The news stories about Melania Trump’s 2016 Republican Convention speech plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech brought up one of my pet peeves – plagiarizing marketing content.
It is not OK to copy other marketers’ stuff. Ever.
I had a personal experience with being plagiarized by B2B Marketers when one of my attorney clients told me about Copyscape.com. I thought I’d try it out, and I soon found that two consultants and an online industry publication had copied three of my articles. You can read the dramatic (I am not dramatic – actually very calm – but my blood pressure definitely went up) story here, B2B Marketers: Has Your Online Content Been Copied? In a nutshell, one consultant who copied my content said she hired a ghost-writer and didn’t know the articles were copied. The other consultant, a former boss of mine, apologized and took the plagiarized content down.
Why Plagiarism is an important issue for B2B Marketers
Ethics in marketing – and in business – has become an increasing focus of mine. A few years ago when I was asked to teach a marketing ethics course at UCLA Extension (one of the largest and most comprehensive continuing education programs that offers certificate programs for businesses, including a Marketing Certificate). I started teaching the Ethics in Marketing and Advertising course (and then was asked to teach the capstone course of the Marketing Certificate, Strategic Marketing).
I was really impressed that UCLA Extension required the ethics class. As time went on, I came to believe that ethics should be embedded in every course offered in any certificate program at UCLA Extension, rather than a discreet course.
But, I digress!
I mention this because the ethics in marketing that has always been part of my marketing consulting practice became even more of a focus when I was teaching the class. To this day, I still follow ethics issues in marketing and curate articles and posts in my Ethics in Marketing topic on Scoop.It. Ethics in marketing is on my radar, and we B2B Marketers need to prevent our clients and other marketers from plagiarizing others’ original work.
If you do create content based on someone’s original work, at least mention the author and, even better, provide a link to the original material.
I have a thirty-plus-year career in B2B marketing and sales, and I’ve consulted with hundreds of companies in the last twenty years. I’ve observed a lot of marketing and business situations and provided solutions that help my clients grow. I keep a folder of these observations and solutions that feeds ideas for my blog posts on my B2B Marketing Traction blog. My blog posts are original and designed to add value for my clients and prospective clients. I always reference other content I consult for research prior to writing my own blog posts.
Re-purpose Your Own Marketing Content, not Other People’s!
When social media and content marketing became more mainstream, some of the industry leaders were suggesting that you re-purpose content to be more efficient. At the time I was following blogs by Chris Brogan, Jay Baer and David Meerman Scott, among others. I don’t remember who first wrote about re-purposing. The idea was that you would watch which of your blog posts or videos were most popular, and then turn the blog post into a video, webinar, eBook, etc. (or vice versa). I think re-purposing is brilliant. It’s just that the originators of the idea meant that B2B Marketers should re-purpose their own content, not that of competitors or other thought leaders!
If you have reviewed other sites and content before writing your own, or if you hired a ghost writer, consider using an online plagiarism checker before you publish.
I think plagiarism can happen, and sometimes it might just be human nature. Here’s an example. Years ago I was working with a client who wanted to write their own website content. After a while, they asked me to review what they wrote and give them my opinions and feedback. As I read one of the pages, some of the words jumped out at me. I looked at a similar page on my site. Sure enough, the exact wording had made it’s way to my client’s site. The client was in a different space and, frankly, I was a little bit flattered that they liked what I had written. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I did observe that it’s very possible for someone to read content and then write it into their materials later without realizing they are copying someone’s words. So, we can argue that anyone could be at fault for plagiarism! By the way, if anyone thinks I have copied their materials, I welcome their call or email to discuss it.
When B2B Marketers Copy Your Stuff, Remember Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery
Over the years I’ve observed that my content has provided ideas for other businesses, both big and small. I haven’t expended the energy and time to run each of my blog posts through a checker like Copyscape. I just remind myself that imitation is the best form of flattery and move on, writing creatively and producing original content.
Avoid B2B Marketers Who Encourage Plagiarism and Copying Content
Just as the online copy checkers have helped spot plagiarism in schools and business, technology also potentially encourages plagiarism! And some B2B marketing advisors actually tell their clients to use competitor’s content! One Content Marketer admitted in a blog post that they use an online service to submit competitors blog URLs, find out what content on the competitor site is most popular, and then write a better article. (Frankly, I wonder who has time for this, and it perhaps even suggests that the marketer doesn’t have original thoughts and content to share with their audience.)
It’s fine to track what topics are popular, but if you are rewriting a competitor’s article, you may be crossing the line. Marketers have been doing competitive analysis and following competitor’s marketing messages for years. That’s one thing. But encouraging people to copy others’ content is wrong. As marketers, we need to be careful, and we need to produce content with integrity and complete transparency. If another marketer’s article inspires you to write about a topic, and you take their content and add it it, you should give them credit.
How Can You Make Sure Your B2B Marketing Consultant Writes Original Content?
There are a few questions you can ask to find out if your marketing consultant has integrity and produces original, not copied, content for themselves and for your business.
1. Does your marketing consultant follow a code of ethics?
Sometimes marketing consultants belong to an organization that requires adherence to a code of ethics. One such organization is the Institute of Management Consultants, in which I’ve been an active member and a leader in the Los Angeles Chapter for more than a dozen years. Unfortunately adherence to a code of ethics is not the norm for most consultants, because they aren’t required by law to maintain a license or follow a professional code like CPA’s, Attorneys and Doctors.
2. Does your marketing consultant put their clients first?
Does your marketing consultant create original content that shares their experience and helps you and other businesses? This kind of content will tend to be longer blog posts with interesting case studies and stories about the consultant’s actual experiences. Or, is their content designed to game search engine results and promote themselves as a speaker? This kind of content may show up as short blog posts full of keywords but little value or lists of regurgitated content links from other people.
3. Are you able to get references to check your marketing consultant’s work ethic?
Sometimes we get so excited about finding a possible solution to our marketing problems, we just jump into a contract with a provider. You should always check references first, and, if possible, talk to a couple of alternative resources. It’s always best to take a little time to check references before you enter into a contract.
It’s not even Friday, a day that I often reserved for writing opinion pieces that I usually label “my Friday morning Marketing Soapbox.” But, I think you’ll agree that ethics in marketing is really important. When we were served such a blatant example of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s RNC speech this week , I could not resist writing this post. (By the way, I listened to the broadcast of the live speech and thought she did a good job. I did not recognize the words that were lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech!)
If you want to work with a marketing consultant with integrity, contact New Incite today. Since 1997 we’ve been creating original marketing messages, campaigns and content to generate results for our clients.
Photo on Flickr by Marc Nozell. Some Rights Reserved.