When you say something about your business, it’s a claim. When a customer says the same thing about your business, it’s a fact. Like the old saying goes, perception is reality. This also speaks to the power of case studies and testimonials. When you back up your claims with real people’s names, real companies and hard data, you give your organization legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of your target audience.
As powerful as case studies and testimonials can be, you face potential legal issues if you don’t have a plan in place and explain the process to the customer – what information or materials you need, how it will be used, where it will be published and what types of authorization will be required. Here are five steps you can take to prevent your case studies and testimonials from turning into expensive legal headaches.
1) Have a consent form signed up front.
Suppose a customer is eager to help with a case study or testimonial. You go through the interviewing, writing, designing, and approval processes, and you’re ready to publish. Then the customer says they just realized their company doesn’t participate in case studies or provide testimonials. Even worse, you’re informed of this fact after a case study or testimonial has been published, and the customer’s company decides to sue.
This is why consent forms must be approved and signed in advance. Encourage your customer to take this consent form as high up the chain of command as necessary to ensure that you have proper authorization. This will help the contract hold up if your contact leaves the company, there’s a major leadership change, or the company is sold.
While lengthy consent forms can take a long time to approve and cause the customer to have second thoughts, overly simplistic contracts may not have enough meat to stand up to a legal challenge. We believe in striking a balance. You can provide plenty of detail to show the customer that this is a serious matter without creating a massive, complicated document, especially if you allow the customer to review and approve the case study or testimonial before publishing.
2) Record all interviews.
Recording interviews enables you to actually listen to what the customer has to say instead of scrambling to write everything down. More importantly, this will ensure accuracy in both quotes and data. Just make sure you get the customer’s consent. In Florida, all parties must consent to the recording. While it is unlikely you would face criminal prosecution for violating Florida’s wiretap law, you could be subject to a civil lawsuit if you did not seek approval. A simple way to protect yourself is to record the customer’s voice stating his or her consent before beginning the interview.
3) Get signed releases for photos.
Whether you want to use photos of the customer, the customer’s customer or the customer’s property, make sure you have permission. A model release, which is not limited to professional models and posed photos, is a written agreement that indicates a person being photographed has given their consent. Similarly, a property release indicates that a property owner has given you permission to photograph and use images of their property, building or facility. A signed release can help you avoid privacy and defamation lawsuits.
4) Get written permission for the use of a logo.
Nobody wants to be sued for trademark infringement. Will the case study or testimonial include a logo on a downloadable document? Will the logo appear in a PowerPoint presentation or on your website? Brands are rightfully protective of their logos, so be clear about how the logo will be used.
5) Consider having consent forms and releases reviewed by an attorney.
The way in which the language of these documents is crafted can determine whether or not it holds up in court, while privacy laws vary from state to state. Although many standard documents can be found online, a licensed attorney can make sure consent forms and releases related to case studies and testimonials meet your specific requirements.
Following these simple steps will make your life easier and allow you to focus on the substance of your case study. Contact us if you’d like more information or if we can assist.
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