In PR, contracts are used on the regular. In securing sponsorship deals, clients and agreements from services and resource providers, the law plays a big role. It’s there to protect you, the agency, the clients and stakeholders to ensure that things are not just done, but done right!

Some PR pros have a human resources department to deal with contractual issues. Some consult with lawyers and others rely on their own industry knowledge and experience to run things.

Regardless of the set up used, it never does any harm to gain some extra knowledge of the legal fundamentals that usually arise in the industry fraternity. Looking into past matters allows you to learn from past mistakes, allowing you to avoid the nature of these precedents.

With that in mind, let’s get right into the legalities of PR:

1. Keep copyright law in mind

As a PR pro, you’re only as valuable as the creative work that you produce. Now, imagine someone stealing all your work for a huge PR campaign. Not a nice thought is it? Well, that’s why it’s important to have measures in place to protect all of your intellectual property.

In most situations, things such as images, video clips, documented ideas and recordings of brainstorming sessions ought to be protected. So, how can a PR pro go about protecting these types of intellectual property?

Well, you could use a contractual discretion clause, which gives you control over the other party as you set out dos and don’ts for them. This also allows you to give a client or team members the right to work and share ideas, but not the obligation to use any of the ideas for other campaigns.

In brief, the use of this clause is to inform the third party of their rights and limits in connection with your intellectual content.

2. Assessing your commercial speeches

In PR campaigns, speeches and hardcopy content, it is vital to keep track of your wording when expressing facts or statistics that may later not be as true as you thought it was. Your own wording could lend you to many controversies that may even lead to lawsuits.

For example, imagine that you claim that a certain brand “will help you improve your thinking abilities” — what happens when it doesn’t improve every person’s thinking abilities? You’ll be labeled as a liar. In such a case, it would have been better to say it “may” or it “could” make improvements. This simply indicates that there are no guarantees and it narrows the gap for backlash.

An even better way to do things is to use the Central Hudson Test (CHT). The CHT was developed by a supreme court in the United States in order to know when it would be possible to regulate commercial speech under the First Amendment.

How does this help a PR pro? You can test your commercial content or speeches against the CHT’s components and requirements or use some of the cases (AKA precedents) found under the CHT to determine whether you’re still acting within the perimeters of expressing content that is true and reliable.

Although some countries don’t use the CHT to analyse their own content, it’s surely a useful tool when you’re not sure whether you’re selling the public a blue lie or the truth.

3. Professionalism and ethics

While some assume that professionalism and ethics only apply to business, there is a question that every PR should consider: Who makes up that business? Well, the people who make use of its offerings, of course!

When a PR team acts in a manner that is professionally and ethically acceptable, the agency is perceived as a reputable brand. This is because ethics are based on moral values, while laws are much more strict and are based on a set of rules that govern the whole of society.

It therefore makes it easy for anyone to interpret ethics as they deem right in their own eyes. This can make it challenging to discipline someone in a PR team who has behaved unethically.

For example, sending journalists or publications money to give positive coverage of your event can be seen as bribery, which is unethical. Alternatively, sending a journo a goodie hamper can be deemed acceptable.

According to PR News Online, “In most cases, it depends on the value of the gift, and some might argue that an overwhelming gift such as a car is a bribe and unethical, while others might not see it that way.”

All in all, although ethics may not be as strict and explicit as laws, they’re there to help PR practitioners stay on the principled side of the game! And an ethical business is one that clients can trust.

From the outside, the PR industry may look like a walk in the park, but there are still many things professionals have to learn and understand regarding the law. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.

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In 2021, the future of PR will look at new and creative ways of completing projects, running events and dealing with crises. To learn more, check out Where the future of public relations is headed in the new year.