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Cause Marketers: Protect Your Intellectual Property!

One of the things that Children’s Miracle Network learned early on in its production of its eponymous Telethon was that it had to tell specific stories of the individuals who benefited from its efforts: sick children. CMN, which was a path-breaking cause marketer, specifically decided that the narrative arc of those stories had to be about children who were sick but got better thanks to the specialized care available only at children’s hospitals in North America.

And so there would be no stories about children who died and none suggesting that if only people had been more generous with their donations that a child might still be alive. CMN decided that such approaches were exploitive of children.

By the time I joined the organization less than 10 years after its founding, the tone of these stories was well laid down. As was the name by which we referred to them; 'Miracle Stories.'

The term ‘Miracle Story’ described not only the videos that would appear on the Telethon, but it also conveyed a sense of hope and included part of the organization’s official name. It was a great bit of internal branding. 

But since the internal audience that might use the term included sponsors, hospitals, TV stations, and numerous video production companies, the number of people in North America who could use the expression knowledgeably numbered in the thousands.

Back then CMN was growing so quickly that it seldom bothered with niceties like intellectual property. Oh, the logos were trademarked and in the United States copyright protection occurs when something is published. But terms like ‘Miracle Stories’ never got IP protection.

That, frankly, was an oversight. Because cause marketing and sponsorship are in large measure about licensing the logo and other intellectual property, it makes sense that charities extend their IP protection quite broadly, to include even descriptive terms like ‘Miracle Stories.’

Had they done so, there’d be a letter on the desk of Procter & Gamble’s corporate counsel telling them to either cease and desist their use of the term ‘Miracle Story’ or pay Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals a tidy fee.

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