Don’t Be a Virtual Victim: “Professional Borrowing” is Still Stealing

Has it ever happened to you? You know what I’m talking about. The moment that makes your heart drop or your blood boil when you see, hear or read your own work under another person’s (or company) name. In this day and age of sharable assets, transparent communications and public work, has it ever happened to you that someone steals your work?

Perhaps in a time when social media is about sharing it’s not called stealing. Okay, let’s call it “Professional Borrowing” since it sounds better.  Call me old fashioned, but when you use someone else’s work for your or your company’s benefit, it’s good old-fashioned stealing. As a mom and like most moms out there, I teach my children that it’s wrong to copy someone else’s homework or to copy word for word from a reference book without crediting the author.  So why are there so many adults these days that have absolutely no problem taking your work and repurposing it? Is the world so scarce of creative people that we have become a community of working thieves?  Or are people so lazy that they don’t apply their own ideas to completing a task? I am not sure of the answer but stealing work seems to be on a rampage.

To be fair to my latest professional thief, it’s not something new.  It’s been happening to me since I wrote my first book, “Marketing to Moms” in 2002.  I’ve found my research and statistics, without proper credit, on other agency’s websites, in promotional materials and in sales pitches.  Can you imagine going to your biggest competitor’s website only to find the quote and crux of my book, “Moms spend $2.1 trillion a year.”? Now, that’s not a number you pull out of the air. You find it in a book titled, “Trillion Dollar Moms”, by Maria Bailey. Yet with your research in hand, the thieves use your work, build a business and proudly profess their expertise in your subject matter.

Heck, that’s all history. I should feel lucky that I haven’t had my family’s photo used on a billboard in some foreign country like other mom bloggers I know.  However, I did get a call from a major car company one day because someone had used my name in a presentation to them saying we were business partners. The only problem? It was my bio with someone else’s photo! If you are going to steal my identity and fabricate a business relationship at least take a good photo of me from Google Images.

It happens and you move on, until it happens again and again and again.

Over the years, I’ve identified several forms of “Professional Borrowing.”  So while we’re sharing, here are a couple of examples that might help identify the issue before it happens:

“Let’s Work Together and be Business Partners” :  Don’t be fooled by this one. A partnership used to be a mutually beneficial, working relationship but today it has become a license to learn, move on and replicate.  Google the word “Marketing to Moms Agencies” and every one that comes up strong has been a former “business partner.”  Shame on me for not seeing a wolf in that sheep’s clothing!

“We want to hire you to help”:  With professional thieves, this is another way to say, “we are going to hire you so you can teach us how to do it and then we are going to sell the same service to our clients later.”

“Share with us your list of contacts so we can cross reference it with our list”: Really? That’s all I can say.

I’ve been in business long enough to know that there are no true new ideas. I understand that entrepreneurs build businesses on building a better widget.  I just wish as business professionals, we could respect the ideas, intelligence and human spirit of each other. I’ll never forget the day that a mom stood in front of me and said, “I’m going to launch a business identical to yours, but you don’t have to worry because there’s enough business out there for us both.”  Wow. Just like that. No embarrassment. No desire to add her own creativity.  No pride in her work or disgrace in mimicking my business model. We would never accept this type of behavior from our children so why do we as mothers exhibit it in business?

If only we followed the words of wisdom that our mothers shared with us as children in our role as a business professionals.  My mom always said that imitation is the best form of flattery, so I’ll let the fact that yesterday I saw BSM Media work being circulated by another agency slide. I’ll take the high road, also as my mother taught me, and not call out this firm or the responsible person.  I’ll learn from the lesson.  I’ll remember when she taught me that you have no control over what the other guy-or in this case gal- does. You only have control over what you do.  So I’ll take the high road but along the way, I’ll try to convince my peers that Professional Stealing is wrong. It’s just wrong and needs to stop.

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9 Responses

  1. This has happened to me more times than I’d like to admit, and yet I know you’ve cornered the market on getting taken advantage of because if you’re going to steal, why not steal from the best?

    My craziest experience is when an intern for a well-known agency emailed me prior to our Twitter Party to tell me I could, “Go ahead and check out the attached Run of Show written by @ResourcefulMom for our last party and use anything” I wanted to from it in case I needed help writing my own Run of Show for them.

    Only I AM @ResourcefulMom. He accidentally asked me to plagiarize from myself.

    It would be nice to tell ourselves that maybe they just don’t get social media, but the fact is that they just don’t get honest business.

  2. I was just thinking about you this morning because I saw a press release by a new agency that said they market “with” moms not “to” them. Well, wonder where they got that from?

  3. People are point-blank shameless. Or lazy. Or both. I haven’t figured out which yet. This happens all too often in our space. I just don’t understand how people who do stuff like this think that someone isn’t going to notice. Do a little extra homework, people…you’ll look so much smarter for coming up with an original approach.

  4. In the last 2 years, I have watched a colleague suffer an onslaught of “similar” product innovations from a major manufacturer in my past product category of planners and organizers. This has threatened her business in ways that should never be allowed and completely undermines what fair business is all about. In consumer products, It happens way too often, big business crushing the innovation and creativity of small business, enticing the entrepreneur with entry to mass market and within the narrowest of legal margins, making extremely similar products at a fraction of the cost. I’m not sure this will ever stop and am so sorry it continues to happen to you.

  5. Love this post maria!! Right on Girl!

  6. I find this shocking, but I have a background in journalism, so I’m always aware of attribution. If I say “Heart disease is the #1 killer of…” I say “according to the American Heart Association” or whoever I am using for research. I think one problem is, some bloggers don’t realize that you can’t state things that you learn in your research/reading without attributing it to the source. Hopefully, with posts like these, maybe it will help correct this problem.

  7. You would think it’s common sense! Those who behave immaturely like this are generally unhappy people, if that’s any consolation. The good thing is, you’re growing and expanding and achieving and succeeding while they’re just scrambling to keep up.

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