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The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide: Part 8 – Legal Roles

Compliance, Regulations, and Guidelines - eLynxx Solutions

When you think of roles and functions that go hand in hand with each other; marketing and legal probably aren’t too high on your list. The fact is they work closer than you think, especially in marketing project management. We’re not saying that it’s common to have lawyers write copy, create designs, source materials or oversee distribution. However they will often be involved in those functions and more as compliance and contracts surround just about everything in today’s business environment.

Legal Compliance in the Marketing Supply Chain

We might as well start with the big gun that’s not always so obvious: intellectual property. Marketing material that does not contain some kind of intellectual property would certainly be an exception rather than a rule. Some organizations place stewardship of certain intellectual property like logos, slogans and other trademarked information in the hands of marketing professionals. They create and use some forms of IP, so they are expected to know the rules. Even in such cases it is not uncommon to for people in legal roles to be involved from time to time. In other cases legal is a standard part of the review and approval process regarding marketing materials. On the other side of the coin, especially in situations where comparisons are made or competition is very close, there may be legal concerns over the use or infringement on the IP of others.

We’ve all seen ads and marketing collateral that portray something outrageous to get our attention followed by a disclaimer. That often denotes the involvement of people in legal roles. If there is any risk of liability over real or perceived safety issues, product claims, or anything else that could lead to end-user endangerment or dissatisfaction, it’s a safe bet that legal staff involvement will be required. The same may hold true for any communication related to usage and assembly of products.

Giveaways, contests and sweepstakes are another area where legal involvement is common. Depending on the organization, its location and its target audience the laws surrounding promotions where “winning” is an objective can be deep and confusing. Ever see a promotion on a cereal package that refers you to a bunch of fine print that seems like a lot for sending in a box top? That’s not the work of some maniacal copywriter or just something lawyers do to irritate package designers; it’s the law and if it’s not done correctly it can be a costly mistake. Before it’s released to the public, or after something goes awry, legal will be involved at some point.

Targeting and execution can even be areas where legal becomes involved in marketing projects. For example there are various laws regarding promotion and packaging of products intended for children. Products that are considered to be “controlled” have restrictions and warning requirements for promotional and packaging materials. Non-profit and charitable organizations often come under different rules. Publicly-held organizations may have to follow requirements and restrictions of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Interstate Commerce Commission in their marketing. All of these situations will often trigger involvement of legal staff in marketing projects.

Just Sign on the Dotted Line…After Legal Approves It

Contracts are not something considered to be crucial to marketing – until the time comes that a contract is required to bring a marketing material project to fruition. Unless your organization’s marketing supply chain is completely internal, which is highly unlikely, you will rely on outside resources to get the job done. When you rely on outside resources contracts are a fact of life. When contracts are a fact of life legal staff will be involved.

Traditional contracts outlining all of the particulars of a business deal between two entities can exist at nearly any level and for any purpose. Common places where contracts will appear along the marketing supply chain include freelance creatives and analysts, agencies, vendors, printers, manufacturers, service bureaus, mail shops, transportation carriers, warehouses, distributors and media outlets. But the list doesn’t stop there.

Other forms of contracts, less common in other areas of business, are more common in the world of marketing materials. If models, spokespeople, voice-over artists or even testimonials and quotes are part of the project, releases may be required before the work can be made public. The same can hold true for photos, cinematography, written copy and designs even when created by an individual who is under contract, depending on the terms of their contract. Other times, especially when dealing with stock media such as photos, footage or music that was not originally created for the organization or its marketing, royalties or licenses may be involved. While releases, royalties and licenses might not seem as daunting as a thick contract; they can be just as complicated and the ramifications of non-compliance as severe.

Spotting the Legal Types in Your Organization

Legal departments vary in size and composition as much as any other department. There could be one person or a whole team. Some may even be outside resources on contract or retainer. Their titles will also vary as much as in any other department but their general areas of responsibility and interaction will be similar.

Generally at the top end of a large legal operation, or as a one person show in a smaller one, will be a chief legal officer, solicitor or other top level corporate attorney. If the organization is large, involvement should be similar to other C-level executives: top-level policy and major decisions. In smaller organizations this person may be involved with anything and everything.

Some organizations employ the services or specialty attorneys, either on staff or through retainers. When an intellectual property lawyer is present they will likely be involved with marketing material projects and the marketing supply chain at some point as their concern is focused on trademarks, logos, slogans, copyrights and patents owned by the organization. More concern over these areas may be noticed when agencies or other outside marketing resources are working with an organization’s IP as they may not be as familiar with it. Contract attorneys will be focused on the creation, review and execution of contracts between the organization and other parties. If specialty attorneys are not part of the legal team, those duties would revert to others on the team.

Lawyers are not the only roles to be found in an organization’s legal structure. Some organizations rely on paralegals along with attorneys. Depending upon the jurisdiction and situation of the organization a paralegal can often do a lot of what an attorney would do in a business environment. If paralegals are part of the team, they would conceivably be more likely to interact with the marketing supply chain on a regular basis than an attorney. Legal clerks or administrators are often seen in situations where the legal activities of an organization are frequent and consistent but there are not many lawyers or paralegals. As administrative level staff versed in legal matters and processes, legal clerks are often tasked with everyday legal matters and may serve as an initial point of contact.

As in all marketing supply chain roles, the legal ones in your organization may – and probably will – vary. You may even have roles or entire categories of roles that we have not discussed. Since it would be impossible to cover every unique circumstance, we focused on the roles that are likely to occur across a broad variety of organizations. As we close yet another chapter in the Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide, the seemingly unending combinations of roles further reinforces the importance of managing projects with tools and software not only built for the task, but tailored to your organization.

Join us next week as we open a new chapter investigating the kinds of marketing materials managed within the marketing supply chain.