Category Archives: internet marketing

Ignorance not Bliss – Avoiding liability for infringing pay-per-click advertising activity

Often, businesses treat intellectual property just as something they need to own and register, without giving enough thought to the risk of infringement.  Even where the risk of infringement is considered, business owners don’t often realise that they could be liable for the actions of their contractors or employees, even if they are unaware of them.

This is increasingly a problem when it comes to social media and online marketing, and a recent dispute illustrates the risks involved.  Ayesha Vardag, a prominent divorce lawyer, discovered that, unbeknownst to her, the marketing agency her firm had engaged was bidding on the name of her previous employer in order to generate enquiries through Google AdWords.  Following negotiations, Vardag agreed to settle for over £40,000, as reported by The Lawyer.

Beware of Buzz Marketing

Online Brand Protection

Shireen Online Brand Protection BlogBeware of buzz marketing. Writing fake online reviews can land your business in serious trouble and cost you more than you gained in reputation or sales, as evidenced recently by a host of SEO companies caught up in New York’s “Operation Clean Turf”.

A year-long undercover investigation into the reputation management industry caught 19 small businesses engaging in astroturfing, flooding the internet with bogus consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch.

Astroturfing is the practice whereby a business pretends to be an ordinary customer, writing glowing reviews about the business’ own products or services, or negative reviews slamming their competitors’.

In a crackdown last month, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued penalties in excess of $350,000 between the offending companies.

Schneiderman’s office discovered that many of the businesses probed had used techniques to conceal their identities, manipulating advanced IP spoofing techniques, setting up fake online profiles on consumer review websites and paying writers in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe to mock up false reviews. In the process, these companies had engaged in illegal and deceptive business practices, violating multiple state laws against false advertising.

“Astroturfing is the 21st century’s version of false advertising – and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it,” Schneiderman warned.

The law in the EU under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 is stricter than the USA, so that “falsely representing oneself as a consumer” in the context of promoting a product to consumers is a criminal offence, for which the maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The Regulations are policed by the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards, which may also direct complainants to the Advertising Standards Authority.

There are plans to further strengthen the law so British consumers have the right to take direct action against traders for misleading or aggressive practices. The proposed law, when implemented, will empower consumers to make direct claims against traders with whom they have entered a contract or made a payment to as a result of misleading advertising.

Given the anonymity of the web and accessibility to a growing range of social media channels, it’s easy to see how so many businesses succumb to such underhand tactics. However, while astroturfing is unethical – and in most cases illegal – it should be remembered that the ultimate penalty is the PR own-goal scored when caught. Businesses build their brands, above all else, on trust. Being exposed for falsifying reviews and manipulating online discussions could therefore cause irreparable reputational damage, shattering consumer and client relationships which are the lifeblood of any business.

Reputation is critical to any successful business, no matter its size. Astroturfing is an unauthentic and foolish path to follow in a digital age where connection and sharing is just a click away.
The damage to reputation for any company caught trying to steer public commentary around their products and services could prove fatal for your brand.

To find out about the risks online and how to best promote and manage your brand, why not come along to this Own It event at which Shireen Smith will be speaking on 29 January 2014 at 18.30pm. For more information please visit

Will Olympic Brand Protection Cost Michael Phelps His Medals?

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, famous for being the most decorated Olympian of all time, may be getting attention for all the wrong reasons recently. He appears to have landed himself in trouble with the International Olympics Committee following a leaked photo featuring the athlete lying in a bath tub as part of an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton.

As we discussed in our previous blog article, the IOC have been getting a lot of attention this year for their harsh regulations and brand policing during the games.  Preventing any brands other than the official sponsors of the games from piggybacking off of the IOC’s high profile is the reason for their  approach.

Earlier this year a new rule (rule 40) was implemented which was designed to prevent athletes from promoting non-Olympic sponsored brands from July 27th to August 15th.

The photo for the ad campaign surfaced on Twitter on 13 August, putting Michael Phelps in breach of this regulation. However, Phelps is not the first athlete to have been impacted by this rule; team GB were warned against wearing Beats’ headphones that had been sent by the company to their hotel rooms, and Yohan Blake may receive a fine for wearing a $500,00 Millie watch rather than one made by Omega, official watchmaker of the games.

In the case of Michael Phelps there might be more far reaching consequences. The leaked photos could potentially disqualify the athlete as the IOC rules state ‘A competitor or a team may lose the benefit of any ranking obtained in relation to other events at the Olympic Games at which he or it was disqualified or excluded; in such case the medals and diplomas won by him or it shall be returned to the IOC’.

Whether or not Michael Phelps’s medals will be put in jeopardy rests on whether the photo was leaked intentionally by Louis Vuitton. The company declares that the photos were unofficial and that the campaign was not due to run until 16 August, similarly Phelps’s agent Peter Carlysle has stated that there is no issue with the IOC as the athlete did not authorise the photos to go out.

Will Phelps loose his medals? Does this show a fundamental problem with rule 40 in relation to the Olympics? We asked before whether the IOC’s strict regulations concerning brand promotion during the games were too harsh or whether they were an understandable way to protect the Olympic brand, but what do you think might happen now that the rule might cause an athlete to lose his hard earned medals?

Olympic Brand Sponsorship Race- Why is McDonald’s Underperforming?

The Olympics is a time of sport, athleticism, and competition. However, it is not just athletes who are competing, but the brands sponsoring the event are also involved in their own brand race. Whilst many are tuning in to see which athlete will win a gold medal, others are on the look out to see which brand sponsoring the Olympics will come out on top. Due to the prominence of social media in the 2012 Games, this has created a new way to measure how much each brand has benefited from their sponsorship of the games.

Mediacom has created an Olympic tracker which gives daily and weekly updates about each Olympic brand’s twitter tracker score, measuring the amount of positive or negative sentiment felt towards each brand.  

Whilst certain brands such as Coca-Cola and PG tips are consistently performing well, McDonalds has been trailing behind. McDonald’s has been languishing at the bottom of the table for some time now, with scores of between minus 70,000 to 100,000. Last week saw a further increase in negative sentiment towards the brand with their tracker score reaching lower than minus 1m.

So why is McDonald’s so far behind on the Olympic tracker?

McDonald’s was first hit by concerns about junk food as was Cadbury, and Coca Cola.  These brands’ association with the Olympic games was seen as sending the wrong message, due to their being  poor examples of how to stay healthy. An article published in the Lancet, a medical journal, stated that ‘the Games should encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and inspire the next generation to exercise. However, marring this healthy vision has been the choice of junk food and drink giants, – McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury – as major sponsors.”

Despite Cadbury and Coca- Cola also presenting a concern in relation to their sponsorship of the games, they have remained relatively unscathed. Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic torch and their ‘feel the beat’ campaign has generated a significant amount of positive feedback, as has Cadburys ‘ Unwrap Gold’ promotion, which gives consumers the chance to win tickets to watch the Olympics.

Background to McDonald’s sponsorship

McDonald’s decided to become a sponsor of the Games 40 years ago as a way to deflect criticism about the health impact of their products. This strategy seems to be doing more harm than good this year, with numerous people commenting on Twitter about the contradictory nature of McDonald’s involvement in the Olympics, with the most popular comparison being that it is like a cigarette company sponsoring a cancer charity.

However, the way McDonalds have responded to these concerns has attracted increased criticism.  The predominant concern with McDonald’s involvement in the Olympics is that this will give people a misleading impression about the quality of McDonald’s food.

The problem with McDonald’s campaign appears to be two-fold. Firstly, despite McDonald’s efforts to turn their image around from being fatty and unhealthy, this has not yet influenced how the majority of the public perceive the brand. Secondly, the social nature of the games gives people a much bigger platform to voice their concerns, meaning it is more vital than ever to align the brand image McDonald’s believes it has, to the way others see it.

The way McDonald’s sees itself is as providing good food, being environmentally friendly, and as being a fun place for families to eat. Yet, the public regard McDonald’s food as unhealthy and as being high in salt, and fat. Therefore McDonald’s sponsorship of the games, and adverts depicting various athletes eating their food, is perceived as misleading. People throw negative comments at the brand on the grounds that no Olympian would have eaten a McDonald’s for at least a year.

McDonald’s has had some positive feedback about its initiatives to provide calorie content and nutritional information about all their food.  Also, their offering of a fruit, vegetable and low-fat dairy option with their happy meals served at the games has gone down well. These all do signal a step in the right direction for the brand.  However, until their reputation has been substantially altered, strategies aimed at calling the brand ‘healthy’ will be seen as deceptive.

Boris’ Plug

Take, for example, the reaction against Boris’s plugging of the brand. Defending the fast-food giant against criticism, Boris said ‘It’s all just bourgeois snobbery. It’s classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious food- extremely good for you I’m told- not that I eat a lot of it myself. Apparently the stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients’.

The negative reaction produced by this statement was then amplified when Frankie Boyle on Twitter, who has over 800,000 followers, commented ‘Don’t know how much sponsorship McDonalds paid for the Olympic mayor to be a f***ing clown.”

These comments stirred up negative opinion about McDonald’s association with the Olympics, and made the public feel that they were being miss-sold the brand, especially due to Boris’s admission that he does not eat much of the food himself.


Whilst the values a brand believes in and wants to reflect are important, this has to be aligned with the perception of the brand by others. Denying what the public perceive and insisting on promoting a certain image before the public is convinced there has been a change can backfire and cause a bad reaction as seems to have happened here.

Do You Know Why Your Brand Could Be Worthless?

In this post I’m going to offer some information that I think might be quite useful to you when you’re establishing a new business or product.

You’re likely to be thinking about a name, commissioning a website and logo to launch it, and considering how you will market it and so on.

Relatively few people think about the legal aspects until they’ve already chosen a name, created a website and maybe even finalised their branding. When they do turn to a lawyer it’s typically to register a trade mark, or perhaps because they wonder whether there’s anything they can do to protect their business concept.

I often ask myself why do people assume lawyers should be approached at the END of a branding or website project?  It’s so strikingly different to what happens in other areas of business life. If you were about to build a house, you’d first contact a lawyer to check that you could buy the plot of land. You wouldn’t simply commission builders and take your chances that you might later secure rights to the land. The risk that someone might pop up to claim better title to the land and throw you off their turf wouldn’t be one most people would willingly entertain. Also, you’d want to know whether other people have lodged planning permission to construct buildings or roads, and whether you have all the rights of access that you need and so on.  You’d know to first sort out all these ownership issues.

Maybe because intangibles are invisible people don’t really understand that there are laws – called intellectual property or IP – which govern their branding projects.  The name you choose is the branding equivalent of your plot land, while other branding elements such as website projects are like the buildings you construct on the land.  Intangibles are every bit as important, if not more important than physical assets of your business.

While the likes of Coca Cola have access to large branding or advertising agencies and highly specialist legal teams when making their branding decisions, small and medium size businesses don’t often have the benefit of timely proactive advice to help them to make good branding choices.

I suggest you take the time to understand the basics of IP law relating to brands so you find a suitably qualified lawyer to help you to achieve a strong brand.  The requirements for powerful intellectual property rights and powerful brands are typically the same.

A specialist IP brand solicitor can advise whether the name is a good one from a legal perspective because they’ll have day to day experience of trade mark registration work, copyright issues and website projects. To get value for money from an IP brand lawyer consult them BEFORE you pick your brand name, logo and tagline or commission your website.  Nothing protects a brand better than a well-chosen name or tagline. This is unfortunately not well understood that it’s the choice that determines how easy or difficult you will find it to protect your brand, and how costly it will be.

Most people assume their branding or internet professionals know all the necessary law relating to brands and websites, but they don’t. That’s not their focus or expertise. Just as you wouldn’t engage architects expecting them to also check that you can own the land on which you intend to build your house, or to know what type of locks you need to install to burglar-proof it, so it’s inappropriate to expect non-lawyers to take care of your IP rights.

The legal issues around brands and names are surprisingly complex.

Branding and internet professionals are primarily thinking about marketing, communications, and visual identity when creating websites or selecting brand elements like names and taglines for you. They may be able to do some rudimentary checks themselves to see whether a proposed name or logo is already registered by someone else, but their focus is on whether the name, tagline, logo or other component would be effective as marketing tools. An IP branding lawyer would know whether it’s a strong name which could support your business plans, as well as what checks are necessary both in the UK and elsewhere if your plans include an international dimension. It’s certainly not as straightforward as searching to see whether the same name or logo is already registered.  Similar names or logos could also pose problems, and there are a host of other considerations which your lawyer is well placed to advise upon.

A real separation exists between the worlds of branding and the law. To get a powerful brand that’s legally effective involves a close collaboration between IP brand lawyers and branding professionals. Currently it is not the norm at the smaller agency end to have such collaborative working. So whether you yourself choose your name or get a branding agency to help you, make sure you don’t end up with a weak brand name. This reduces its value as a long term IP asset.

Some name choices would be the equivalent of building a house which others could regularly break into and steal from.  I’ll explain why by taking the dance called ZUMBA as an example. The business that created this dance has given it a distinctive name and trade marked it in many countries worldwide. This means that anyone wanting to provide ZUMBA classes will need to be accredited by the business. Had the company instead chosen a descriptive name for their dance, such as NEW LATIN DANCE, they probably wouldn’t have a business now. Even if they’d managed to register this name as a trade mark in one country they’d have a tough time registering it in another and ultimately no matter how much money they spent, they would have not be able to prevent other people from offering classes featuring their invented dance.

So, for a business such as ZUMBA it would have been a bad idea to choose a descriptive name.  Instead of collecting revenues, they’d have been spending a fortune on litigation.  So, if you’ve got big plans for your business, don’t leave it till the end of your branding project to consult an IP brand lawyer.  That would reduce the legal input to one of registering and protecting your IP rights, such as they are.  It would be too late to give you effective advice.  Registering your own trade mark and not getting any legal advice at all is an even worse decision because few people manage to properly cover the full scope of their business when they do their own registration.  Your trade mark is important, so consult a specialist brand lawyer.  Contact me at Azrights or look out for my book Legally Branded out in the spring of 2012.

Google Instant Search – Fast and Fatal!

Last year, Google introduced its ‘Google Instant Search’, a new feature that displays suggested results as soon as you start typing your search phrase.  The service also sports improved ‘predictive’ search queries – much like predictive text on mobile phones – for example when you start to type ‘Apple’ into Google, it may suggest ‘apple store’, ‘apple trailers’ and ‘apple TV’.

The aim is to save users’ time, and supply results faster than before.  All well and good for consumers, but how does it affect businesses?

One impact is that it is likely to change the way people search.  A key idea behind instant search is to help users formulate a better, more accurate search term for what they are looking for by giving them feedback on the fly.  This affects the terms users might otherwise search for, and has implications for SEO.

Andy Beal from Marketing Pilgrim, highlighted how, with Google Instant, searchers don’t have to commit to any search query.  The way people carry out research will change as there is no longer a need to follow the traditional ‘search and then refine’ process.

A likely knock on effect is that fewer people will scroll down the first page, instead focusing on the top few results, and simply refining their search as they type if what they are looking for does not rank highly.

In a blog post, describes it as ‘the death of the second page’ – SEO has become more important then ever. Keyword research needs to be thorough, and long tail keywords are now much more beneficial.

Reputation Damaging Predictions

Another major implication Google’s predictive search is to do with online reputation. The experience of  some businesses is that bad press can lead to negative predictions when searchers type their company name into Google, potentially causing lasting damage to their reputation.  There have even been instances of legal action brought against Google to remove certain suggestions.                     

A blog piece by Danny Sullivan in search engine land highlighted some of these. One case involved a request that the French word for scam (arnaque) not appear after the name of a long distance learning company. Google appears to have complied with this request however, as noted by Sullivan, this change was not gobal as both ‘arnaque paypal’ and ‘arnaque groupon’ appear as suggestions when typing ‘arnaque into Google.

I decided to carry out some searches myself to find other suggestions which might leave businesses in a bad light, and noticed that when typing in ‘Treyarch’, the name of an American video developer company, the word ‘sucks’ appears as a suggestion. I also found a complaint in Google’s help forum that Google’s predictive search was hurting a client’s reputation as the words ‘scam’ ‘fake’ and ‘forgery’ appeared after the company’s name.

Google predictive search makes it even more important to monitor online reputation.  As search technology develops, and new features emerge, businesses will need to be ever more vigilant in terms of their SEO strategy to ensure they are able to manage their risk and maintain a positive online reputation.

Groupon: A way to Market Your Business? But Not For Legal Services

You may have heard of voucher websites such as or other offer-based sites.  One such business that is causing a buzz is Groupon.

What is Groupon?
Groupon is a voucher website with a difference. It is entirely unique in its own concept of bargains. Instead of giving subscribers run-of the-mill discounts such as ‘241 at Pizza Express’, it produces one-off offers with as much as 75% off services such as facials, cinema tickets, wine tasting, teeth whitening and even hiring an Aston Martin. The unique and brilliant offers are sent to your inbox daily making Groupon stand out from other voucher and coupon websites because of the massive savings and the high quality businesses that are using it to promote their business.

Anyone can access these offers by subscribing on the website to their mailing list.  Once that is complete Groupon will email you every day with their latest deal for your city.  There are currently 150 cities included on the site but this is set to increase as the company has been expanding at arapid pace.

Groupon is a relatively young company, launched 18 months ago in Chicago. It has had its battles with copy-cat companies.  Rather than using Groupon as a rough-guide some companies in Russia and other Eastern-Bloc countries actually used Groupon as a template for their sites right down to the web design. However, Groupon has managed to stop them.

A Social media following
A reason for Groupon’s rapid expansion is its huge fan base.  Using Social Networking sites this company has been able to expand nationwide and worldwide.  It has a large following on Twitter, and on Facebook and this is just the UK branch.  There are 24 other countries that have Groupon fans watching their in-boxes daily for cut-price excitement.

Groupon offers a small monetary incentive to subscribers for every friend they invite to the site that signs up.   The deals on Groupon are available for one day only and there is a limit to the number of people that can buy them which makes the site more exclusive than other discount sites. The deals are different for each city, but you do not have to have a high street shop or restaurant to be involved – Groupon include exclusive online deals as well.

Marketing your business
So, if you have a small online business, Groupon could be a way to market your company. The exclusivity and limit on numbers is ideal for small businesses looking for new customers, as it guarantees customers once you sign up to give away things or give discounts, but also means you can control the number of people who can take up your offer.

In the current economic climate when businesses may be in need of new ways to entice customers and clients, offering discounts to others, who may also have been affected by the crisis, could be worth considering as a marketing option.

Registration steps
For UK based service providers  their franchise site Groupon UK is the place to look. The process for registration involves sending an email to with a basic summary of the type of services or goods you supply from your business.

We contacted them to find out more about the registration process.  Their response time was not great. We were not able to get through to their support number either. Eventually they responded by email.

Use for legal services?

We made enquiries about offering trademark registration services, which are fixed price, and therefore unlike many other legal services.  They informed us that they are not currently covering legal services.  For law firms considering this further, it may be worth reading this piece Ethics vs. Professionalism: Is Groupon Feasible for Lawyers? by

How To Protect Your Intellectual Property Rights Even In A Recession

A Business’ IP is often the most valuable asset it generates.  So just neglecting to protect your IP in these recessionary times when budgets are tight can have adverse and long term implications—especially if there is a time limited window within which your IP may be registered.

To avoid a large hole in your IP portfolio when trade picks up, it’s important to be savvy during these tough times, and manage your Intellectual Property actively by either taking advice on strategy, or having an IP audit if you have an IP portfolio.

IP Audit

An IP audit is a great way to review your domain, trade mark, design or patent registrations. It will look to identify ways in which you may consolidate your portfolio or make savings. If you’re lucky, there may even be unexpected surprises, such as product licensing opportunities that may have been overlooked.

An IP audit helps in prioritising those IP rights that add value, whilst weeding out non-essential or redundant ones by letting them lapse or consolidating them to avoid paying renewal fees.

Strategic consultation

If you are a smaller business, consider having a strategy consultation. With the access to information that the internet has opened up, it is easy for SMEs to assume that they do not need to pay for advice.  So they will often do their own research, decide whether they need to register a trade mark, or design, and then buy that service.

Often the opportunity to find out about other IPR protection, such as trade secrets, or copyrights is missed, as is the possibility of establishing from an experienced practitioner whether there are alternative ways of achieving your desired objectives.  These could well be more cost effective.

For example, we often find that SMEs are really keen to protect their logos with trade marks, but are less concerned about trade marking their name.  Yet protecting the name is generally far more important, and there are other ways of protecting logos which are missed.

OBIS – Do Your Own IP registrations?

Proper advice, combined with doing your own registrations, could be a cost effective way forward during these recessionary times. Our product OBIS which was released in beta last month enables you to do some of your own legal work under our overall guidance.

This includes trade mark and design registration. DIY may not appeal to everyone, but if the alternative is to fail to protect essential IP, then it is preferable to not securing essential registrations. Using an assisted self help system such as that available on OBIS is better than simply doing your own registration by using the IPO’s assistance.  The IPO is very helpful, but will not check your form to pick up some of the glaring mistakes I have seen SMEs make when they file their own trade mark applications.

Product naming

Another useful step to reduce outgoings during these tough times may be to put in place a policy to guide your marketing team when selecting product names. Some name choices may reduce clearance costs.

Failing to have proper trade mark searches is a serious risk which no business should run. However, it may be feasible to opt for less extensive searches if they would be good enough to guard against the risk of infringing on the rights of others. By consulting an experienced intellectual property lawyer, you will be able to put in place a search strategy for your business which will be appropriate to the risks in your industry, and to the type of product you are releasing.

Other brand protection measures not to be neglected

Other basic preventative steps you may want to consider to reduce your legal exposure are to register your name on popular social networking sites, and paying relatively small sums to have company and trade mark watch services in place which will help you catch problems early and avoid more costly litigation later.

Remember too that a patent only gives you a right to stop others using your invention. Consider whether you have all the necessary permissions you need to make your product.

The key is to make your investment in IP go as far as possible, taking steps now to protect it, and avoid problems instead of having to overcome them later.

What to do if your site is being identified as a security threat

A website can be crucial to the success of your business and even a brief period of downtime can have a significant impact on your revenue, so an important selling point of a good web hosting solution is high availability.  Guaranteeing visitors’ access to your site 24/7 can be expensive, but worthwhile, especially where your website is your primary source of revenue.  However, 24/7 access is of little use if users are dissuaded from visiting by a warning that there is a security risk associated with doing so.

Malware (malicious software, for example a virus) is a serious concern online, and web browsers are continually updated with new ways to reduce the risk of infection.  One of the ways in which some browsers help users to avoid malware is through reliance on a list maintained by Google, identifying sites which exhibit suspicious behaviour.  A site might be listed if, for example, it causes visitors to automatically download software that has not been explicitly requested.

When visiting a domain that has been listed, users are prompted to choose whether to cancel their request, or to ignore the security warning and continue.  This will dissuade a very significant proportion of visitors, and so if your website is listed, you should act as quickly as possible to rectify the situation.  To remove a security warning, you will need to register for Google Webmaster Tools.  Removing a warning involves dealing with the problem that led to the warning in the first place; and taking precautionary measures to prevent a reoccurrence.

The impact of your site being listed as a security risk is comparable to your email communications being marked as Spam.  While the service is beneficial to consumers, it has the potential to cause significant damage to your business reputation, and to affect your income.  If Google make a mistake they might unilaterally identify your website as a security risk,  and the volume of traffic to your site would drop considerably.  Luckily, reports of sites being incorrectly identified as a security threat by Google are few and far between.  If your site is listed as a threat, it could be that it has been hacked and is disseminating malware without your knowledge, as recently happened to the website of BBC Radio 3.  Nevertheless, there is certainly scope for Google to cause damage, and the company has not proved infallible, as can be seen from their early 2009 tagging of the entire internet as a security risk.

If you take care to ensure that software is kept up to date, you are less likely to be susceptible to attacks that could put you at risk of being black listed, however, it is worth keeping an eye on your site so that you can respond quickly should any issues arise.

Etiquette of post networking communications

While I’ve previously written about the legal requirements regarding Data Protection and Email Marketing, this is about email marketing following contacts you meet physically when networking.
You will exchange cards with many people when attending networking events.  So here I just want to explore what happens to those contacts afterwards.

It’s safe to say that most people are networking in order to extend their contacts, and hopefully to win business.  As Dr. Ivan Misner of BNI, who knows a thing or two about networking, famously puts it: Givers Gain.  This means, if I give you business, you’re going to want to give me business.

To be able to give someone business, you need to take an interest in what they do.  Therefore, if we have exchanged cards while out networking, I would argue that there is nothing to get upset about if I add you to my list of contacts and email you my newsletter or a special offer or whatever.  Provided you can unsubscribe then that’s perfectly acceptable.  If you unsubscribe, it will signal to me that you’re not interested in me or in my business, or in helping me or having me as a contact.

So, I am surprised how some people find it so objectionable to  be put on a newsletter list – for example, Heather Townsend here (it is just an archive now, but I read her post earlier this year when she first wrote it, and have finally found time to write my take on it) .  My feeling is  that whether you email someone to say you intend to put them on your list or simply do so, doesn’t make a great deal of difference in practice.  I’ve tried both approaches.

Either way if the other person doesn’t want to receive your news, they will have to take some action.  If you’ve emailed to ask whether they’d mind you adding them to your newsletter list, they’ll have to email back to say no please don’t add me to your list.  While if you have simply added them, they’ll have to click your unsubscribe link so as not to receive any more newsletters from you.  I would argue it puts less burden on them to simply send them your newsletter, because clicking an unsubscribe link involves less work for them.

Email is really very non intrusive in the scale of things.  When you consider telephone sales and door knockers, junk mail and text messages, email is so much less problematic.  All you need to do is press delete, or unsubscribe if you’re not interested.  I suspect the irritation over ‘spam’ and emotive phraseology (calling it ‘illegal’) is really more a displaced annoyance over the daily battle to control inboxes, and all those foreign emails you can’t just unsubscribe from….