Communication Counsel: Getting Real with Real-Time Marketing

Ask any content creator how they approach building out editorial calendars, and I guarantee that a majority of them will say they start by checking for holidays and other events to write content around. And can you blame them? We know timeliness is one of the key ingredients to building valuable content.  

Real-time marketing is when an organization engages with consumers as newsworthy or when global events are actually happening, in real time. Timeliness is essential for a successful real-time marketing campaign, and while launching real-time content around holidays may pose little risk, what happens when you get into the world of trademarked events like the Oscars, the World Series and the Super Bowl?

Know your legal limits

Throwing around “Super Bowl” on one particular Sunday in February seems to terrify marketers, and it should to a certain extent.   

“As a general rule, do not use hashtags, trademarks or taglines that can cause confusion as to the source of the product or service advertised,” says Ashley Brooks, a partner at Schroder Brooks Law firm, a firm that specializes in creative law. “Using #[Event] hashtags may cause a consumer to think that your brand is related to or sponsoring the event, or authorized to use it, when in fact you are not.”

Brooks goes on to say that many trademarked events have policies and guidelines on how and when their marks can be used.

“Alternatively, you can also seek permission from the owner of the mark. It’s not just trademark rights you run the risk of infringing either,” Brooks says. “Posting an image or meme from a movie or using other copyrighted material could be copyright infringement.”   

Be proactive and prepare in advance

Work with your legal team to plan your real-time marketing efforts – with both pre-written posts and designed graphics.

“Create a database of approved images and posts. Use the legal department to vet those images and create use guidelines,” Brooks advises. “This is also a great way to train and empower your employees and contractors on what’s appropriate to use and what’s not. You don’t need to worry whether you should have called for permission prior to using the information if there are guidelines in place.”

This may sound counterintuitive; after all, planned isn’t real-time, but having vetted and approved language in advance ensures you don’t get your hands slapped in the process.

Stay true to yourself

After all of this, real-time marketing works only if you’re talking about something that’s relevant to your organization. If you’re a B2B company that sells high-tech software, for example, posting about the series finale of “Game of Thrones” could be a departure of who you are and what your customers find valuable.

The next time you’re sitting in front of your friendly Excel file, pause and think about possible timely connections and start planning for them now.

“Remember that once something is seen, with social media it’s increasingly difficult to ‘un-see’ it, and likely the damage has been done,” Brooks says. “In addition to legal risks, there’s the even more daunting possibility of a bad PR moment. Understand not only the trademark and copyright issues, but also have a thorough understanding of any current events or trends that you may want to reference.”

Casey Prentice

A self-proclaimed organizational junkie and data geek who confesses to a secret desire to be a professional organizer, Casey enjoys account management, writing, editing and digital content strategy. Her agency work has helped clients like Virginia’s Community Colleges, VCUarts and Swedish Match.

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