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Create Better Content by First Creating a Better Relationship with Your Lawyers

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Legal would not approve using this screengrab of Tom Cruise from “The Firm.”

Using Google Images can cost you thousands of dollars. A Jewel-Osco ad about Michael Jordan resulted in a decade-long lawsuit and millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. A Tweet triggers a $6M lawsuit. With every high-profile lawsuit, #socialmediafail hashtag, and cease-and-desist letter, we know lawyers and general counsel become more and more likely to pull out the red pen and cut anything that could be considered a legal gray area.

And so on we go, back to our desks to create content that will get approved. If it also happens to be funny, profound, engaging, or interesting, well, that’s an added bonus. The most important thing is getting it past Legal, right?  Wrong.

How did we let things get to this point? How did lawyers gain so much control over what we do and the content we create? How they did go from “General Counsel” to “What I Say Goes”?

It’s because they’re speaking a language that’s totally foreign to us. We accept their feedback because we are completely and utterly unfamiliar with things like copyright laws, regulatory guidelines, and legal precedents.

You see, their job isn’t to create engaging content. It’s not to accumulate likes, shares, or follows. It’s not to make something go viral. It’s to protect the interests of their organization. That’s it. That’s what they care about. No lawyer has ever been fired for saying “no” to a Facebook post. So, put yourself in their shoes – what incentive do they have to let you take any risk?

That communication breakdown is why I recently moderated a panel discussion for the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Pittsburgh chapter where I debated these topics with three intellectual property attorneys from The Webb Law Firm. I wanted to find out how content creators, PR people, and marketers can improve their relationships with their legal counsel. Here are three key takeaways for anyone creating content for their brand:

Do your own research. Your in-house legal counsel probably aren’t experts in copyright, intellectual property, or trademark law. Your job is to help educate them. Come to the meeting armed with knowledge about what is and isn’t allowed, what other brands have done and what the legal precedents are. Or, find a contact at a local law firm that does focus on these topics and connect them with your lawyers.  Demonstrate you’ve done the research and you’re comfortable enough with it that you can have a conversation about the benefits and risks.

“No” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. When asked a specific question, lawyers will give a specific answer. A question like “can I just take photos at this next event without needing to track down signed photo waivers for everyone?” will always result in “no” for an answer. However, by following that up with “but what if I posted a film and photography notice with all of the appropriate disclaimers at all entrances to the event?” you’ve now provided a potential solution that allows for compromise.

Resist the urge to make user-generated content more than it is. A celebrity’s video goes viral and she’s wearing a shirt with your logo on it? Retweet it but don’t imply that she endorses your brand because of it. A fan uploads an Instagram photo of him drinking your brand’s beverage? Like it, comment on it, but don’t download it and share it on Twitter with your own take on the photo. Brands get themselves into trouble when they try to modify external content, share it across channels where it wasn’t posted originally, or imply endorsement. The safest thing to do is ask for permission, attribute it correctly, and stay within the same channel (that way, you’re protected by the terms of use for that platform).

With a little research and a lot of empathy, you can help turn your brand’s lawyers into a content creation resource, rather than an adversary.

For more information on content curation and whether or not you can fall into legal trouble, take a look at The Webb Law FirmPRSA’s informational guide about copyright or visit lawyer, blogger and speaker Kerry O’Shea Gorgone’s blog that discusses legal issues social media marketers can face.

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Is Our PR Community Part of the New Pittsburgh or the Old One?

This post originally appeared on PRSA Pittsburgh’s blog. 

Kayaks on the Allegheny

Creative Commons image from Flickr user Slackley

In this month’s Pittsburgh Magazine, there’s a story highlighting how millennials are literally and figuratively transforming my hometown.

Where there once existed the attitude that young people had to leave Pittsburgh to find a career, there’s now a sizable part of our city that feels is staying in Pittsburgh to create their career. And people around the country are taking notice.

From startup incubators to entrepreneurs to civil activists, Pittsburgh is attracting a demographic I grew used to being surrounded by over the last 12 years in both Washington D.C. and Chicago. People who care more about making an impact rather than getting a promotion. People who volunteer alongside competitors and clients to advance a cause they believe in. People who go to as many networking events, conferences, and happy hours as they could just to be a part of the energy around them.

When I moved back here in August, my friends and colleagues all asked if I’d miss that feeling, that energy. They said that atmosphere doesn’t exist here because if you’re talented and ambitious, you know better than to stay in Pittsburgh. They said I’d miss that vibe and that I’d wish I didn’t move. They said Pittsburgh is where you go if you can’t hack it in a bigger city or when you’re ready to slow down and take it easy.

I want to prove them wrong.

Pittsburgh and other mid-size cities get a bad rap in the PR and marketing industry. “You need to be in NYC to get access to the media,” they say. “The most creative work comes out of the big agencies because they can afford the talent,” they say. There’s a hell of a lot of talent outside of New York and Chicago that tends to get lost because, paradoxically, PR people generally do an awful job at promoting themselves. Even in our own city, it’s the startups in the East End, or the CMU engineers, or the foodie restaurants that are opening up who get all the attention for the “new Pittsburgh.” Where’s the PR, advertising, and marketing community in all of that?

I want to show them that we’ve got some cool things up our sleeves too.

And I think there’s a whole lot people here in the Pittsburgh PR community who feel the same way. Whether it’s the wonderful team that I have at my agency or the enthusiastic PRSA Pittsburgh Board members or the people I met last night at the PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Awards, I’ve seen that ambition and desire to make an impact, to be at the tip of the spear of something big. The potential is there.

This year, let’s show the rest of this city and the country what we’ve got here.

Let’s commit to never saying “because that’s how things have been done before.”

Let’s do a better job at educating the people in our organization about the value we bring.

Let’s collaborate and come together more often (virtually and physically) to learn from and push each other to do big things.

Let’s think bigger.

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