Think You Own Your Marketing Materials? You May Be in for a Big Shock

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Most companies assume that they own the creative campaigns and marketing materials produced for them by an agency or freelancer once they make final payment.

That, it turns out, can be an expensive mistake.

In the past few months, we’ve been surprised — and disappointed — to meet two organizations that believed they owned the marketing materials and campaigns produced for them and were shocked to learn that they didn’t.

In once instance, the client (let’s call them Widgets, Inc.) believed it owned the brand, logo and website it had paid an agency to develop. Afterall, they had made numerous payments to that agency.

When Widgets, Inc., expressed its desire to end the relationship, it was surprised to learn that the contract it had signed with the agency specified that the agency owned the brand, logo and the website. Widgets, Inc., was contractually obligated to make an additional, and quite substantial, payment to purchase those items. Until that was done, Widgets, Inc., could not use any items (including ads and brochures) that included the branding, logo and/or website in question.

At Turtledove Clemens, we’re proud of the branding, creative and marketing work we perform on behalf of our clients and believe we should be fairly compensated for that work. We also value long-term relationships. That’s why we ensure that our clients own all materials and programs we develop for them without any additional fees or payments.

To protect themselves, we urge all companies to do two basic, yet critically-important things when entering into a relationship for marketing services:

1. DO read the contract carefully.

This really should apply to any contract but it’s particularly important when it comes to the branding and marketing work your organization will rely on for years to come. If you have any questions, ask before you sign.

2. DON’T assume that you own the work. 

Insist that the contract with your agency include a Work for Hire provision that specifies that work completed by the agency will be transferred to you once you have made complete payment.

A little due diligence will go a long way in establishing a trusting, productive relationship — and preventing expensive surprises.