As a marketer, you understand that your clients rely on you to consistently produce and implement creative and innovative marketing ideas. A particularly clever or creative marketing idea or method is a very valuable, and vulnerable, piece of intellectual property (IP) and is one of the most critical business assets you have. As with anything of value, you are responsible for protecting it from harm and theft if you intend to keep it. If not managed properly, colleagues, rivals, and prospective clients are all potential idea high-jackers. That’s why savvy marketers arm themselves with the knowledge of how to protect their work.
The good news? You don’t have to go into hiding every time you have a stroke of marketing genius. Read on for some simple measures you can take to protect your marketing ideas and methods.
Determine if your idea can be copyrighted, trademarked, or patented:
- Copyright protects original works of authorship and applies to any work once it is available in a tangible form. For instance, you cannot copyright a thought or a spoken idea, but once that idea is recorded or written down, copyright is automatically applied. You can register for a copyright, but it is not necessary to be protected by law. Some examples of marketing items that can be copyrighted include blog postings, white papers, headlines, tag lines, infographics, jingles, etc.
- Trademark protects names, brands, symbols, and logos. If and when you come up with a new logo or branding concept, you should apply to have it trademarked so others cannot steal it.
- Patents protect inventions. While this measure generally won’t apply to you, if you do happen to develop a new technological system for marketing or a new app, it may be eligible for a patent.
Keep a small team that you trust around you when you are hashing out a new marketing idea. A marketer is not an island, and cannot operate alone—without proper testing and support, an idea can get shot down before you even have a chance to fully explain it, or stolen. Just be careful not to stray too far outside your circle of trust until your idea and plan are fully baked.
Avoid talking about the idea until you have a rollout plan in place. Pitching an idea too early or sharing it with colleagues prematurely can lead to the idea getting high-jacked. If you mention your idea in a meeting, other people will likely add to the idea and the fact that it was your original thought will be lost. The best course of action is to wait until you can pitch the idea to a manager or supervisor in private, and then bring it to a wider audience.
If you are working as a marketing consultant, create a non-disclosure agreement that you can have your clients sign before the pitching process begins.
Structure your marketing pitches in a way that doesn’t reveal all aspects of the marketing plan. Give your prospective clients just enough to get the gist and leave a good impression, but not so much that you reveal the “aha!” of the plan.
Always document your meetings, presentations, and feedback. Whether your idea is high-jacked by a colleague or stolen by a prospective client, documentation proving that the idea was originally yours will be useful in taking action toward getting your deserved credit or compensation.
Develop a social media policy to avoid trade secrets or ideas from accidently leaking out through your social channels. While this policy will outline many things, the important sections regarding protection of your ideas and intellectual property include a list of your company’s authorized spokespeople, and a breakdown of how the company’s trademarks and content can and should be used. Policies should be updated regularly to reflect changing technologies and trends.
Always be prepared. The Boy Scouts definitely got this one right—having a plan in place in the event that an idea or secret gets out is a must. Keeping good records of all interactions and dating all written materials provides a great resource for proof (should you need it to back up a copyright claim or defend yourself from an infringement accusation). If you work with a team, be sure that your team understands when an idea or plan is confidential. Uninformed teammates or employees can ruin a competitive advantage by innocently leaking intimate ideas and secrets, not realizing that they were meant to be private.
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