Public Relations

The Pitfalls of Publicity Release Forms


consent formNurse Nina Pham is making headlines again in relation to her lawsuit against Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Previously, Pham became one of the faces behind the fight to contain Ebola in the U.S. She helped care for Thomas Eric Duncan, who was the first person in the U.S. diagnosed with Ebola, and ended up contracting the disease herself.

According to Pham, the hospital’s lack of training and proper equipment, in conjunction with violating her privacy, made her “a symbol of corporate neglect — a casualty of a hospital system’s failure to prepare for a known and impending medical crisis.”

As a communications professional watching this situation unfold, the idea of publicity release forms comes to mind. Whether or not Pham’s case has merit, there are certain pitfalls to publicity release forms that all organizations should be aware of.

1) Always Have Them – Some companies build in a publicity release clause in employee contracts. Some companies do not. Never assume! Always be prepared to get the subject of your marketing and/or PR campaign to sign a release form. In one instance, a client of ours said they were covered because it was included in their employee contract. As unfortunate as it may be, many employees do not read their contracts from top to bottom and may feel duped by this practice. We positioned the situation to our client like this: If you went to court, you would more than likely win. But, you’d lose in the court of public opinion. The damage to your reputation isn’t worth it.

2) Tailor the Context – A one size fits all contract rarely works. Tailor the contracts to your individual purposes. Contracts for photoshoots to commercials to events will more than likely have different criteria and goals. Not to mention, the subject of your marketing and/or PR campaign may decline the opportunity if the scope is too broad. Certain individuals may be comfortable with print ads, but be opposed to billboard campaigns. Perhaps after seeing the final campaign and results, that will open up the subject to a billboard campaign. There’s no harm in amending publicity release forms to accommodate both parties.

3) Be Transparent – In your publicity release form, clearly state in what capacity you plan on using a subject’s image or brand. In addition to clearly listing out mediums that will be showcasing their brand or testimonial, be up front with the context of your materials. Are you using them to tell a positive story? Are they an example of what not to do? The more transparent you are, the better the relationship you will build with your employees and consumers. You must be able to show respect and appreciation for their time and willingness to help your brand.

4) Know the Law – Always remember a publicity release form does not supersede the law. In regards to Pham, her case may have merit. If Pham did not authorize disclosure of her medical condition/records, the hospital violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

By knowing the major pitfalls surrounding publicity release forms, you can save your organization a lot of headaches. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

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