3 Golden Rules for Avoiding Most Legal Nightmares

One year before 9/11, I was cooling my heels on the 86th floor of Manhattan ‘s World Trade Center . I was waiting to be grilled by a team of government investigators and wondering how IN THE HECK I wound up there.

I flashed back to the moment, two years earlier, when a FedEx truck rolled up to my office and unloaded an innocent-looking box full of investment newsletters edited by someone I’d never heard of … along with a note from my agent. My agent wanted me to “take a look” to see if I’d be interested in doing some marketing for this guy.

What I read in those newsletters shocked me. The editor was saying truly outrageous things and making extreme, negative predictions about the future of the economy and the stock market. In short, his audacious, uniquely powerful message was in stark contrast to the Pollyanna pabulum I was seeing in other financial publications.

Even though I disagreed with most of his views, it seemed clear that, crazy or not, he passionately believed what he was saying. Plus, I knew that thousands of investors probably shared his beliefs. And his copious use of facts, figures, and quotes from well-respected outside sources helped make his arguments seem at least plausible.

As a seasoned financial marketer, I knew this guy’s unique viewpoint – coupled with powerful sales copy – meant huge financial potential for both him and me. So I called my agent and asked if he was reputable. I was assured that he was, and that he had worked with several other reputable copywriters. As far as my agent could tell, everything was on the up-and-up.

So, I accepted the job …

I wrote a promotion or two for the guy that mailed well, and he paid me promptly. It was immediately clear that this client could be very lucrative for me.

But, suddenly, people I respected started calling, positively mortified. According to them, my client was a convicted felon on the lam from federal authorities, and his partners were as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
They claimed he wasn’t delivering the newsletters he was selling nor paying refunds to his multitudes of unhappy subscribers. And the track record he gave me was a complete fabrication.

My momma raised me better than to be party to a scam. So, thanks to Mom, I promptly bailed – and walked away from the millions I would have surely made with this client.

Then, one fine August day in 2000, my phone rang. It was a nice lady from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) – the federal agency charged with the responsibility of skewering anyone who breaks the law while selling futures or futures options. The nice lady politely asked me if I would be so kind as to “visit” her in New York to tell her everything I knew about the client.

When an investigator at a government agency “invites” you to pay her a visit, it’s not really an invitation. It’s an order. And so there I was that September day, in a windowless room at the World Trade Center , awaiting my turn on the CFTC’s spit.

I swore to tell the whole truth, told them everything I knew about the client (not much, as it turned out), and they let me go sans-handcuffs. I haven’t heard a peep from the CFTC, or any other regulator for that matter, since.

I’d say it went pretty well.

Aside from the thirty-thousand smackers my lawyer and travel expenses cost me – and the month of lost productivity I suffered while waiting to give my deposition – there were no permanent scars.

And frankly, I had re-learned a valuable lesson: Uncompromising personal ethics, plus a working knowledge of the legalities involved with marketing and strict adherence to those laws (and, of course, the phone number of a great attorney) are absolutely essential to succeed over the long haul in any business today. Especially the marketing business.

99.99 percent of all direct marketers are honest, good people. The vast majority of the companies in this industry provide quality products at fair prices – and, in doing so, bring tremendous value to their customers’ lives.

Yes, there are some bad apples. But the fact is, these shameless swindlers represent only a tiny minority of the massive direct-marketing community. And for those of us in the biz, it’s easy to avoid them.

Beyond avoiding these obvious scoundrels, you should also follow three “Golden Rules” to protect yourself when working with clients or marketing your own products:

Golden Rule #1 . Lie down with dogs and you’ll get up with fleas. Never agree to partner with or promote products sold by people you know to be less than honest.

Golden Rule #2 . Never promote products you suspect could be defective or dangerous. Avoid things you wouldn’t want your mom or dad, your significant other, or your kids or grandkids paying for and using.

Golden Rule #3 . Never, ever lie in your promotional materials. Say only what you are convinced is true – and have substantiation to back it up.

Unfortunately, in today’s highly regulated, lawsuit-crazy world, there’s more to avoiding legal entanglements than following my three Golden Rules.

In my next article, I’ll reveal four more legal secrets to help you keep out of hot water. Stay tuned …

(Ed. Note: Clayton Makepeace offers help in reaping maximum profits through the Internet, direct mail, and print advertising every week in his free e-zine, The Total Package

Learn 177 of his surprising secrets that have doubled his clients’ profits in a year and quadrupled them in 36 months in his newly published e-book)

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