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Don't invest your marketing budget into a sinking proposition
Lucas HamonJun 26, 2017 7:09:00 AM4 min read

Who Owns Intellectual Property Rights to Your Marketing Investments?

Don't invest your marketing budget into a sinking proposition

Are your marketing dollars being invested wisely?

Over the years, I have come across dozens of forms of digital marketing, each with their own philosophies and methodologies. I've even seen inbound defined in more conflicting ways than I can count. This can make it quite challenging to find the methodology that's right for your business, and many marketing leaders I speak to tell me how wary they are of getting into yet another bad investment.

The worst of those, in my opinion, is when the self-proclaimed "inbound" agencies (or any of them, for that matter) fail to automatically transfer IP rights to the company's the hire them, and then use that to keep clients from leaving instead of letting their work do the convincing.

Do you know who owns the marketing IP coming from your marketing investments? Read your contracts... the truth may surprise you.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You should always consult somebody qualified before making legal decisions. I do have some pretty fantastic insight though!

One last note before jumping in - This can apply to both freelancers and agencies, so don't let your guard down just because it's an individual. If anything, they tend to be riskier investments, because there is little to no accountability if things go wrong. There is no brand at risk.

But that's another story for another day.

What falls under "intellectual property rights?"

According to Wikipedia, IP refers to "creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law.[1] Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are the protections granted to the creators of IP, and include trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets.[2]

This would include all of the following materials provided by your agency:

  • Music
  • Literature
  • Words
  • Phrases
  • Symbols
  • Designs

That's pretty much everything you hired that agency to do.

The impact of mismanaged IP

When it isn't clearly outlined in your contract that your company is the owner of everything that comes out of the engagement, you are putting your company at risk of losing everything.

Agencies who operate this way, do so knowing that the value of your investment disappears COMPLETELY the moment you disengage. They call it being "sticky."

I call it something else.

And it feels very "outbound," not even remotely close to "inbound." (why is that?)

If your company doesn't explicitly own the IP, any of the following (or worse) could happen:

  • They lock you out of your marketing software and hold their performed work ransom
  • They delete everything
  • They use materials created for you with your competitors
  • They use materials created for you to promote themselves when they don't have permission
  • The quality of their work suffers, because they feel invincible
  • The moment you disengage, you lose ALL momentum, because there is nothing to build on

Identifying the problem before it becomes one

Common scenarios where IP ISN'T automatically assigned to the company by the "inbound marketing" agency include:

  • The agency generates leads through THEIR website, not yours
  • The agency is trying to be "sticky," so you don't leave them for greener pastures at any point
  • The agency is focusing mostly on Ads

To be clear, I don't think these are good situations to be in, particularly when they are labeling themselves as "inbound."

Inbound marketing is about drawing visitors to your website, converting them into leads by offering something of value in exchange for their contact information, then nurturing them to being sales ready. If that is not the exact formula (paid ads are not inbound, but they can be incorporated into an inbound plan), then it isn't inbound... period.

Learn more about the inbound philosophy and how to apply it to your business.

If any of these following conditions exist, you may have an IP issue on your hands, and it's certainly worth bringing up with your agency (even if you've already signed the contract):

  • The contract does not explicitly assign IP ownership
  • THEY are engaged with your other project-related service providers, not your company. This would include software subscriptions (Hubspot, Hotjar, etc), stock photo subscriptions, etc. 
  • The leads coming your way aren't actually coming from YOUR website
  • Landing pages are hosted off-site
  • You don't have access to materials prior to publication
  • You cannot see where things are in the process
  • The effect of termination is the complete and immediate stoppage of any benefits gained by the investment

Now, they may not ALL be directly related to IP ownership. Some could also be a delivery issue... but I do want to quickly discuss the last point in there.

Ask your agency what happens if you disengage. Will somebody be able to take over, and will you still get traffic and leads?


Don't let this tiny, hugely significant detail go un-checked. When the vendors you work with address IP in plain daylight, to me, it's a sign that they can be trusted. It's not everything, but it's a sign, and at the very least, you'll be protected if things don't go as planned.

Interested in learning more about how we can install and maintain an inbound lead engine that your company will own from the outset? Schedule a free inbound marketing consultation today!

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Lucas Hamon

Over 10 years of B2B sales experience in staffing, software, consulting, & tax advisory. Today, as CEO, Lucas obsesses over inbound, helping businesses grow! Husband. Father. Beachgoer. Wearer of plunging v-necks.