A Tricky Stock Photo Trap: Beware of “Editorial Use”

© Can Stock Photo / Smit

Especially for those of us who are artistically challenged, stock photos are the bomb. I use them in just about every post I publish, to help make my communications pop.

But there’s a trap to beware of, lest those photo bombs backfire on you. I’ll explain more in a moment, but watch out for stock photos marked “editorial use.”

First, congratulations if you’re using stock photography to begin with. That already puts you miles ahead of anyone who assumes that, just because you can download an image from the Internet, you may. By and large, you may not. If you don’t believe me, enter “photo copyright infringement penalties” into your favorite search engine and feast your eyes on the results.

Is a Blogger a Journalist? (No)

One way to avoid infringing on others’ photo rights is to use stock photos. But remember: When you download a stock photo or illustration, you haven’t purchased the image itself. You’ve purchased license to use it under specific terms and conditions.

Most people never bother to read those terms. Most of the time, that may be okay. You probably already know not to re-sell the image as your own, use it in an act of terrorism, or otherwise violate basic “do unto other” principles.

But have you ever noticed that some stock photos are marked “editorial use”?  For example, navigate over to Shutterstock, search on “Warren Buffett,” and open any of the resulting hits. To the right of the image, not very prominently, it says: “Editorial use only.” Hovering over the teensy question mark to the right offers this not-so-clear guidance: “Editorial content, such as news and celebrity images, are not cleared for commercial use. Learn more on our Support Center.”

I encourage you to go ahead and learn more. But I’ll tell you what it boils down to: It means you cannot use the image unless you’re a journalist. And, no, your firm’s blog or e-newsletter, doesn’t count.

So Close, So Far Away

There are two reasons this is frustrating. First, it eliminates almost any stock photos that depict well-known people (such as Buffett, actors, political figures and sports heroes) as well as many identifiable places (like the New York Stock Exchange or the Empire State Building, which are trademarked properties).

In other words, many of the images you’d most love to use are the least available. Worse, many stock photo services that offer editorial use images will let you download it anyway, no problem. But if you then use it as you please, you risk violating the terms you’ve agreed to.

A Lawyer Confirms My Hunch

Personally, I’ve been avoiding editorial use images for years. I’ve seen plenty of others blissfully playing with photographic fire, but after reading the fine print for myself I decided to err on the side of caution. That said, I was never sure I was correct. I never could find a definitive answer out on the Internet, and the legal disclosures were always enigmatic.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Intellectual Property/Trademark Attorney Donna Schmitt of Armstrong Teasdale for her opinion on the subject. Better yet, she generously agreed to let me share her comments with you (emphases are mine):

The Question: Many companies publish monthly informational newsletters that are posted on their websites and/or on their blogs. Is use of stock photos marked for “editorial use” in these forums appropriate, without getting a permission?

Donna’s Answer: “While company newsletters/blogs are informative, they may not fall under the editorial exception for fair use of copyrighted works. Newsletters put out by for-profit companies are usually viewed as a form of advertisement/marketing and not news-reporting. You should secure proper permissions for any photos you use in your newsletter to avoid risks of infringement. Many stock photo providers scan the internet for misuse of their photos and send demand letters to bad actors, seeking monetary compensation for use.”

By the way, this same advice likely applies to those of you who hail from abroad. I asked Donna about that too, and she explained: “Many countries have signed onto the Berne Convention treaty, which recognizes copyrights across borders and gives reciprocal rights to copyright owners from one country to another.”

So there you have it. In many respects, I would have loved to have been proven wrong so I could start decorating my posts with images of my favorite hot celebrities. (Photos of people also raise rights of privacy and publicity issues, by the way.) Instead, I now know I’ve been right to be cautious. I recommend the same to you.

News Glut

News glut
© Can Stock Photo / deserttrends

Have you ever ended up with so many subjects to write about that you seize up and skip writing anything at all? It happens. Time to get caught up on some of my blogging backlog …

Calling All Pacific Northwest Advisors

If you missed the news, Dimensional Fund Advisors is holding a three-day regional event this summer, June 19-21, at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon. I took particular interest in its June 20th communications workshop. Sandwiched between a development conference and investor symposium on the 19th and 21st, the workshop is designed to help advisors “structure a more effective communication strategy with clients and prospects.” Rumor has it, the brainchild behind the event is one of Dimensional’s own communicator extraordinaires, Apollo Lupescu, PhD.

If all that isn’t enticing enough for you to attend, I’ll be there too! Let me know if you’re planning to join us. Maybe we can schedule an informal get-together before or after the program proper.

Twenty Over Ten Offers Content Assist

A few weeks ago, I attended one of Twenty Over Ten’s webinars, introducing Content Assist. The new offering struck me as one more reason to consider turning to this firm for your next website build. I especially liked the fact that it provides you with “starter” content, but you can edit it as much or as little as you please to personalize it for your own use. That’s not unlike my own Content-Sharing Library, except theirs is integrated tightly into their website service.

Will there be a content creation alliance between us at some point? Hey, stranger things have happened. No promises, but let me know if that’s of interest to you. Either way, I’d like to think Twenty Over Ten and I go together like Forrest Gump’s peas and carrots. Way to go, Twenty Over Ten!

Are You “Conflict-Free”? (Hint: No, You’re Not)

I’ll wrap with a communications tip of my own. Too often, I run across fee-only advisor websites (or in Canada, fee-based), assuring the visitor that the firm’s advice is “conflict free,” “completely unbiased,” or similar variations on these themes.

I hate to break it to you … Wait, scratch that. I’m happy to break it to you, since it’s in your best interest. Unless you’re a non-profit charitable organization, you’ve got pricing-related conflicts of interest. And if you’ve got brainwaves, they’re generating behavioral biases, whether you know it or not.

Worse, if you’re exaggerating your firm’s advantages, everyone essentially knows it, at least at a gut level. The strategy may not only strike a sour note in your communication efforts, it could be out of tune with best compliance practices. So, sing it proud, but say it accurately: Fee-only (Canadian fee-based) advice helps minimize biases, and better aligns your clients’ best interests with your own.

Or something like that. Need more help keeping your communications humming along? Keep me in mind.

Color Me Communicative

© Can Stock Photo / roxanabalint

A Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy

Did you catch Jason Zweig’s recent post, “It’s the Little Things That Can Color an Investor’s Outlook”? In it, he shared the results of a recent study on how strongly we behaviorally biased humanoids can be swayed simply by the color in which our investment choices are displayed. When participants saw financial losses in fire-alarm red instead of benign black and white, their responses were more frequently stained with the telltale fingerprints of fear and risk aversion … unless, unsurprisingly, they were colorblind.

So that’s one interesting data point suggesting that the colors in your communications may matter more than you realize, and not always as you might expect from a financial accounting point of view.

This important message, often overlooked, reminds me of an article I stumbled across recently by software developer Nick Babich, entitled “Red, White, and Blue.” Babich is a self-described “UI/UX lover,” which may sound nefarious but it means he concentrates on how to improve websites’ user interface (UI) and user experience (UE).

In other words, colors are his bag, baby. He offers several other reasons you should be more in touch with your and your clients’ inner rainbow than you may currently be.

Continue reading “Color Me Communicative”

The Long and Short of Advisor Videos

A Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy

A question I often hear from advisors: How long should my videos be?

So, first, if you’ve got any prancing baby goats handy (and you’re frittering away your time on Facebook), I’d say the sky’s the limit.

But let’s say you have to resort to actual information. Then what? Opinions vary. A lot.

Continue reading “The Long and Short of Advisor Videos”

Breaking News: Your Blogging Life Just Got Easier

You know it’s good for you and your community: blogging. Especially if it’s good stuff, accessible and informative, without sucking away too much of your client-service face time.

What would you say to a new service to help you achieve just that? Consider it done!

It all started when husband/wife team Jud and Kim Mackrill of Mineral reached out to me recently with an intriguing idea. Here’s the overview: Continue reading “Breaking News: Your Blogging Life Just Got Easier”

Is It Okay To Cuss in Your Client Communications?

This week’s whimsy is inspired by a recent thread in the Evidence-Based Advisors LinkedIn group about John Oliver’s outrageously entertaining attack on many retirement plans’ high fees and opaque arrangements. It’s watchable, worthwhile, and free to share as a link or an embed … You’d think we’d be taking this piece viral faster than you can say “teacup pig.” (If you’re not catching the reference, watch the video.)

But there’s a catch. The language is so salty, the video could serve double duty as a cow lick. It makes McDonald’s fries seem like health food. You get my drift. While most agreed that the piece is “stunningly good” (said one commentator), “the language is just a bit too much” to share (said another). See for yourself, if you’ve not yet.

Should you or shouldn’t you use cuss words in your communications?

Some of the advisers with whom I work regularly pepper their pieces with their own special blend of the famed words from George Carlin’s, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Oliver’s popularity puts all of ours to shame, and those seven-plus words aren’t slowing him down. Like us, our clients are adults; if we like the video, why wouldn’t they? And what’s Oliver got that we haven’t?

Continue reading “Is It Okay To Cuss in Your Client Communications?”

Tech Friends Indeed for My Advisor Friends’ Needs

www-web_optimizedWhile writing, editing and otherwise putting together solid sentences is a timeless talent, effectively delivering your messages to the audiences you have in mind requires some serious tech power these days. As I focus on helping investment advisors with what they have to say to the world, I receive plenty of queries about how they can best spread the good word.

“Do you know someone who can help us with …”

  1. Building (or updating) our website?
  2. Sustaining our social media and related activities?

Here are a couple of resources I’ve found helpful: Twenty Over Ten and Mineral Interactive.

Continue reading “Tech Friends Indeed for My Advisor Friends’ Needs”

Introducing: WWW (That’s “Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy”)

No, I am not claiming to have invented the World Wide Web. But I am launching a brand new “WWW” today – Wendy’s Wednesday Whimsy – a weekly(ish) short & sweet idea that I believe evidence-based advisers like you will find helpful to your cause.

Today, I’m giving a nod to Neligan Financial’s website. After all, our evidence-based advisor friends over in the Land of the Brexit could no doubt use some kindness this week.

Neligan Financial Screen Grab

What I Like About It:

  • It’s nice and clean overall, good use of colors, language and imagery to convey a distinct personality, give it a sense of place, and quickly communicate key themes.
  • I am particularly fond of its Services page. I love how the adviser used his prospective clients’ most pressing questions as his key service offerings. Score!
  • Scrolling down to his newsfeed, check out this recent post: “Things That Reward Patience.” It shows how you don’t have to write a lot to say so much. Bravo!

For the record, I don’t know this adviser personally (yet). I stumbled across his site when he joined our Evidence-Based Advisors LinkedIn group. If the group is a good fit for you, I encourage you to do the same.

How Is Your Advisor Website Like a Toothbrush?

Website toothbrushes
© Can Stock Photo Inc.

How is your advisor website like a toothbrush? Both are basic essentials, and come in a huge range of sizes and options to reflect your individual tastes. Most important, just as you should regularly replace your toothbrush well before it’s snapped in two, you should treat your website to a regular refresh to keep it relevant in the face of ever-advancing technology. Continue reading “How Is Your Advisor Website Like a Toothbrush?”