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How to avoid ticking off your clients: don't use their logos without permission

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Unauthorized use of a client logo could get you in trouble with your client or even disqualify your proposal.

Which of the following is acceptable?

  • Putting a client’s logo on the cover or inside of a proposal or project deliverable we are submitting to that client

  • Listing the logos of the companies we’ve worked with in a proposal for another client

  • Using a client logo in a presentation to that client or internally within your own company

  • Putting a client or partner organization logo on your company web site or document

Answer: None are acceptable…unless you have the express (written) permission from the client.

It happens all the time. But our company ran afoul several times when we didn't get permission:

  • Someone used a new (potential) client’s logo on a proposal, the client threw out the proposal without even reading it. (I found it hard to keep people from doing this all the time, but it takes just ONE rejection to get through to people.)

  • Someone used a client logo in an internal presentation, and the client found out about it and conveyed how displeased he was.

  • A trademarked cover from FORTUNE magazine (with our CEO's photo) kept being used in proposals and other documents, even though FORTUNE explicitly forbid us from using its logos or images beyond a contracted period of time.

Some organizations (FORTUNE, the International Olympics Committee, etc.) are particularly sensitive about having their logos used without permission. In the worst-case scenario, unauthorized use of logos could result in legal action for trademark infringement. (Logos are protected by trademark or copyright law.)

At the least, you risk harming your relationships with clients or partners.

The solution is simple:

If you want to use another organization’s logo, ask for written permission.

The last thing you want to do is offend a potential or existing client, so it’s far better to ask for permission rather than asking for forgiveness later.

Some organizations make it easier by publicizing their logo usage guidelines and instructions for approval on their web sites. You can easily send an email to the client or organization to request permission…then save the approvals and denials.

This article is the third in a series about ways to protect yourself and your company legally and ethically by avoiding copyright infringement. Read also about avoiding copyright infringement in text and photos.

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