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Ten Ways to Secure and Protect Your Marketing IP

During World War II, the government created a poster that showed a man swimming for his life as a boat sank behind him. The caption read: "A slip of the lip can sink a ship." The moral: don't tell government secrets, you could endanger soldiers' lives.

Granted, for marketers, secrecy usually isn't a matter of life and death. Indeed, most of the time, marketers want their company's message spread as far and wide as possible. As a result, marketing professionals often forget that there are times when it is better to keep information under wraps. In today's competitive economy, the right corporate information can be worth thousands of dollars to your competitors, customers, and business partners. This article discusses ten situations where your marketing department should avoid spreading the word.

1. Internal Reports
After a successful marketing effort, it's only natural to want to share your triumph with your co-workers. There are, however, potential pitfalls to this strategy. First, make sure your office mates understand the data you distribute. On several occasions, I've seen an internal marketing report woefully misquoted by a well-meaning but confused employee. Second, clearly indicate what can and cannot be distributed outside of the office. The last thing you want is your marketing budget sent to a mass email list. Finally, be aware of spies. For the most part, this isn't a problem, but the bigger your firm, the more likely it is that your internal information may reach a disgruntled employee who wants nothing more than to hurt the company.

2. Client Newsletters
First, let me reiterate how useful client newsletters are as a means of client retention and client development. Remember, though, that anything you tell your clients may end up in the wrong hands. Your clients, after all, may not understand the confidentiality of the information you give them. And they are likely to be contacted by your competitors and your vendors on a regular basis. Moreover, depending upon the structure of your client newsletter (whether it is open to all or restricted just to clients), you may have competitors subscribed to your newsletter already!

3. Sales Collateral
Just like a client newsletter, once you provide your client with information about your firm, you have no control over who will see your data. Most clients do not intentionally distribute sensitive information to your competitors. That being said, it's not their job to know what is confidential and what isn't. Either make it very clear to your clients that your brochure are not for general consumption, or change your brochures!

4. Testimonials
Often after a successful marketing campaign, you may be asked to provide a testimonial vouching for an ad product. This is usually a win-win for both you and your ad rep; you get free publicity, they get sales collateral. But make sure you ask the right questions before you give consent. How will the testimonial be used - internally only, in a major advertising campaign, or maybe even to convince your competitors to advertise? What sort of data will be used? If the testimonial includes information about pricing, or the results of your campaign, consider the ramifications of distributing this data.

5. Email
In the olden days, sending a spreadsheet to 20 people required some major effort - photocopying, envelopes, and a lot of stamps. Of course, today, it takes about 25 seconds. And once you've sent an email to 20 people, they can send it equally quickly to 20 more in the same amount of time (for those of you keeping track at home, that would be 400 emails in 25 seconds). In my mind, proper email etiquette is the number one way to ensure that your sensitive marketing data stays secure. The bottom line: before you send anyone any marketing data, think twice. And once you do send information, clearly label sensitive data as "confidential" (I usually put a watermark right on the document), and explicitly state this fact in your email.

6. Metadata
Metadata is the storing of previous versions of a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet. This includes any previously saved information: dollar figures, hidden data, graphs, you name it. It's scary but true, but a marketing document that you have edited to remove sensitive information can be very easily reconstructed in Outlook. Fortunately, there are no products coming out on the market that protect 'deleted' data from being retrieved by others.

7. Marketing Negotiations
I'm a big advocate of being as upfront as possible when negotiating deals. I tell my account representative exactly what I want, and exactly what I can pay for it. Often, the account rep will ask questions that aren't directly relevant to the negotiations: What's our overall advertising budget? How much are we paying elsewhere? Disclosing additional information can be dangerous, for several reasons. First, a savvy account representative may use additional information to raise prices on you at a later date. Second, an unprofessional or naive account representative may even share your data with your competitors. I definitely support fostering strong relationships with all of your vendors, but part of a good rapport is feeling comfortable with not answering every question posited.

8. Marketing Costs
A lot of information can be gleaned from a marketing budget. Indeed, there is a company (AdRelevance) that has made millions of dollars doing nothing more than reporting on companies' ad budgets. Your marketing budget tells your competitors how much they need to spend to combat your marketing efforts and - perhaps most damaging - tells your vendors how much they can charge you for their services (how deep are your pockets?).

9. Marketing Strategy
This shouldn't be taken for granted. Be very guarded with your marketing strategy. To use a sports metaphor, giving away your marketing strategy is like giving away the playbook - it won't be a fair fight, and your side won't win. Share your marketing strategy on a need-to-know basis, and make sure everyone with access understands the importance of keeping this information confidential.

10. A Final Thought
In closing, I'd like to point out that every firm should draw the line between careful disclosure of information and paranoia. Inevitably, in the course of normal business operations, some sensitive information will eventually make it into the wrong hands. Is that bad? Yes. Is it the end of the world? Probably not. As with everything in life, there are two very simple ways to increase upside and decrease downside. First, careful planning prior to any decision. Second, careful weighing of the costs and benefits of any action. Follow those two maxims and your marketing information - in the aggregate - will always support the firm's bottom line.

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