Thursday, October 27, 2011

Should Legal Report to PR?

OK, it sounds ridiculous, but consider: Any company of size employs a public relations staff. It's how you acquire, manage and - hopefully - shape earned media. Public relations is taken very seriously, and invested in accordingly. A savvy PR staff can generate an outsized return on an investment in relationships and managing the company's image in the press.

Why then, do companies - like Sony Ericcson - continue to allow their legal departments to undermine that PR work?

Imagine the conversation if the Sony Ericcson legal group reported to PR:

PR: Wait, you want to do what?

Legal: There's a guy running a blog that has the name of one of our products in it. And get this - the domain he's using has our product name in it! We can't have that. We're going to threaten him with a UDRP action unless he shutters the blog and hands the domain to us.

PR: Haven't we talked about this? If there's someone hating on us, it's usually best to just ignore them? You know, Streisand Effect?

Legal: Oh, he's not a hater. It's a fan site.

PR: You want to take down a fan site? Someone is writing nice things about us for free and you want to stop them?

. . . you do know that we spend nearly $1 billion a year on advertising, right?

. . . and that this blogger is giving us free advertising?

. . . and that when he's forced to shut down he, and the 4chans and TechDirts of the world, are going to start saying all sorts of nasty things about us and how heavy-handed we are?

. . . which is pretty much the exact opposite of this department's primary goal?

But you're the lawyer - there must be a very good reason for going after this fan. Is he confusing lots of our customers?

Legal: No, it's clearly a fan site. But he's got an affiliate link where people can buy our products.

PR: Uh . . . we're kind of in the product selling business. So his site must be messing with our SEO, outranking our sites on Google?

Legal: Not yet, but it's a .net domain.

PR: It's a .net domain? You do know that a .net domain is the internet equivalent of second-hand store on a back street, right?

Legal: Look, the issue is that there's a chance that this use of our product name could dilute our brand and cause us to lose the trademarked name of the product. We've got to defend our trademark!

PR: OK. So stacked against the 100% chance that your letter will cost us - at a minimum - hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative publicity, what's the risk that this site being out there causes us to lose our trademark?

Legal: Oh, that would never happen. But it sets a bad precedent.

PR: [facepalm]

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