When Things Fall Down: Your Agency’s “Fast Action” Plan for Common Marketing Legal Emergencies
When legal issues confront your agency it feels personal. It hits home. It puts your people, your work and your reputation in the balance.
This is the world I live in with my agency clients and it’s more common than you might think.
Even if a legal emergency (definition: something’s gone bad, and you need to act ASAP) happens infrequently in your work as an agency leader, when it happens to you it can prove a costly challenge, not to mention a painful disruption of the agency’s daily work.
What are some of the legal emergencies most likely to occur in your agency life? Here’s a sample:
The Common Agency Legal Emergencies
- An agency competitor, known or unknown, has a newly designed website with your agency position, illustrations and more.
- A former prospect launches a brand new campaign, with another agency, direct from your pitch book.
- A competitor launches a new service with a logo or tagline or domain name that looks like yours.
- Your client challenges or disregards your Intellectual Property rights in completed work (especially pre-existing work), or overlooks agreed-upon competitive restrictions with employees or contractors.
- You have contractual disputes on outputs, compensation, payment terms and more.
Freelance, Partner, Vendor Issues
- Your freelancer goes directly to your client to do the same work it was previously doing through your agency.
- A strategic vendor or partner firm hires one of your agency’s best account executives.
- A freelancer discusses confidential information about your agency or a client.
- Your current or former employee uses your agency work and client identities in their personal portfolio.
- Your employee’s moonlighting or side gig is damaging their performance or competing with the agency for opportunities.
- Your employee is behaving badly on social media in a way that reflects badly on your agency, or your client.
In any of these emergency scenarios, be both ready to take immediate action (or reaction), and to plan a proactive approach to anticipating and preparing for the next potential legal challenge.
Take Fast Action
First, the responsible and necessary step you must take is to consult your legal counsel immediately about the emergency. While you’re preparing to discuss the issue with them, do these things:
- Assemble your documentation – any contracts, documents, correspondence, policies or other information that relates to the situation should be gathered. If you have time, put together a quick summary or timeline to put events and issues in context..
- Acknowledge and buy time – never ignore a legal emergency or demand. It won’t help, and it escalates things unnecessarily. Acknowledge correspondence, demands, or information neutrally, with a reply that states you received the communication and commits to a review and response (but does not commit to NOT a particular view or outcome, yet).
- Assess potential motivations of the parties – is this issue really about money, acknowledgement, time or reputation rather than a particular legal outcome? Take a minute to consider this, because it may expand your options for resolution.
- Talk to your legal counsel as soon as you can.
Get Defensive: A Proactive Approach
There is no fool-proof plan to managing and mitigating your legal risks as an agency, but there are a lot of processes and tools you can put in place to prevent one from occurring, or shortening the resolution if it does. Consider these steps:
- Define your Agency-Client relationships in writing with a Master Service Agreement or detailed legal Terms and Conditions.
- Establish formal contracts for freelancers or vendors, and don’t engage freelancers without a written agreement.
- Enact confidentiality agreements with clients, freelancers and vendors.
- Have a clearly written employee policy manual, or at least a set of easily findable set of employee rules on topics like competition and solicitation, moonlighting, intellectual property ownership of work product, and social media conduct.
- Have a culture of learning and training at your agency, especially for potential trouble areas like: social media and influence marketing compliance, and basic intellectual property rules.
Remember that having an action plan for managing agency legal emergencies won’t prevent all of them for your agency, but it will usually get you to the other side faster, cheaper and with less lost sleep.
Further reading: What to Do If IP Infringement Happens to You
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