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FAQ: Marketing & Communications


What's the difference between advertising, marketing, public relations & sales?

What is cause-related marketing?

What is market research?

How do I create a communications plan?

How does a nonprofit advocate through the media?

How do I write a press release?

What’s the difference between a crisis communications & a crisis management plan?

How should our organization communicate in a crisis situation?

How do I trademark my logo?

What's the difference between advertising, marketing, public relations & sales?

It's easy to become confused about these terms: advertising, marketing, promotion, public relations and publicity, and sales. The terms are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to different--but similar activities. Some basic definitions are provided below. A short example is also provided hopefully to help make the terms more clear to the reader.


Advertising is bringing a product (or service) to the attention of potential and current customers. Advertising is typically done with signs, brochures, commercials, direct mailings or e-mail messages, personal contact, etc.


Marketing is the wide range of activities involved in making sure that you're continuing to meet the needs of your customers and getting value in return. These activities include market research to find out, for example, what groups of potential customers exist, what their needs are, which of those needs you can meet, how you should meet them, etc.

Marketing also includes analyzing the competition, positioning your new product or service (finding your market niche), pricing your products and services, and promoting them through continued advertising, promotions, public relations and sales.

Public Relations

Public relations includes ongoing activities to ensure the company has a strong public image. Public relations activities include helping the public to understand the company and its products. Often, public relations are conducted through the media, that is, newspapers, television, magazines, etc. As noted above, public relations is often considered as one of the primary activities included in promotions.


Sales involves most or many of the following activities, including cultivating prospective buyers (or leads) in a market segment; conveying the features, advantages and benefits of a product or service to the lead; and closing the sale (or coming to agreement on pricing and services).

An Example of the Definitions

"... if the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying 'Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday', that's advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed, that's publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations." If the town's citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they'll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that's sales."

Via by Carter McNamara, MAP for Nonprofits

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What is cause-related marketing?

Cause-related marketing is a public association between a for-profit company and a nonprofit, intended to benefit both organizations. By associating its products and services with the image, cause and goodwill of a nonprofit, a for-profit hopes to sell more products. The nonprofit, in return, receives money to further its mission—more than it might otherwise receive from traditional corporate contributions.

A nonprofit organization should carefully assess the cost-benefit of such a relationship before engaging in cause-related marketing. It should also ensure that its integrity and good name will not be harmed and that it receives fair value compensation in return.

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What is market research?

Market research comprises the activities undertaken and the tools used to gain information to guide a marketing plan. Market research often focuses on understanding the knowledge, attitudes and actions of key constituencies (such as current clients, prospective clients, and donors). Market research can also include measuring demand for new programs; studying the strengths and weaknesses of competitors or complementary providers; studying demographic and other trends that will influence your organization's future; and studying donor and client satisfaction.

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How do I create a communications plan?

Whether you realize it or not, your nonprofit organization communicates with a number of diverse audiences every day. From board members to professional colleagues, from potential partners to potential donors—everything you say, mail, fax, hand out or post on your Web site makes an impression. 

Too often, however, nonprofits send multiple and conflicting messages, leaving those who interact with them feeling confused or alienated. Worse still, some barely communicate at all, allowing those they touch to develop a host of misperceptions about the organization's purpose and personality. 

At a time when budgets are shrinking and our society is becoming less trusting of those who ask for or control large sums of money, clear communication has become more important than ever. 

Fortunately, a good communications plan can help you deliver clear, consistent messages while allowing you to budget and spend more strategically on communications efforts. Much as a strategic plan provides a guide for your organization's programmatic efforts, a communications plan serves as a roadmap for developing and disseminating all materials and messages from your nonprofit to achieve clear goals. 

What a Good Plan Contains

A Definition of Audiences: Whom are you trying to reach? What interest moves them most? What do they already know about you? 

Key Messages: What are the most important things your target audiences should know about you? Defining three—five key messages helps crystallize all of your organization's communications efforts. These messages should be the core of all communications activities, and should be internalized and used (although not necessarily verbatim) by all staff, board members and other representatives. 

Clear, Simple Communications Goals: Why are you communicating? What do you expect communications to accomplish for you? Some of the most common goals are to increase awareness of your nonprofit among a specific audience and for a specific purpose, to overcome misperceptions, or to pave the way for donor, volunteer or partnership recruiting efforts. Broader goals can be broken down into a series of objectives. 

Strategies: How will you accomplish your goals? This is the meat of any communications plan. Strategies should be directly relevant to each goal and to at least one of your target audience groups. Quite often, brainstorming strategies will help you discover current program or staff activities that can be harnessed to support communications. 

Tools: These are the workhorses that put your strategies into action. Print pieces, Web sites and e-mail tools all fall under this category, as well as activities such as media relations, events and speaking engagements. 

Obstacles: In a perfect world, your key messages would be instantly received, processed and understood by your target audiences with no hiccups. However, there are always obstacles to work around. 

Your communications efforts will be competing with a number of worthy adversaries—everything from audience ignorance and misperceptions, to messages from other nonprofits, to just plain bad timing. Some obstacles you can work around, others you can't—but outlining and discussing them in the planning stages will pay off down the line. 

But Wait, There's More!

While communication plan basics are listed above, you may also choose to incorporate the following: 

Priorities for tackling strategies and assignment of staff/board roles and responsibilities.

A competitive analysis of other organizations that are competing for your target audiences' attention. 

An image and style guide that provides rules and templates for using your organization's logo, colors, typefaces and other visual elements in print and on the Web. 

Recommendations for training, such as a workshop on dealing with the media for foundation leaders or a seminar on desktop publishing to make in-house materials in line with communications strategies. 

Evaluation measures to chart the effectiveness of your communication efforts.

What to Avoid

Stopping at 10,000 Feet: Don't let your plan stop with the big picture. Make sure every recommendation includes ways to get the job done. The ideal plan gives anyone, at any level of your nonprofit, a clear picture of the steps to take to achieve communication goals. 

Unrealistic Goals: A communications plan filled with high-level strategies may sound great, but it's worth nothing if your staff or your budget can't support their implementation. Pay attention to your budget, available time and staff capabilities. 

Guessing Games: If you don't know an audience, don't guess. There are a number of inexpensive ways to find out about them, if you are willing to invest a little time and creativity. 

Use basic market research techniques such as a quick poll for anyone who comes through the door, or a free online survey tool like SurveyMonkey.com. For more inexpensive market research ideas, check out Cheap But Good Marketing Research by Alan Andreasen.

Communications is nothing new to nonprofit organizations, and there are a number of nonprofits that employ well-planned, highly effective communications practices. It's no coincidence that those same nonprofits are leading the field in other ways, too. 

After all, they're telling their stories clearly and effectively, and that means everyone can benefit from their work.

By Betsey Russell, president of WordOne, LLC. This article first appeared in and has been adapted from Interchange, the newsletter of the Southeastern Council of Foundations.

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How does a nonprofit advocate through the media?

Strategic media advocacy is an important extension of the strategic communication that you do when you lobby. Media coverage expands your ability to reach key audiences—the general public, people who are affected by your issue, and elected officials and their staff. Although strategic use of media is a specialty unto itself and there is a wealth of publications on the topic, you can accomplish your advocacy goals by following a few principals:

Be Media Ready

Put someone in charge of media relations. Aim for clear designation of board and staff responsibility for media work. Identify one person to act as media specialist. This person can facilitate communications with the media and maintain internal systems for media advocacy. Official spokespersons may be chosen based on issues and expertise, but for every lobbying issue it is important to determine who will speak for the organization in various situations.

Build relationships with key media people. The media specialist should establish and maintain lists of news media in the area. Identify key editors, reporters, and columnists who cover your issues, e.g., some newspapers have a reporter who specializes in health care issues. 

Keep their phone numbers, records of conversations with them, and clippings of past coverage. Read, watch, or listen to their news coverage. Talk to them. But always assume when talking to a reporter that you are "on the record"; don't say anything you wouldn't want to see in print or hear on the air.

Clarify your Position, Goals and Audiences

Effective media advocacy requires that you be clear about your position, what you want to accomplish through the media, and the audiences you want to influence. Elected officials have a keen interest in what their local newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and political commentators are saying about issues. Using local media is a good way to get their attention for your issue and demonstrate that it matters to their community.

Know your position, goals and key messages

  • Know the community need and the proposed solution. Background information is important to reporters; even if they don't print it, it will help them formulate their stories. 
  • Know the point you want to make (your position). This is the statement of your fundamental stance about the issue.
  • Know what you want to happen as a result of your media advocacy. These are your goals. Make them specific, as in "Ten letters to the editor supporting our issue will appear over the next two weeks. We will reproduce these in large size and hand-deliver them to the heads of the appropriate senate and house committees." 
  • Know how you want your position and knowledge of the need and solution to be presented. These are your key messages.
  • Know your audiences

Are you trying to reach legislators? Executive branch officials? Grassroots supporters who can influence the policymakers? List each desired audience. 

How much does each audience know about your issue and the context in which the issue is being debated? Is it a publicly well-covered issue, or a hidden one with little appeal? Tailor key messages and kinds and amount of background information to fit the audiences and the media who will reach them. 

How much complexity will your audience be willing to deal with based on its interest in the issue? Your job may be to help the media explain a complex issue in simple and straightforward ways to help people understand why they should care about it. 

Use Media That Will Accomplish Your Goals

If your organization has a person responsible for community relations or media, that person should brief you about the media and the media outlets that you can target with your message. You can also get this information by monitoring the media, asking experienced lobbyists, requesting or buying a few hours' help from a media relations firm, and contacting your state's associations of newspapers and broadcasters.

Who reaches your target audiences and how? In addition to widely known media outlets, identify the daily, weekly and specialty newspapers that reach each of your audiences.

egislators and executive branch leaders usually read clippings from their hometown or neighborhood newspapers to stay abreast of the local "play" on issues in their own districts and their constituents "take" on those issues. Editorials or letters to the editors of local papers could catch an elected official's attention. 

Which radio programs have news and feature coverage or run public service announcements? Who are the producers and hosts? Learn the kinds of coverage they favor. 

Whom do individual stations, including public television and local-access cable stations in your area, reach? What feature segments of the news or public affairs programs do they have that might want to cover your issue? Who are the producers and hosts? 

If you are working on an issue at a state legislature or city council, who are the beat reporters in all media assigned to the capitol press corps or city hall? They will be ever present in the arenas in which you are working for change, and you will want to establish good working relationships with them. 

Package your message in the most useful way to a particular medium. If you choose TV, illustrate your story visually. Radio likes interviews with "real people" that illustrate the issue. Newspapers can go into great depth. Newsletters can reach and motivate smaller but perfectly defined audiences. If the key people you need to influence can all be reached via a trade newsletter, go with the newsletter and don't waste energy on other outlets.

Adapted from "How to Advocate Through the Media," The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

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How do I write a press release?

Press releases should be written in a direct, straightforward manner. Short and terse is good. Long, drawn-out, superfluous is not. One to three pages is probably an ideal length unless you must convey a large amount of information. 

Don't overstate your case. Just convey the key, basic information to the media—and ultimately to your audience. 

Cover all the bases and provide them with essentials, but remember it is not necessary to provide every little detail. You are trying to generate attention and interest for your client. If this means follow up questions from a reporter or editor, so much the better. It will give you a chance to develop more media opportunities for your client. 

Attention Grabbers

The headline is your first opportunity to grab an editor's attention. It should transmit the core news/message so that the editor immediately knows what the story is about. 

It should be informative, but not necessarily sensationalized. Depending upon the nature of the news, some headlines attract more notice than others. A cancer cure will garner more interest than the naming of a new CFO (unless that individual is some well-known personality). 

Leading Off

The most important part of any press release is the lead paragraph. Remember, a press release is a journalistic document. Your primary target audience is the press. Therefore, make sure you stringently adhere to basic journalistic tenets as you compose the story. The lead should answer the 5…sometimes 6…basic questions of Journalism 101: Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why? 

That is…Who did, is doing or will do What to whom? Where and When did they do it? How did they do it? And, if answerable…Why did they do it? Write a simple, opening sentence answering these questions and your press release is virtually written. 

Make Your Case

The body copy of the release should bolster and explain the points made in the lead.

For example, this is where you can fully describe a new product, list its features, the things that make it better than the competition. 

You might include a quote or two from key executives that further define and highlight specific features, aspects and benefits that are available to substantiate your claims. Including an insightful, thought-provoking endorsement from a satisfied customer goes a long way to add credibility to your claims and arguments. 

Details, Details, Details

Since a press release represents a corporate or an individual's image everything counts—especially the details. 
Don't assume anything except that your audience knows nothing. You must explain everything to them and make it as simple as possible for them to understand your message. 

If you use acronyms, make sure to first completely spell out the word or phrase, followed by the acronym in parentheses. Then, you can freely use the acronym throughout the remainder of the release. 

Selecting a type font is important. Choose a font that is simple, clear and easy to read. Some of the most popular ones being used today include Times New Roman, Arial and Helvetica.

Line spacing is another consideration. Years ago, the general rule was that all press releases were double-spaced so that editors, working with hard copies of the announcements, would have the room available on the paper to indicate their editing directions. 

Word processors, PCs and digital files have virtually eliminated the double-spacing requirement. However, it's still a good idea to leave at least 1-_ spaces between lines so that the copy is easy to read. At the same time, you have provided sufficient work room, just in case you're dealing with an editor who prefers to print out and edit a hard copy of the document. 

If the body copy of the release runs long, it is a good idea to break it up with subheads. These short, bold-faced phrases are a good way to introduce specific areas of information within the narrative while providing it with a logical progression of ideas. 

Make sure you include contact information of a company representative and/or PR representative—name, company, phone number, e-mail address—either at the top of the first page or at the end of the release so that readers can get any additional information they may need. 

Begin the body of the release with a dateline that includes the city, state and country of origin (if necessary), followed by the actual date of the announcement. The dateline is important because it indicates the official, effective date of the news being announced.

Make sure press release pages are numbered. Include the line-centered word "more" at the bottom of each page so that the editor knows the story is continued. Let the editors know that they've reached the end of the release by including the word "END" or the number "-30-" or "###" (pound/number signs). 

If your press release requires any sort of disclaimer or mandated "forward thinking" statement, make sure that you include it at the end of the release. Sometimes these legal necessities are set off in a different, or italicized, type face. Sometimes they are printed in a smaller type size. 

Timing Is Everything

When is the right time to distribute your news? 

That depends upon the nature of your announcement and the kind of coverage and exposure you hope to achieve. If there is a seasonal aspect to the news, you must consider the time of year for the release to be distributed. An announcement about new Christmas tree products would probably be ill-served if it were made in early April. 

Reference the editorial calendars of your target publications to see if you can schedule your announcement to coincide with particularly relevant coverage in these key media. This way you can achieve the greatest coverage. Other things to consider are the proximity of industry trade shows, and other events, where you can obtain additional media attention. 

Selection of the day of the week for the release is important. Mondays are extremely busy days for press releases. With all that activity, an announcement could get lost in the crowd. Fridays lead into the weekend when media coverage is slow and at its nadir. 

Even if press picks up the announcement, there is a good chance very few people will see it because of the "slow news day" aspects of the weekend.

Press Release Pitfalls

Not so coincidentally, the worst missteps in press release writing are the most common ones that land on editors' desks. Maybe these so-called bad habits have been inbred among PR professionals who adopt the technique of their colleagues. No matter the cause, here are some key "no no's" to avoid: 

Let the News Do the Talking

Unless your client has truly invented "a new wheel" (maybe not even then) refrain from using buzzwords like "revolutionary," "evolution," "ground-breaking," "innovative," "strategic," "unique," "best-of-breed," "robust," and "leading edge." 

Reporters and editors cringe at such superlatives, and at the very least, become cynical and irritated. Whenever possible, let the merits of your new product or service speak for itself, through specific example—not hype. 

Keep the Writing Clear and Active

Convoluted, passive-voice sentences are difficult to read. Editors often scan through dozens of press releases each day, and those that are too difficult to follow get rejected. 

Also, make sure the descriptions are clear and concise. Often press releases try to avoid details in order to attract a broad potential audience. For example, a company provides "technology solutions," rather than "designs e-commerce Web sites." Editors quickly lose patience with weasel-words like "solutions." Tell what the company does in plain English.

Where's the News in this News Release?

Just because an announcement is sent, does not always mean that news has been distributed. 

An alarming number of companies, mistakenly flood newsrooms with weekly (even daily) press releases. The goal is usually to show a flurry of activity on news sections of corporate Web sites. Unless you represent a huge global conglomerate, it is doubtful you could make such frequent, substantive news announcements. 

Chances are, many of those releases would make better pitch letters to a hand-selected group of journalists. When the time comes to make a valid, big news splash your client may have already diluted its name and credibility.

Calm Down Those "Excited" CEOs

If you're compelled to write a quote on behalf of a company head, make it meaningful.

Virtually any leader will be "pleased" or "excited" about his own news announcement. A quote should add a new perspective and greater insight than the body of the release.
It is an opportunity to lend a more subjective angle, not necessarily express boundless joy or stroke the ego of a new business partner that has a "great company."

The Devil is in the Grammar

Tipos are badd

A news release serves as a calling card for a company. It is a representation of its business and is intended to shape its public perception. When the basic elements (grammar, punctuation, spelling, proper use of symbols, etc.) are flawed, so is the company's image.

Whether a reporter is the only one to catch a mistake, or if the release is re-printed as is, simple, avoidable mistakes can cloud a message. Some tips: 

  • Have an objective individual with no connection to the client proofread the release. Then have another neutral party look it over again.
  • Proofread a release in hard copy as well as on the computer screen. This will double your odds of finding a typo.
  • Sleep on it if you have the luxury of time. Sometimes allowing a fresh read the next morning will highlight things missed when you were in the thick of drafting the release. 

Remember… Everything Counts!

Adapted from Effective Press Release Writing by Gerald S. Schwartz published by the American Marketing Association 

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What’s the difference between a crisis communications & a crisis management plan?

A crisis communications plan aids quick response, clear thinking and inclusiveness under fire. It works hand-in-hand with a disaster plan to mitigate (or reduce) the damages, focusing on presenting the situation in the best possible light. 

Creating the plan in advance of the crisis allows you the luxury of having time to think through what's needed without distractions, and frees up time to handle the crisis when it occurs. The goal is to gather all critical information in one place, so you won't have to search for it during the actual event.

A crisis communications plan outlines the following:

  • Who should speak on behalf of the organization and who should not provide comments
  • Materials that need to be produced
  • Who should be involved in the process and who should not
  • Who needs to be included, both internally and externally, and who should be left out of the organization's crisis telephone directory that lists the numbers for reaching critical people at all times.

Via Nonprofit Risk Management Center

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How should our organization communicate in a crisis situation?

Headline news. Something you may dream of having — when it showcases your public entity, company or nonprofit organization and your products and services in a positive light. Unfortunately, the news media thrive on tragedy, drama and scandal — not the good news. 

Crisis in the nonprofit sector feeds the frenzy, because the organizations are community-based and community-serving. What better way to pique the interest of readers, viewers and listeners than to run a story that gets them where they live and grabs their hearts.

The top person should speak for my organization, right?

Not necessarily. Although your CEO/executive director/president/mayor holds the position of authority, what other traits does he or she exhibit? Your spokesperson needs to be calm under fire, know how to deliver the organization's message no matter what question is posed, be able to reframe the message to serve varied audiences, and speak in "sound bites," or 30-second clips. 

The top person may be knowledgeable about the organization, but his or her personality, demeanor or vocabulary might be harmful to the organization's message when broadcast to thousands. The people who speak for your organization need to understand all the ways they communicate: choice of words, speech cadence, stance, facial expression and attitude. They need to know the media are tools to convey the organization's position and message. 

They also need to realize that they are the media's tools; the reporters want a compelling story. Reporters don't care if your spokesperson's quote nails your organization as the bad guy—all the juicier for them. The reporters aren't going to look out for your organization or protect the spokesperson. That's the job of your organization's spokesperson. 

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a "poster child" for effective crisis communications during and after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He knew what was happening. He was believable. He was an authority figure with a human face. His communications skills earned him a larger-than-life role, and the world, not just New York City, looked to him for reassurance and answers. 

He was calm and humane. He provided regular updates on the situation and the responses being made, and he was shown throughout the city on the street, at the site, and with the citizens. Most important, he was available round the clock. His visibility itself sent the message that he was in control of the situation.

Are there materials I can produce ahead of time?

The media will want basic information about your public entity's, company's, or nonprofit's background, mission, and products or services, which can be prepared ahead and updated as things change. You can also outline generic, initial statements expressing your concern and commitment. Leave blanks to fill in facts pertinent to each specific event. 

You can even craft specific responses to crises you think are most likely to befall your operation. Different crises demand different responses. For instance, a fire at your nonprofit daycare center would require a response that is different from the response you would make to a child's death from choking. 

A statement following the death of the company's CEO from natural causes would be quite different from one following the fatal shooting of the CEO by a former employee. Similarly, a community-wide power outage would be handled differently from the issue of exploding manhole covers that injured several citizens. 

You can train the people selected to speak for the organization in a crisis to be at ease and work with the media to the organization's advantage. And you can identify your stakeholders, the people who make your operation function. These are your target audiences. They might include media, government, community groups, business groups, citizens, customers, service recipients, investors and sponsors. 

What to tell, and to whom?

Ask yourself these questions: Who needs to know? What do they need to know? When do they need to know? 

Then picture a drop of water falling into a pond. Around the drop, concentric rings appear, forming a target, until the rings disappear into the broader pond. Likewise, people closest to the crisis have the strongest need to know. People furthest from the event—in the larger pond—need to know the least information. 

For planning purposes, identify who belongs in each ring. The farther you get from the drop of water, the more diluted the information should be. The people who need to have the whole picture are your key advisers or decision-makers: the board chairman, your attorney, your insurance agent, and your spokesperson—who else? 

The next tier of people who need information are the people who help your organization fulfill its mission: your employees, volunteers, vendors, suppliers and regulators—who else? They need to know what happened and how it will affect them. Do they come to work? At what time? At the usual location? What do they tell your service recipients? The next tier is your service recipients (and their parents, if clients are underage). 

The next tier is the community in general, made up of your county, state, country and finally the world. 

You need to formulate your message to satisfy each audience's need to know that you are in charge, that you understand the problem, and that you're working to fix it or offset the damage. 

Media Strategy Checklist

A media strategy checklist helps you focus on the steps you need to cover while the crisis is whirling around you. You can adapt the sample to a specific crisis, such as an earthquake or incident of workplace violence, or use this generic one:

  • Alert the spokesperson.
  • Gather who, what, where, when and why of the situation.
  • Confirm the facts.
  • Clarify and verify technical information.
  • Prepare a summary statement.
  • Prepare a fact sheet.
  • Notify stakeholders (people key to the organization).
  • Tell volunteers and clients about changes in services or operations.
  • Respond to the media.
  • Keep a media log of callers and questions.
  • Update media as situation develops.
  • Follow up on implications; prevent backlash.
  • Evaluate and tweak the system.

Via Nonprofit Risk Management Center

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How do I trademark my logo?

First you must determine if your nonprofit organization sells goods or renders services. Depending on your response, you will either file for a trade mark or service mark. A trademark is any word, name, symbol, device or combination used to identify goods made or sold and to distinguish them from the goods made or sold by another entity. Examples of trademarks are: Coca-Cola (soft drink beverage), IBM (computer hardware) and Atlanta Journal-Constitution (newspaper/publication). A service mark identifies services rendered or offered and distinguishes them from the services rendered or offered by another organization. Examples of service marks are: McDonald's (restaurant services), Home Depot (retail business services) and BellSouth (telecommunications services).

To register your logo in Georgia, contact the Georgia Secretary of State's office, Corporations Division. To reserve your logo in other states, contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office of the Dept. of Commerce.

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