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PR Pros Should Broaden their Purview to Include Online Brand Protection

Public relations professionals are intimately familiar with the myriad ways the Internet has revolutionized marketing, branding and communications. Few, however, appear to understand how the Internet’s vast size and anonymous nature can create serious challenges for brands.

According to David Duckwitz, president and chief executive of online brand protection firm CitizenHawk, online brand and trademark abuse is costing companies millions of dollars a year – not to mention customer trust and brand equity. Duckwitz discussed the issue with a group of senior-level public relations execs at the PRSA-Orange County Senior Roundtable on June 25.

“Corporate and product brands are precious business assets, and companies spend enormous amounts of time and money promoting them to consumers, investors and others,” Duckwitz said. “Unfortunately, the more visible and popular a brand is, the more attractive it is to counterfeiters, cybersquatters and other scammers who won’t hesitate to rip them off for their own financial gain.”

Duckwitz focused much of his attention on typosquatting – a form of online trademark infringement in which scammers (typically located overseas) register misspelled versions of popular Internet domains in order to exploit typing mistakes and redirect traffic from its intended destination. Typosquatting is a pernicious problem for major brands; Duckwitz said the average Internet Retailer 500 company has 100 typo sites infringing on its trademarks. Duckwitz also briefly reviewed several other forms of online trademark infringement, including image/logo abuse, inappropriate keyword buys, and counterfeiting and other forms of unauthorized product sales.

He noted that, while most of his company’s business comes from marketing and legal departments, public relations people should at least be aware of the issue and the potential impact of online abuse on popular brands.

“Public relations people who want a seat at the senior management table would be wise to gain some familiarity with this issue. They may not be tasked with combatting such abuse, but if they are concerned with issues like brand equity and reputation management, they need to add this to their field of vision.”