The reading level for this article is Expert
These days, everyone’s looking to save a buck. But if you plan to cut corners by using a fledgling copywriter or marketer, expect to put the money you just saved towards a really good lawyer. Because you may just find yourself in court.
Lawsuits abound in today’s world. Lots of people are more than willing to sue at the drop of a hat. No one wants to think that they “know” anyone like this, but the truth is, this planet is crawling with lawsuit-happy consumers who can make your life a living hell. You may think, “Oh, I’m just a small start-up; no one would bother trying to get money out of me!” But do you know this for a fact? Even if you’re miniscule now, you want to grow your business. With any luck, one day you’ll be earning more than just a comfortable living. The best way to ensure your legal protection in the future is to start practicing caution today.
How does this relate to your advertising, and who you hire to work for you? Every bit of written material put out by your company is a statement issued by you. If you hire someone who has little to no experience in the real world, you’d better be on top of them at all times. You’d better make sure that what they’re creating for your company doesn’t contain any legal “loopholes” or claims you can’t fulfill. Because as soon as your advertising makes a statement about anything, someone will try and hold you responsible. They might even seek legal counsel on the matter. Yes, what you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.
I worked for the “R”Us family of stores for seven years, writing and editing everything from catalog copy to sales promotions to coupons to informative marketing mailers. Nearly everything said in our ads was supported by a legal disclaimer that prevented the company from being held responsible for any “unforseen events” that might occur as an indirect result of our statements. At the time, these legalities posed a great annoyance to our department, slowing down progress and hampering creativity. But today, I’m incredibly grateful for the “extensive legal training” I received while working there.
What are some examples of loose-lipped writing that can land you in legal hot water? What situations might you get yourself into in today’s fast-paced, maximum-output world of marketers?
E-books are hot right now. Everyone wants one, and they want it yesterday. But beware the trouble of an untrained eye taking control of your e-book content! Last year, I worked for a small start-up company. They wanted an e-book written fast, so they hired an unpaid intern. Although the e-book served its purpose well, it was riddled with statements that could get us in trouble! Why? Our e-book was for children. In it, we had included a long list of ways kids could spread holiday cheer. One entry was something to the effect of, “Offer to help your neighbor carry in the groceries.” Innocuous as it may seem, the end result of this remark could be some parent taking us to court because their child went out and tried to assist some unsavory character, and was abducted in the process! Heaven forbid, but nothing’s impossible. In our e-book, we took care to state “Never do anything without first asking permission from your parents” – many times, and in many ways.
Article content: seems like everyone wants it in mass quantities. But how smart is it to hire a wet-behind-the-ears intern to write pages and pages of information and then publish it under your company name? One little slip-up, and guess who’s getting a subpoena in the mail. Not the intern! I recently wrote an article on credit card debt elimination. As I was crafting my copy, I kept stumbling over “red flag” statements that could prove troublesome. “Some debt consolidation companies may even be able to erase the interest fees you’ve accrued.” Was that true?? If it wasn’t, somebody might be getting an earful down the road. It’s difficult to know what information found on the internet is accurate, or just somebody’s assertion. If you’re not sure – disclaim! Or, simply avoid commenting.
Coupons and limited time offers that aren’t properly disclaimed can cost you money. Say you run a sale on your website, but you forget to include start and end dates. If the sale prices are valid in January but you don’t tell your customers, someone could very well come along and demand a discount in May! Or what if you post an ad for your business offering 50% off all design jobs but you forget to exclude the really high-end projects? You could find yourself working on an extensive web-design job that’s only bringing in five hundred dollars when it could have made you a thousand!
What about your return policy? You want to be known as a company with its customers’ best interest in mind – but what if your return policy is so open-ended, it leaves you vulnerable to excessive returns, when in fact there is really nothing wrong with what you offer? I worked for an e-greeting company this summer. How is an e-greeting company supposed to guarantee “customer satisfaction?” It’s not possible! So, in such a case, a statement like this has to go. Would a newborn to the industry have the foresight to make such decisions? My guess is no.
Do you sell products via the web? Anything that poses a safety threat should be disclaimed to avoid future legal headaches and thousands of dollars lost. Everything from over-the-counter drugs to children’s products to baby clothes to automobile parts to finances must be shielded from potential legal action. Never thought about legal ramifications? Best to get an expert’s advice before going forward with your business plan.
Still thinking of hiring a novice to help you run your business? Think again. A little extra money spent now can mean a ton of money saved later. Hire a copywriter or marketer with corporate experience, who will exercise legal caution in your business writing and provide financial security for your future. Who knows… you may never even need that lawyer.
Copyright 2005 Dina Giolitto. All rights reserved.