By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

Understanding Creative IP: Let Your Work Shine — Without Fear of Copycats

  • Start the process of protecting your intellectual property early on. It’s never too soon in the life of your business to make sure that your assets are safe. From there, protecting your IP is an ongoing labor of love.
  • Figure out how to specialize and serve a niche industry or community with your expertise. This will make you better at your job and will make your work more fun — plus, it can make your business more financially viable.
  • In the process of supporting other creatives, don’t forget about the importance of strategizing about keeping your own IP safe from infringement.

There aren’t many people who can honestly say that their career gives them the opportunity to explore all of the things they are passionate about… but Sharon Toerek can. As the principal of Toerek Law, Sharon has figured out a way to apply her training in intellectual property law to her interest in working with creatives. Her practice is dedicated entirely to helping professionals in the advertising, marketing and creative services industries to effectively monetize their work and protect themselves from legal challenges.

“It really blends a lot of things I love, all in one place,” Sharon says on Episode 115 of The PR Maven Podcast.”It’s popular culture, it’s art, it’s business … It’s fun to work with a client base of people who are dynamic and always trying new ideas, always throwing new challenges your way.”

Like her clients, Sharon likes to push the envelope and explore new ventures. She is the creator of the Agency Protection System, a collection of educational resources to help creatives understand what they need to do to protect their intellectual property. She is also the creator and host of The Innovative Agency podcast where she interviews people from different creative agencies about how they stay innovative, seize new business opportunities and keep their businesses safe in the process.

Sharon is passionate about supporting businesses in the creative services space so they can shine — without fear of copycats.

Understand what’s at stake: Protect your intellectual property

Don’t underestimate the value of your business’s IP! Your company name, logo and other assets make you a strong, competitive player in the market. The right combination of trademarks and copyrights can help keep you safe.

According to Sharon, a trademark protects a company name, word, logo or any combination of the three. Trademarks can also cover other key brand elements — think of the chimes you hear playing at the end of your favorite NBC show or the well-known shape of a Coca-Cola bottle. Copyright, on the other hand, is a set of legal rights that protect creative works. These rights tend to have a lot of day-to-day implications.

If you’re a creative, it might be to your benefit to bring on an expert like Sharon to help you navigate the world of trademarks and copyright, but don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be scary!

“It isn’t overwhelming,” Sharon says. “But it isn’t a one and done thing.”

Keep reading for more of Sharon’s insights about how to keep your intellectual property safe and your business on the cutting edge.

Understanding Creative IP: Let Your Work Shine — Without Fear of Copycats1. Do your IP homework

The process of keeping your creative assets safe should begin early on.

“The job of protecting a trademark really begins before you adopt it,” Sharon says. “It’s doing careful research and clearance work to make sure that the brand you want to use is available and isn’t going to cause conflict.”

The breadth of the internet can offer you much of the information you need in the early stages of launching a brand, business or creative product. Before you commit yourself to a company name or logo, spend time thoroughly searching online to make sure that someone else hasn’t used those assets first.

And it doesn’t stop there. Protecting your IP happens on an ongoing basis. Sharon suggests you make a note to do a similar search once or twice a year to make sure that you’re staying on top of any potential infringement by others. If you spot this kind of infringement, you can handle it proactively and calmly.

I know this from experience! A few years ago, another agency started using the PR Maven name. I reached out to them to let them know that I own the trademark to it. We were able to talk it through politely and they stopped using the name. It doesn’t have to be contentious!

2. Practice the ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’

Sharon and the team at Toerek Law have created a niche for themselves in the legal world, working primarily with creative services professionals. Figuring out how to specialize and use your expertise and skill set to support one industry or community can go a long way toward setting you apart from your competitors.

In addition to her passion for working with creatives, the “Blue Ocean Strategy” has been instrumental in inspiring Sharon to specialize in this way. According to this strategy, your best bet when starting any business is to fish where there aren’t a lot of other fish.

“If you pick a vertical or combination of verticals and something that you’re really excellent at, you have no competition,” Sharon says. “Therefore, you can command better fees, you can take on more interesting work and you don’t need as many clients to do well as a business.”

Sharon also notes that specializing makes you better at your craft and makes your work more interesting.

3. Don’t forget to strategize about your own intellectual property

In her years working with creative agencies, Sharon has met far too many professionals who are concerned with the intellectual property they create for their clients, but forget to protect the IP for their own businesses. Agencies that take the time to build a strategy around their own assets, however, are more successful than their competitors.

Diving into client work without taking the time to protect your own agency’s intellectual property ahead of time will “ultimately cost more time and money,” Sharon says. “[Agencies] don’t always take that breath and step back and think about what they’ve created in their own four walls to protect and make money from.”

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to take that breath, step back and really get serious about building an IP strategy that will ensure you’re protected and lucrative. Attorneys and other experts are out there to help.

4. Partner with others who serve your audience

Sharon and her colleagues connected with many of the agencies they serve through their partnership with the Agency Management Institute (AMI), a management consulting business that serves small and medium-sized marketing communication companies who are working to grow their impact. Sharon’s experience partnering with AMI has shown her the power of making smart industry connections.

“Find other people who serve the audience that you serve, but do different things for them,” she says. “You need what they can provide for your clients and they need what you can provide for theirs. Look for other consultants, other professional service vendors, whoever serves the same audience that you serve, because they are great learning opportunities for you.”

Building these kinds of thoughtful, genuine partnerships will help you grow your reach and better understand what you have to offer clients. In the process, you’ll develop more amazing intellectual property worth protecting!

This is based on episode 115 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.