Intellectual Property in the Social Media

21 04 2015

So, we have a new addition to Alchemy, and even though this is extremely difficult for such a control freak (yes, me), she should get to write some stuff, too. And so she has…KMO

On April 26th every year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) celebrates World Intellectual Property Day to promote discussion of the role of IP in encouraging innovation and creativity. I was just reflecting upon this while advising copyrights to a potential client regarding the promotion of her children’s music and story books. Then our office experienced a social media etiquette faux pas during an online marketing campaign for one of our retail destination client’s outdoor concert festival events. Part of our job was designing all of the graphic needs for posters, signage, print and digital ads, and a collection of imagery to use on social media that would capture Facebook viewing attention and brand this “Peace Love & Wellness Music Festival” for our client, while making this artwork available for use by any of the participating retail tenants, businesses, vendors, and the bands. This particular client uses events as its primary source of marketing, outside of a year-round general branding campaign, and we have fun creating visual identities for each event. The Peace Love & Wellness campaign proved very successful with image likes and shares growing viewership to its 3rd Annual event page more than 100% over last year’s page. The ROI was worth the effort.

Alchemy's marketing for the event

Alchemy’s marketing for the event

Obviously, the object of marketing through social media is to entice viewers to attach their identity to the event and share it with others to extend the buzz field. Yes, share the original images on their timeline, add their own descriptive announcement with the post, and tag their friends and businesses. But we had one vendor take things a bit further than that. And I’m certain if you asked him he would say that he was just helping out and thought it was okay to promote his business by making his own flyer out of our client’s collateral. After all, he did slide their logo, although poorly resolute and altered in shape, onto his new graphic. So that’s more than okay, right?

Alchemy's marketing before alteration

Alchemy’s marketing before alteration

Well, actually, not. Our client paid for the artwork to be presented in the approved composition. This vendor did not ask for permission to change it. He did not hire Alchemy to make a poster out of this collateral and change it to feature his business. He added his own banner boldly across the top, juxtaposed shoddy font styles in an unprofessional layout of low quality, dropped in a low-resolution logo, and added his own copy. At this point, neither the client nor we would want our names attached to the altered artwork for credit. We had a conundrum: allow him to promote to his patrons or ask him to take it down. Our client made the decision not to offend him.

More of Alchemy's marketing

More of Alchemy’s marketing

Social media is now a balancing act of etiquette and manners. What is acceptable here is not acceptable there, and the rules are bent and stretched to fit a variety of scenarios. Unfortunately intellectual property, once uploaded into the digital slipstream, has very little protection. According to Facebook Copyright Infringements, violations have to be noticed by the author, reported to the powers that be on Facebook by the author, and then the violator must be contacted by the author and agree to take down their post and make amends. Only after these steps are refused is the author advised to claim a lawsuit. Furthermore, it is up to the author to set the privacy settings to limit the viewership and shares. One has limited protection of ownership if they want their work to be seen. So, in the scenario of a visual marketing campaign, images are out there with permission for the public to share until the original is removed. And according to an article written by a local West Palm Beach, Florida-based intellectual property attorney, Joseph J. Stafford, TO PIN OR NOT TO PINonce something is uploaded on to Pinterest, the author must understand that Pinterest takes no responsibility for the image sharing and usage. The artwork will remain on Pinterest indefinitely. And anything without a registered copyright or trademark is seriously at risk for loss of ownership.

...and Alchemy's marketing post-alteration

…and Alchemy’s marketing post-alteration

The increasing cultural trend is to share, save, tweet, or post any image as your own without thought or concern over identifying the true author. This virtually attaches ownership to any pinner for multiple re-compositions. The only protection would be to add a backend code for tracking violations or the application of a watermark across the image that would be difficult to remove or alter. So what can professional social media communicators do? Stay aboveboard and remain very professional for our clients in social media activity. We should set an example by creating our posts with integrity. If we are sharing the photo or work of another author then we should make time and effort to give credit where credit is due. Photos courtesy of…, or original painting by…, etc. Vintage ads and old movie stills are grandfathered for acceptable use as long as you are not selling them. But be very careful in the use of trademarks and brand collateral. I even went as far as to get corporate-level permission to create an original floral pattern reminiscent of Lilly Pulitzer for social media promotions of an event it sponsored for charity. Lawsuits can happen and they can be very costly to settle when they do. It’s better to be respectful and safe than sorry.

Above you see the original pieces of artwork created for our Facebook promotional campaign, and one of the altered and unapproved versions. What do you think about the modification and reuse of collateral materials without permission?

-Lori Herrala, Communications Director at Alchemy


The Intersection of Marketing and Art

14 04 2014

It’s no bad thing to have a client who is an art patron. And it’s an even better thing when that client, a real estate developer, is a huge supporter of Art in Public Places (#AIPP) and willing to budget for the creation of art as a way to improve the community in which construction takes place.

For another perspective on the scale of this project, this is Tristan painting Alexander Graham Bell’s eye.

For another perspective on the scale of this project, this is Tristan painting Alexander Graham Bell’s eye.

That said, you’d like to have the artwork depict some subtle tie-in to the project, even though Art in Public Places is pretty strict about there being no commercial aspect to the projects it approves. The client, Ram Realty Services, decided that we would conduct a Call to Artists with the prompt that the 7,000 square foot mural would honor Alexander Graham Bell and communication, since the historic structure was once the regional headquarters for Southern Bell, and the converted residential units will be known as Alexander Lofts.

To provide a sense of scale, these next images were taken from the painting platforms.

Looking down...

Looking down…

Looking up...

Looking up…

After a lengthy vetting process that included representatives of Ram Realty Services, Alchemy, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, it was decided we would work with Los Angeles-based Tristan Eaton, an internationally known street artist and designer whose work can be seen in galleries around the world and in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Eaton is renowned for creating large-scale murals in urban landscapes (NYC, Detroit, LA, Cleveland), and is an art consultant to major brands such as Fisher Price, Nike, and Disney.

It took him and his two assistants over 600 cans of spray paint and a total of 12 days to conquer the wall.

While there is no commercial aspect to the final artwork that in any way promotes Alexander Lofts, the prominence of the huge mural makes the building a landmark in Downtown West Palm Beach, and generated a tremendous amount of media coverage.

And it doesn’t hurt that the enormous mural and the name of the building both pay homage to Alexander Graham Bell – subtle, but present.

The finished 7,000 square-foot mural.

The finished 7,000 square-foot mural.

The investment in this tremendous artwork is a fantastic branding tool, as we are able to generate interest in the project on social media, on the project website, and in future marketing efforts as a way to identify the location of the property.

Ad Creep(y)

29 07 2013

First there was bodvertising, then thighvertising, now it’s beardvertising. Talk about taking “ad creep” to new highs…er, lows…oh, forget it.


This, my friends, is “thighvertising.”

Ad creep is defined in our industry as the spread of media placement into every possible aspect of our daily lives. Thighvertising (according to the U.K.’s Telegraph, or maybe it was the Daily Mail – it was earlier this year) originated in Japan, and is pretty much just what the name implies: advertising on the quadriceps. But not just any quads, mind you – on the taut legs of young, attractive women. Everything I read about this trend – which seemed to hit critical media mass in the last few weeks — noted its potential for objectification of women. Then, of course, came the opinions that it’s EMPOWERING when women turn the tables and take control of their bodies and their image. As someone of the female persuasion, I’m going to stop right here before I let loose with an opinion of that sentiment, which isn’t really relevant to the topic at hand. However, I will tell you that this is my test for whether something is exploitative (borrowed from another writer, so no claims to originality here): Are guys doing it, too?

More thighvertising

Are we the only ones who found this invasive?

The PR firm credited with the thighvertising reports that as of sometime around Q3 2012, over 1,300 women signed up to be mini-skirted billboards, although I read other reports that put the number as high as 13,000. The name of this Japanese PR outfit is Absolute Territory, which also happens to be a colloquial term for the area exposed between a woman’s hemline and the top of her stockings. No doubt many more business-minded female entrepreneurs (yep, that would be sarcasm) have since applied. After all, they’re paid from $13 to $128 for co-opting a leg and walking around Tokyo like that for eight hours (and posting it all over social media for additional exposure).

From the guys at

From the guys at

But at least it’s better than what a New Zealand ad agency did back in 2011 – they created raised plates and installed them on bus benches. What did the raised plate do? It imprinted an ad on the backs of your thighs for a client’s sale that read, “SHORT SHORTS ON SALE AT SUPERETTE.” Don’t believe me? There’s proof.


Beardvertising by @WrestlingAndy

So, I’m feeling like beardvertising does not quite level that particular playing field. If you are thinking, “Why the heck not? What are you, some kind of feminist?” feel free to check out some of these samples of beardvertising and tell me this is the same as “absolute territory” messaging (you can see way more on Instagram here).

Beardvertising by @brentonrocks

On the plus side, I truly love that Dollar Shave Club (which produced one of the best viral marketing videos EVER), purveyors of beard-eliminating technology, have co-opted some of the mankiest beards I have ever seen. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe there are lots of people out there who find the absolute territory between the eye and the top of the beard really hot.


Thighvertising at International Business Times:

Don’t Harsh My Thongs

19 07 2013

What’s with all the thong hate? No, not THOSE thongs. “Thongs” are what we used to call flip-flops down here when I was a kid.

Not our feet, not our beach. Image courtesy of KSL Broadcasting, Salt Lake City UT (

Not our feet, not our beach. Image courtesy of KSL Broadcasting, Salt Lake City UT (

Whatever you call them, I read six articles published in the last week referencing the horror of people wearing flip-flops (Slate,  Huffington Post, MSN, CBS, Fox, and Jezebel), and saw on my way out the door this morning that the Today Show  was, as usual, coming late to the party. At least Jezebel took the contrarian (shocking, I know) position that there is no shame in sporting ugly, exposed feet.

Apparently, feet need a good PR push. They’re variously described in these articles as “gross,” “disgusting,” “nasty,” “super gross,” “smelly,” “filthy,” “unsightly,” “skeevy,”  and “unappealing.”  Place them in a flip-flop, put them in an urban environment, and you get a violent reaction. Mix in podiatrists and lack of arch support, and you have shoe heresy.

After my initial knee-jerk reaction to people dissing my favorite form of footwear — after all, I live in South Florida and we have raised thong-wearing to an art form — I found I had to agree with at least SOME of the argument. Thongs + urban dirt = skanky feet. I lived in New York City for six years and never once even considered wearing flip-flops on the street. I wore Doc Martins, a form of urban combat wear for your feet. It was simply self-defense; I have this thing about people stepping on my naked toes. It hurts.

And let’s not forget the general filthiness of large collections of humans living in very close proximity to one another. Big city streets are big time nasty.

What’s actually interesting in all of this is not that there are something like 18,000 bacteria on your flip-flops (including Staphylococcus aureus, according to the 2009 study referenced in all of these articles). It’s that thing I referred to in the last post: the social media hive mind.

It used to be that print and broadcast tended to move in story cycles, so that if one pub covered a topic and the article/segment was interesting and well-received (or at least received a lot of attention), you could count on similar stories from the competition. Now that everyone’s wired (a gloriously inaccurate term), the cycle is practically instantaneous. And when enough news outlets (i.e. mainstream media), news purveyors (i.e. bloggers, gossip sites, opinion sites), and social consumers come together on a topic, it becomes a cultural phenomenon (albeit an often brief one). Because the timeframe is so compressed, and sharing anything even remotely interesting is basically built into whatever you’re reading/watching, we get topics that spread like viruses. Hence that “viral” thing.

What used to seem like these big cosmic coincidences now happen so frequently they’ve lost much of their luster — and therefore any truly lasting impact. In a moment too meta to contemplate here, an author whose book I recently edited told me I need to read Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, and the next day Mr. Berger was on CBS talking about how stuff catches on — or doesn’t.

So, I wonder what the next Sharknado will be? Of course, if we knew that, we’d stop trying to do this marketing thing, become consultants, and wear our flip-flops on the beach in Bora Bora.

Late to the Sharknado…

12 07 2013

I had a whole bunch of ideas for a blog post – you have beardvertising to look forward to, people – but abandoned them after #sharknado took over Twitter and garnered the SyFy Channel’s latest cheesefest so much second-screen publicity that it was a featured story everywhere from the Today Show to Variety to the Wall Street Journal.

Too mature to know about the guilty pleasures of SyFy’s made-for-TV schlockfests? Sharknado, which premiered last night, stars D-list (and really, we’re being generous here) celebs Ian Zeiring (Beverly Hills 90210) and Tara Reid (American Pie). A hurricane off the coast of California sucks up man-eating sharks and transports them, via tornado, to Los Angeles. Said sharks proceed to fly out of funnel clouds and eat everyone.


The social media hive-mind created a TwitterStorm during the run, with such beauties as this:

Danny Zucker (@dannyzucker)
Can’t watch #Sharknado because I’m on the set of my new film Tsunamwolf.
(Writer/Exec Producer on ABC’s Modern Family)

Glenn Mazzara (@glennmazzara)
@Ebradley127: “@brayingdixon: “#SHARKNADO is coming! ” I can only hope the sequel is SQUIDQUAKE.
(Writer, Producer — The Shield, The Walking Dead, Life, Crash)

Horatio Sanz (@mrhoratiosanz)
I wish I could join in on the shenanigans, but I had a cousin that was killed by a #Sharknado back in ’93. #RamonRIP
(Former SNL cast member, actor, comedian)

Shawn Ryan
Commercials giving me a chance to reflect on secondary, even tertiary levels of #Sharknado.
(Writer – The Shield/The Unit/Terriers/The Chicago Code/Last Resort/Lie To Me/Angel/Nash Bridges)

The Dowager Countess (@ladygrantham)
America: The Empire gave you tea, civilisation and the English language – and you responded with .

The Sharknado forecast

The Sharknado forecast

Other tweeted hashtags/suggested movie titles: Orcalanche, Hurricanine, Tarantulavalanche, Whalecano, Moosnami, Rabbitavalanche, Catsoon.

Actual SyFy Channel movie titles already produced and aired: Sharktopus, Piranhaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Megapython vs. Gateroid. I don’t make this stuff up. Really.

A confession: I watch these SyFy Channel cheese bombs. One of my favorites (and beloved by my then 9-year-old son) was Frankenfish. Another ultra-bad bonding moment for us was Anonymous Rex, a mash-up of Jurassic Park and every film noir trope EVER. It stars Sam Tramell, who now plays Sam Merlotte on True Blood, and that other Baldwin brother, Daniel. The premise? Dinosaurs faked their extinction and live among us disguised as humans. A velociraptor (Tramell) and a triceratops (Baldwin) are private investigators looking into a murder. Bonus: special appearances by Faye Dunaway (hysterical) and Isaac Hayes (smooooth).

Twitter is still blowing up about #sharknado, but now it’s the media discussions of last night’s frenzy. You just can’t pay – or plan – for publicity like this.

Word is that SyFy Channel intends to re-air Sharknado next Thursday at 7:00 PM EST. I know I’m setting the DVR. Twitter better look at the bandwidth/server situation, pronto.

We’re News…

20 07 2012

Alchemy Communications Group Joins
Regan Communications Group’s Growing Portfolio

The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County was nice enough to put our press release up on its website this week, and then we made the “Hot Leads” column in today’s South Florida Business Journal.

We feel like we’ve hit the big time!

Hey, we know all the press up to now has been because Regan Communications Group (RCG) is a big deal, they’ve been around since 1984, they’re major players. The local pick ups are nice because they’re a bit more about us and what we’ve accomplished since we started Alchemy in 2009. We aren’t exactly flashy, and it’s never been in our nature to self-promote. We’ve always felt that our work speaks for itself, and maybe that’s both naive and idealistic in a world where people tweet their every…um, passing thought. And post things on Facebook that are better left to a one-on-one conversation rather than a permanent digital record.

So, we’re going to get better at “PR.” Especially since we’re part of one of the largest PR firms in the country. Although our relationship is based on Alchemy bringing our unique vision and abilities to this relationship, continuing RCG’s mission to become a full-service marketing communications firm, we will absorb some of their culture as we bring a creative perspective to the relationship that comes from a wholly different place.  This is an exciting time for all of us…

We Got Married!

19 07 2012
The New Alchemy Logo

The New Alchemy Logo

Okay, not really. But that’s how George K. Regan put it when describing our relationship last week. He’s the Chairman and Founder of Regan Communications Group (RCG), one of the largest privately held public relations agencies in the United States, and Alchemy merged with RCG in late June. The firm is headquartered in Boston, and has offices in New York City (at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, no less), Cape Cod, Providence, Hartford, and we’ll be heading up its South Florida operation. We’re going to move our stuff into RCG’s existing offices, which means Steve and I will have to get up and walk out of our respective offices to have our next girly slapfight.

“We’re proud to welcome Alchemy as a member of the Regan Communications family,” George said in the official press releases, which were picked up by the New York Times, the Boston Herald, PR Week, and more. “Alchemy’s expertise in advertising and marketing will help Regan Communications service the business communities of Florida in ways that our competitors in the marketplace cannot. We have grown to become a one-stop communications solution for clients in New England, New York, Florida, and nationwide.”

Steve Owens, partner | creative director

Steve Owens, partner | creative director

I added my own two cents: “We feel that we have found the right partner at the right time in Regan Communications,” said Kelly Owens, co-founder of Alchemy Communications Group.  “This partnership will allow us to continue to grow and offer new services including crisis communications, event management, and in-house video capabilities while also receiving the strongest support and unparalleled expertise from one of the country’s most well-respected agencies. We couldn’t be more excited about our future together.”

Kelly Owens, partner | editorial director

Kelly Owens | editorial director

We even went and had pictures taken — that’s how serious it is. We stay behind the cameras, thank you very much, so this was a real moment. Thanks to Dana Hoff for the snaps.

So, we’ll keep you posted when we have our new contact info. We’re moving into the new space any minute; we need to find the time to actually do so! And thanks to everyone who has already called and emailed to say congrats.

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