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Protecting your brand in the age of the Internet

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“It takes decades to develop a good name, yet only minutes to destroy it.” So said my father to my brother and me when we were just starting out in professional life over 30 years ago.

If you’ve been in private practice for a while, you surely know of someone who, over perhaps the slightest oversight or minor infraction, went through regulatory or investigative agony defending their character and reputation from an online allegation or consumer complaint. Even if one is eventually exonerated, the digital trail of the ordeal can remain online for years, where any future prospect with a search engine can misconstrue it. 

Equally frustrating is the constant and endemic copyright infringement — outright theft of one’s intellectual property — that takes place throughout our profession, when advisors who admire your brand from afar simply help themselves to large parts of it without your permission, even twisting your words to suit their online ends. 

So what precautions can one take to protect themselves from all of the above? I humbly suggest that the following guidelines may be a good place to start: 

Don’t play near the line. When suitability and compliance authorities draw a regulatory line in the sand, stay far away from it. There is much to be discerned about the character of an advisor who ponders what he might get away with — rather than instructing his staff to always “under-promise and over-deliver,” and deliberately exceed industry standards at every turn. 

Document everything. Don’t just rely on the disclosures that accompany the products you offer. Develop a comprehensive Advisory Disclosure as well as an accompanying Client Acknowledgment. Spend money on a good corporate attorney before allegations arise, and cover yourself against that rare-but-lethal, opportunistic complainant or his like-minded heir.

Secure your web content. Submitting your new website to Google and Microsoft not only “time-stamps” your content, but encourages search engines to “crawl” around your site, identifying the architecture, content, keywords and meta data as uniquely yours. Should you find your content to have been plagiarized by another firm, filing complaints directly to Google and Microsoft will get their web pages de-listed from search engine results — leaving only yours.

Understand the decision-making process. Be relational rather than transactional, and take the time to get to know your prospect, determine a mutual fit both financially and culturally, and allow them the time to understand and embrace your recommended solutions. Never do business with a stranger on a first meeting.

Remember: Job One is protecting your brand and the hundreds of trust relationships you’ve worked decades to foster from the risks posed by opportunistic prospects and competitors. Premeditated prevention is the best investment you can make in the age of the Internet.

For more from Thomas K. Brueckner, see:

Next month: Coordinating Your Marketing Initiatives


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