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Covering Your Assets: The 4 Best Legal Precautions for Marketers

January 16, 2013 By David Lowndes
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When you're lying awake at night, going through your mental checklist of job-related worries, is compliance to federal, state and local laws and regulations one that springs immediately to mind? Probably not. But perhaps it should, given the complexity of today's regulatory environment.

As the Association of Corporate Counsel points out, there are federal, state and local regulations covering virtually every facet of marketing, including:

  • what you can say about your products and services;
  • what you can say about other companies' products and services;
  • whether and how often you can contact customers and prospects by phone, email or other channels;
  • what information you're allowed to collect; and
  • what you can do with that information.

Failing to comply with these requirements can lead to expensive litigation, fines or even criminal charges, not to mention negative publicity that can harm your brand and bottom line. For example:

  • In May, Skechers agreed to pay a $40 million fine for using what the Federal Trade Commission deemed deceptive advertising to sell its 'Shape-Ups' shoes.
  • In July, Netflix agreed to pay $9 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the company unlawfully disclosed its customers' movie rental histories.

Not knowing the law won't protect you against penalties. So make sure you're familiar with, and adhere to, the regulations that apply to advertising and marketing activities across the board. If you work in a highly regulated field like finance or healthcare, you need to incorporate industry-specific regulations into your knowledge base, as well.

But your compliance responsibilities don't end with a thorough knowledge of your regulatory landscape. Here are four additional best practices to lower your risk and better prepared for potential audits or litigation.

1. Define Document Lifecycles
Work with your company's legal counsel to develop a formal, defensible retention schedule for all the information you create and send out. Clearly define what information is considered a record and develop policies and procedures to consistently and securely manage litigation holds and destruction when this information reaches the end of its retention period.

2. Include Electronic Communications

 

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