s a must read for any marketing professional tasked with creating or distributing newsletters.
The title alone stopped me cold.
It is really easy to create costly content mistakes.
Many who have found their way into marketing, especially internet marketing, do not come with a formal education in marketing practices. With the world’s information at our finger tips, and a culture of crowd-sourced thinking, the lines of content use are practically blurred out of existence.
I have had formal training in marketing and advertising from one of the most prestigious public communications schools in the country. I was trained at a college where the bar for communication excellence was set exceedingly high, as evidenced by the “D-” 99% of my freshman journalism class received on our first writing assignment. (Welcome to SI Newhouse School of Public Communications. Buckle up.) We were taught – and expected to achieve – the same level of honesty and integrity in our public communication as the great Edward R. Murrow. Ethics and Communication Law were required courses.
Graduates of this school should not make costly content blunders.
My big content blunder came early in my career.
While I understood more than most the ethics and guidelines of creating content, I still made my own costly mistake.
Many years ago, early in my career, I was spear-heading a glossy four-color brochure for an engineering company. Review after review, month after month of pulling it together, my pre-maternal self joked that finishing this project was like giving birth. Fresh off the press, we sent copies to our thousands of clients, rolling it out to the ones highlighted in the brochure first.
And then I got the call.
Client X did not give us permission to use their project in the brochure.
What? We had been working on this brochure for months. Many eyes, including our clients’ eyes, had seen what was to be included. But somewhere along the line, the permission for using this project got blurry. We had assumed we had full permission.
I was devastated, embarrassed, and scared. More than anything I was disgusted with myself. This was one costly mistake. I had visions of re-printing 5000 copies of this monstrous thirty-two page 8×10 four-color glossy. (The brilliance of creating that enormous and expensive marketing piece can be debated in another post – I need to stick to one blunder topic at a time.)
My engineering boss, who not coincidentally was an excellent problem-solver, came to my rescue. After smoothing out the issue with the client (with words, not re-prints, thankfully), I documented the approvals from all the remaining clients, thanks to a carefully worded signature page.
Luckily, no other clients had issues.
Thanks to my sweet-talking boss, we avoided the costly re-run. Most importantly, every quote, every project, and every picture now had documentation of authorized use. We would not have anymore costly surprises. In the end, all that was lost was the two weeks it took me to obtain the client signatures.
Reading the headline about this attorney’s fate, brought this entire panic-attack of my own debacle back in the forefront of my mind.
We need to learn how to avoid costly marketing mistakes.
Twenty years into my career as a marketing professional in the AEC community, I have seen many others stumble into the same career path. It’s a career path that historically has had few marketing mentors, and often fewer rules and guidelines for marketing staff. Compared to its product marketing sibling, professional services marketing has always seemed a little more like the wild, wild west.
So in the spirit of learning from one’s mistakes, here are:
Five tips on how you can avoid costly mistakes with content.
1. Always get permission for your content.
Whether it’s a quote, a mention, even a link-back – reach out and get the permission to use it in your intended context. Not only is it common courtesy, but they might be interested in sharing the content! In instances, such as mine, where time passes, and intentions change, document the permission. Err on the side of caution.
2. Do NOT mess with copyright issues.
Every picture that you do not take is copyrighted by someone else, every word that you do not write is copyrighted by someone else. You either have to purchase the permission, or ask for the permission. If you ask for the permission, be sure you can show proof that permission was granted.
Copyright law exists, and it is enforced. It’s also unethical, and makes the violator look like an amateur or a jerk.
3. Understand SPAM regulations.
I know, it’s hard to think that anything we create as marketing professionals can be construed as that dreaded four letter word. BUT, spam law exists, and as a marketing professional, or a DIY-er, it behooves you know the rules. As this attorney found out, it can be a costly mistake.
For a refresher on SPAM regulations, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website here.
4. Abide by Opt-Out Requirements.
Even if what you deliver is not SPAM, people have the right for an easy way to say “enough is enough”. Opt-out requirements mean that any general marketing information has a real way of “unsubscribing”. Gone are the days when “unsubcribe” meant you were telling some spam bot that this was an active email account. Today, unsubcribe buttons are mandatory. (Go back to the FTC website, it’s part of SPAM regulations)
5. Give credit where credit is due.
This goes beyond what is required by law, and falls in the common sense category. Ideas, thoughts, inspiration come from all around us. We are influenced by so many others. Claiming an idea, design, or strategy as fully your own is naive and can cause resentment among your peers, or worse, your clients. Always acknowledge the influence of others. They’ll be happy, you will appear confident, and you will demonstrate you can take a good idea and elevate it. And it’s the right thing to do.
What do you think about these tips? What would you add? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.