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“Compliance” as a Sales Tool
by Mark Meckler

When I approach compliance as a lawyer, I am primarily thinking of compliance as a legal issue. That is, what can a company do to assure that they are in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations? This is a defensive posture which will keep you out of trouble, and in the best possible position to defend yourself should a problem arise. But there is an entirely different, proactive and business oriented side to the compliance puzzle.

When quality advertisers go looking for an agency, network or affiliate, more and more they are going to ask about compliance programs. Sophisticated advertisers understand that the online legal environment grows progressively riskier with each passing month, and they want to know what your company is doing to mitigate those risks. When you get asked about this, mumbling something about “industry best practices” won’t get you the account.

What does this mean to you? First it means that you must have compliance programs in place. It also means that you need to be able to articulate those programs to a potential client in a simple, straight forward and confident manner. In the same way that you are expected to be able to explain your advertising programs, you’ll increasingly be asked to explain what you do to protect the online reputation of your clients. And inevitably, part of a prospective client’s decision about who will spend its online advertising dollar will relate to the risk mitigation provided by your compliance programs.

So while “compliance” simply means “following the rules” to some, to others it represents an incredible sales tool. Large, sophisticated web advertisers are generally a cautious bunch; especially if they come from the offline world. And if you have a strong, easily articulated compliance program, you can use that program to sell your potential clients on the relative safety and security of doing business with you. It’s only part of the picture, but it is an increasingly important part.

Often, even sophisticated advertisers have little understanding of what it means to be in “compliance” when advertising on the web, and they’re looking for someone they can lean on in that regard. The law is somewhat uncertain in this area, and the interpretation of regulations changes on an ongoing basis. Like it or not, your clients rely upon you to make sure that what you’re doing on the web on their behalf is not only successful in a business sense, but also that it doesn’t cause them any unwanted legal or publicity issues.

Some companies handle all compliance in-house, and others choose to outsource some components through companies like UnsubCentral (suppression list management) and Lashback (online reputation monitoring). Either way, if you have a program in place, don’t forget to use it as more than just a defensive program. Teaching your sales team to promote an excellent compliance program gives you an excellent tool to differentiate your company when pursuing new business.

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Come back to the iLegal column every week as we get specific about the rules, regulations, laws and trends that affect the online advertising industry. Each week we discuss important legal issues, talk about how to avoid the pitfalls, and cover the breaking legal and regulatory advertising industry news.

Legal Disclaimer: Information conveyed in this column is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. These materials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Digital Moses, and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date. The column is provided for “information purposes” only and should not be relied upon as “legal advice.” This information is not intended to substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney. No person should act or rely on any information in this column without seeking the advice of an attorney.

Mark Meckler is the General Counsel for UniqueLeads.com, Inc., and Unique Lists, Inc.

Copyright 2007 Mark J. Meckler

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