By Barbara Sullivan
This second part of our “alignment” series tackles the sometimes bumpy relationship between the communications and legal staffs at medical device, pharmaceutical, and other lifescience companies. No question—the role of attorneys is vital in protecting organizations from costly legal problems. However, it often seems to marketing professionals that the job of attorneys is to erect roadblocks that prevent them from successfully driving home their communications strategies.
Take the example of customer testimonials or case studies, write-ups that tell the story of key customers such hospitals or medical professionals and their successful use of the company’s product or service. Satisfied customers in the healthcare field often are happy to participate in these activities as part of the peer-to-peer educational process—that is until they receive a release form such as the one attorneys for a healthcare client prepared a number of years ago for a case study series based on the experiences of clinicians at academic medical centers. The agreement reads, in part:
For valuable consideration received, including payment of one dollar ($1), I hereby grant to XYZ Company (XYZ) the irrevocable right and permission to use, reuse, publish and republish, reproduce, modify and display my name and/or the likeness(es) of me, in whole or in part, with or without the likenesses of other persons, that are included in the document attached to this Authorization and Release, to copyright the same, in its own name or otherwise (and assign such rights throughout the world in such likenesses of me), in whole or in part, individually or in conjunction with likenesses of other persons, and in conjunction with any copyrighted or copyrightable matter, in any and all print, electronic, digital and other media now or hereafter known, for distribution, advertisement, publication, promotion, education, merchandising, and exploitation, and any other purpose whatsoever in connection with XYZ’s business including, but not limited to, use on posters, mailings, and other promotional or educational materials, and on XYZ’s Web site or other Web sites that advertise, promote or offer XYZ’s products or services. I waive any right that I may have to inspect or approve any uses made of my name, my likeness in accordance with this Authorization and Release, except that I have already inspected and approved the document attached to this Authorization and Release.
With a first sentence of a whopping 175 words, no one but an attorney could come up with a contract this all-encompassing. The only thing missing was the surrender of the customer’s first-born child! Needless to say, customer after customer balked at signing it (sometimes at the direction of their organization’s legal representatives), and an important communications tool was lost to the company.
A better approach would be for the communications and legal staffs to hold an alignment meeting, with the communicators explaining what the project is and why it is vital to achieving the organization’s goals, and the attorneys outlining the legal considerations. With a better understanding of the importance of the project and how it would be used, attorneys could craft a more reasonable release form tailored to the specific activity. A more narrow release would allow customers to participate and encourage them to speak freely about their experiences with the product and company. The communications team’s obligation would be to use the piece within the terms of the agreement. If, subsequently, they wanted to use the material in additional vehicles, such as in newsletter articles or advertisements, additional permission could be sought.
This approach would allow companies to benefit from the goodwill and professional influence of their customers, while protecting the organization from legal problems. That’s what I call alignment!