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Is eBook Theft The New Identity Theft?


A few weeks ago I found out someone had stolen my eBook and placed it on Amazon for sale. How did they do that, you ask? They pretended to be me. Brooke Rothman was selling Brooke Rothman’s book—only it clearly was not me.

The next 12 hours were rough. I barely slept. I cried. I felt massively violated. If you’ve read my book, you know it’s quite personal. It contains my stories, excerpts from interviews I conducted and my creative exercises. Better yet, the eBook didn’t just show up on Amazon US. It showed up on Amazon Canada, UK, India, Denmark, and Japan. Yep. Japan.

You can only imagine what I dealt with in those first few hours of this eBook theft awareness. It was a bit of shock mixed with thoughts like the following, “I want to find this person and smash a frying pan in his face.”  (Sorry if that’s violent, but it’s honestly what I thought at the time.)

Then I got over my disappointment in humanity or whatever that was and got to work. When something “bad” happens, you have to turn it around. You have to find the humor. (My book was global!) And you have to help and inform other people. I truly believe this happened to me for a reason. {Tweet it!}

This next part is important so if you read nothing else in this blog post I want you to read this. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

How to Protect Your Work

  1. The first thing I did was to start the process of officially registering my book with the US Copyright office. Some people will say that your work is copyrighted the moment it’s created. Maybe that’s true but after speaking to a copyright lawyer, I don’t think it can ever hurt to have official documentation. In my opinion, the $35 is worth the peace of mind. Register your property here.  (Quick disclaimer: I am still in the process of getting my copyright approved. In my opinion, the system is a bit archaic and the communication is poor to non-existent. However, I have faith the road blocks I’m encountering will be dealt with and this will be resolved soon.)
  1. Register your book with Amazon and get an ASIN. ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. It is unique to every book so if you have this, it will most likely be harder for people to steal your work. The person who stole my book had an ASIN number so I’m still waiting to see what will happen once I repost the book myself on Amazon. Don’t make the same mistake I did and allow someone else to get there first.
  1. After your property is launched, scan the web for illegal distribution frequently. I happened to have googled my name and the name of my book. Otherwise, I might never have known this was happening.
  1. If you find something amiss, write a DMCA takedown notice to the publication where your work has been illegally posted. Companies should comply with this request as part of United States copyright law.

To be clear, this should not stop you from creating and putting your stuff out there, but I wanted to give you the heads up to be vigilant with your work. Do a little more research than I did when I put my book out there and follow the points outlined above. I can’t promise this will keep your work completely safe, but I do believe it will help make the process smoother.


Stealing Your Copy [Tricks of the Trade]

Copy steal

I imagine most of us have those Oh Crap moments when we sit down at our computers or with our notebooks and pens (if you’re old school like me) and attempted to write content. It really doesn’t matter what it is—content for websites, product packages, sales materials or blogs or newsletters.

Creating something from nothing is daunting and can paralyze you before you write even one word. 

I remember as a young strategist the first time I sat down to write a creative brief I nearly had a heart attack. It was my job to craft this ever-important document that would inform and influence an advertising campaign, and I had no clue how to begin. No bueno.
Know what I did? I looked at old briefs written by strategists for other brands and copied as much as I could. Then I filled in the gaps and tweaked what I needed to for it to make sense. The first brief I wrote wasn’t a masterpiece, but it also wasn’t a total flop. Over time I got better at writing briefs, and now I can create one out of thin air. But that wasn’t always the case. I had to start somewhere, so I started by cheating off my peers. Thankfully there’s no detention in the advertising world.
Just the other day, I led a big brainstorm for one of my clients. We needed to come up with several potential claims and messages for his brand. First we looked at what our competitors were saying. That was good to know but not particularly mind-blowing or catalystic. So we decided to look outside our category and into everything from liquid plumbing to organic cosmetics to automobiles to energy drinks. We looked at their websites, their packages, their social media and their product reviews on Amazon. When it was time to come up with ideas for our brand, we literally stole, or stole and then tweaked, what all those other brands had to say. Granted we didn’t steal everything. We created brand new copy as well, but the exercise of stealing and tweaking undoubtedly acted as our catalyst for creation.
So yes, I recommended strategically stealing your copy—especially at first and especially if your resources are limited. Over time you’ll get better at crafting content. But in the meantime, don’t feel guilty.

If you really think about it, most everything, including what we think of as innovation, is a rip of something else. {Tweet it}

Steal. Then tweak. Then create something new. 


How to Start Thinking Strategically

As a classically trained actress, it’s impossible for me to not evaluate someone’s acting, either on stage or on screen. When you train at something long enough, the techniques, the observations, and the impulses become a part of who you are and how you operate. Then, you become skilled at sensing this training in others. When the acting in a play or a movie is good, I get the momentary escape I’m seeking. I know the actors have done their homework and perfected their craft because the “acting” is invisible. I believe them, I trust them, and I allow myself to be swept up in their story. When the acting is bad, well, I’m generally at least mildly entertained.

You do not have the luxury of being mildly entertaining. Mildly entertaining brands and businesses fail. {Tweet it!}

You must learn your craft, practice it, and then make it invisible. You must learn the value of thinking strategically. If you haven’t been taught how to ask the right questions, dig deeper, or see a challenge from a more holistic perspective, it can be quite difficult the first few times. Then, after a while, it becomes a habit just like anything else.

Last night, I taught the second of ten classes at the Brooklyn location of Miami Ad School. The class, “Thinking Strategically,” is meant to teach copywriters and art directors how to create work that is strategically sound. Designing my lesson plans has proven to be an invaluable refresher for me as a teacher and a strategist.

Because I am a strategist by trade, I often take it for granted that businesses and brands think their messages through before they put them out into the ether. This, of course, is not always the case. I’ve been guilty of this. I bet you have too. I see companies making these kinds of mistakes all the time. Sure. Some mistakes are inevitable and valuable because they help us grow. Others are just plain ridiculous. Sometimes I think, don’t you know better by now? Clearly not.

Below are 5 things you can start thinking about and doing right now to become more strategically sound in your business and your life.

See the Big Picture

Yes, it’s important that you meet this quarter’s sales requirements or land that new account. Short-term goals have their place in any business. But if you are making short-term strategic decisions that could affect your brand in the long run, it’s best to consider your choices carefully and err on the side of long-term customer affinity and build a solid brand slowly. This is why action plans and strategic blueprints are so important. If you don’t have a vision for your brand, you will be hard pressed to create anything sustainable and of real value.

Discover Your Brand’s Purpose

It’s much easier to write a vision statement when you are crystal clear on your purpose. If you don’t know what your brand’s purpose is, simply start the conversation. Rest assured its purpose is more than what your brand does or how it does it. Purpose is often discovered when you dig deep—deeper than you’ll probably want to go. Realize that growth happens when we get out of our comfort zone and start asking the question, Why? Just like a little kid full of excitement and curiosity, ask yourself why you love your brand or business. Keep asking why to the answer until you can’t ask why anymore. Ask a friend to do this with you and have them write down the things you say. The answer is there. You just have to be open to it.

Talk to People

Really good strategic insights don’t just fall out of the sky. Ok. Maybe someone woke up one day with an insane insight that translated to an epic campaign that made fans of millions and some company a whole lot richer. But I wouldn’t take that as the norm. There is a ton of work and discovery that goes into insight mining. And in my opinion, nothing can substitute for some good, down home qualitative research. Interview your target. Interview your current customers. Interview your staff. Interview yourself.

Ask the Right Questions

Again, there is no real substitute for pure, human contact, but if you are asking the wrong questions, you are probably wasting everyone’s time. What are the questions, if answered, that could make a difference for your company today and over the next 20 years? What are you dying to know? What does your target want you to understand about their beliefs, behaviors, and motivations?

Ask Yourself What You Really Want to Do

I see ideas die all the time because someone at some company thinks they are too risky. Or too high level. Or the ROI is too uncertain. So the brand stays exactly where it is, and nobody ends up really giving a damn. If you believe in something and your intuition tells you to go for it, then go for it you must. Otherwise your brand will be stuck in a world full of regret that your customers will smell and your competitors will eat for dinner. Think of the brands you truly love. Most of them are pretty bold, right? Whatever it is that you really want to do, get your mind on board with your heart and go for it. And if you need a little encouragement, feel free to print out the picture I took while boarding one of my favorite brands, Virgin America.



Walking the Walk (How Not to Be Full of Crap)


Photo by Caminando de Suiza

I’m a wee bit frustrated at the advertising and marketing world at the moment. Everywhere you go you hear sermons about being authentic and having integrity. I’m a strong proponent for these two things, and I’m rather irritated by those who simply are not practicing what they preach.

Now granted from time to time, we all screw up. I’ve found myself not acting in accordance with advice I’ve given others. It happens. We’re human. But once we realize what we are doing, we have to make better choices.

If you are an entrepreneur, small business, or non-profit please pay attention. If I’m thinking these things, most likely your target is too. If you have a brand, or are preparing to launch a brand, I want you to ask yourself something:

Am I full of shit?

Sounds a bit harsh maybe, but ask it anyway. What’s your first reaction? Yes? No? I’m not sure? In marketing, we talk a lot about something called, “Reasons to Believe.” Simply put, these are the reasons why anyone, especially your target, should believe anything you have to say. Often Reasons To Believe include information on your brand’s ingredients or features, heritage, benefits, affinity and so forth. This is all well and good but we marketers, creatives, account people, and strategists (yep myself included) have forgotten to ask a major question.  

Are our brands (or the brands we work for) walking the walk? If not, we’d better stop using the word authentic right now. {Tweet it!}

I’m flabbergasted every time I look at a “social media” agency that hasn’t updated their social media in several months. Or the agencies that claim to be “digital” but have websites that look like there were designed 10 years ago. Or the healthcare and beauty brands that maintain they are good for you even though their products include carcinogens and other hazardous ingredients. It’s unclear why these companies aren’t being called out more often, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is not to make the same mistakes they are making.

If nothing else just ask yourself the question from time to time, Am I Full of  Shit? And if the answer is yes, step up and force yourself to take actions to change that until you can say with 100% authority, I am not a phony. I am walking the walk.