That Brand? It’s Mine. No, really, it is.

I was reminded this week that, when it comes to brand protection, the majority of business owners actually know very little about their legal rights and that (probably thanks to the internet) a lot of misconceptions about copyrights and trademarks abound.

Prompted by a letter received by one of our clients, from a local business who felt that the use of certain words in a speech bubble in a design we produced constituted some form of commercial identity threat to their business, their naive claim that their brand was “copyrighted”  (followed by a swift and not so subtle sales pitch for the sale of their own design skills) got me thinking that it would be a good opportunity to outline what brand protections you actually have, and what business owners can do to further protect their company’s identity.

Let’s start with COPYRIGHT shall we?

As serious as the letter may have been, it actually made me laugh. Why? Well, simply put, they obviously hand’t a clue what they were talking about because copyright applies TEXT and text only. This article, for instance, is copyrighted which essentially means that if anyone wants to reproduce it in it’s entirety or part, they must either pay me for the pleasure or seek my permission. What it doesn’t mean is that I have copy “rights” over the individual words used in the article, just their specific arrangement in this context, on this occasion.

So, unless you are using made up words in your logo or company name, you have NO copyright over those words whatsoever.

Copyrighted text is identified with the use of a C in a circle symbol ( © ) and can usually be found as standard marks on websites, books, magazines and most printed publications.

So let’s take a look at TRADEMARKS then….How are they different?

Trademarks are long established or formally registered visuals and text that is synonymous with your company. In order to be protected, the business must pay to go through an extensive process that verifies your identity is unique to you and does not infringe on anyone else’s identity. You can trademark both the text AND ths visuals that help people identify your business or product and it’s advisable to do both at the same time.

A text trademark gives you rights over that combination of words,  used in the context of your business promotions and in specified industrial categories which you must choose as part of the application process. Non competing companies can have exactly the same words, and even a similar logo, registered as a trademark for a completely different industry without infringing your legal rights.

Put simply, if you haven’t parted with cash with the Intellectual Property Office and got a piece of paper saying your brand is a registered trademark, you have very little protection at all.

Trademarks that are registered bear the R in a circle signature ( ® ). Those brands that are NOT registered, or are pending registration, use the TM signature ( ™ ).

Of course, protecting your brand is one thing, but defending it is a whole other story. If you are serious about trademark defence, it’s probably best to familiarise yourself with the meaning of the phrase “cease and desist” and have a standard letter you can issue in the event someone steps on your branded toes. Trademark defences can be costly, but if the threat to your reputation or business is significant then it’s worth consideration. Trademarks can also be handy when dealing with multinational media such as Facebook and TripAdvisor and we’ve had several successes getting them to change damaging, duplicated or uncontrolled content on these sites by quoting client’s trademark rights.

And, if you ever come to sell your business, a registered trademark adds value to your business, affording the buyer peace of mind and ensures you can drive a return on your brand investment.

It’s the End of the (Media) World as We Know It

…..And I feel fine.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I feel a bit sad, in fact.

I had a business meeting on Thursday afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. The company I was meeting with was founded in 2010. It’s five years old. What was extra-ordinary is that it also boasts a daily media reach of over 720,000, that’s higher than the combined daily reach of The Sun, The Daily Record, The Herald, The Scotsman and The Metro. The combined daily reach. Quite understandably, it is now actively selling access to that audience in the more traditional form of paid for advertising.

If the owner, whom I know personally, had said to me in 2009 that they were going to start a company that in just 5 years time would eclipse the daily reach of Scotland’s biggest news titles with hundreds of years of heritage and readership behind them, I suspect I would have laughed. I suspect he would have too. In fact, I doubt it was ever his intention. But there you have it. It has happened anyway.

Setting aside their spectacular success which really is laudable, these staggering figures beg the question: what has gone so terribly wrong in the print media sector in that same period?

On Saturday I read an article in the trade press that suggested the PR industry may struggle if traditional print media outlets for their content dramatically reduced.

I’m not quite in agreement that the death of the traditional print media rings the death knell for the PR industry too. And for those that think it will, their definition of PR is simply too narrow. It’s public relations we deliver, not just media relations. And, as far as I can see, the public are still there and more engaged than ever before.

They are on social media, forums, online news sites, blogs, on the street, reading glossy magazines, speaking on their mobile phones, listening to radio programmes, watching TV programmes on catch up, browsing their tablets. They are omnipresent. They are just using a myriad of different communication and media tools. And the public relations industry just has to work harder than ever to reach them.

Public relations is alive and well, just simply morphing.

Four trends, in particular, are driving growth in the public relations industry and – if anything – the decline in print may well herald a clutch of new opportunities for the industry:

Disintermediation

This is the big one. Savvy public relations professionals are increasingly cutting out the middle man and going straight to market. They are working hard to build their own social media followings, and their own content delivery systems. They are calling them blogs or news and they are using established and new social channels and direct email channels to deliver their content direct to their markets.

This content may have traditionally found its way to the print press in years gone by – indeed, it may still be. But now businesses are taking responsibility for making sure it gets right in the hands of the customer. They are no longer taking a chance that it might be picked up in print.

The traditional skills of feature writing and news reporting are now firmly established on the agency and in-house side of the equation and are vitally important.

Social Engagement

A lot of the disintermediation has been driven by the exponential growth of social platforms. Not only was there a pull demand from the public to consume content direct from brands, there was a similar need to fill the void created by creating these channels with some form of intelligent content. This symbiotic relationship has complemented each other’s needs and driven growth on both sides.

Early misconceptions that social media was something to delegate to the office junior have faded and it’s become increasingly apparent that these social channels need well briefed and exceptional communicators to manage them. That requires excellent public relations skills, not just the ability to know how to log in to Facebook.

Crisis Management

You can’t beat a good media crisis in driving business for the PR experts. The nature of the media may have changed slightly but the rules largely remain the same, and some of the biggest communications crises of the last few years have played themselves out on social channels long before the traditional media have had the time to catch up with the narrative.

Getting ahead of the story now means a carefully crafted and swift 140 character response, or ensuring your market is communicated with directly and succinctly. That requires both skills and expertise.

Always On

It’s not really a 24 hour news cycle, is it? It’s more like a never ending stream of information, with the opportunities to interrupt and update available by the minute. We have more dedicated TV news channels than ever before. Radio streams 24 hours per day. Social media timelines fill up every second of every day. Online news sites are updated every few minutes.

Put simply, there are more opportunities for PR professionals to create breakthrough – day or night.

If that’s not keeping you busy, then what is?