Reputations take years to establish, but can be sullied in seconds.
With 4.4 million square kilometres of marine fisheries waters, New Zealand's fishing and aquaculture industry is worth $1.3 billion annually. Sealord, New Zealand's best known Seafood brand, distributes more than $500 million worth of sustainable, quality seafood each year to consumers in over 60 countries.
Tim Silverstone, GM Corporate Affairs, says sustainability is a cornerstone of Sealord's philosophy. It's vital from an economic perspective and a moral one.
'Safeguarding our fisheries is the responsible thing to do and we take it seriously,' says Silverstone. 'We put significant effort into sustainability initiatives to protect the ocean and the environment generally. It's vital for future generations and our future financial viability is inextricably linked with the health of the fishery.'
Sealord's guardianship of the ocean resource is represented in its corporate logo created by Māori artist Derek Lardelli with input from Sealord employees. The logo - launched in 2011 - represents Sealord's affinity with the tangata whenua and with the seas that surround us all. It binds us together using our past to stabilise the present to ensure our future; one of unity and sustainable business.
Sarah Sandoval, Sealord's Head of Marketing and Innovation, says the company refined its brand strategy in 2014, following a series of workshops with key stakeholders and research with Australian and New Zealand consumers.
'The purpose was to align the brand strategy across both countries and achieve greater clarity and relevance for our consumers,' she says. 'Our goal is to take some of the pressure out of people's busy lives. Our brand essence 'real seafood made simple' helps do this.'
Protecting this unique branding is crucial, and since 1993 Sealord has looked to intellectual property specialists AJ Park for help in this area. Trade mark attorney Margot Smith manages the company's portfolio, conducting clearance searches for new brands, and advising Sealord on how to secure the most efficient protection of its brands around the world.
'Sealord's appreciation of the importance of registered IP protection has grown over the years,' says Smith. 'As the global market becomes more connected through technology, it's easier for opportunists to take advantage of New Zealand companies' ideas and trade marks.'
Knowing the source of their food is very important to consumers, she says, which makes it crucial to ensure copycats aren't using your brand and diluting or tarnishing your reputation in the market.
'Trade marks for food companies provide more than just information about the company of origin of the product. They also reassure customers about food quality and safety, source and sustainability.'
Because of its extensive markets, Sealord has secured trade mark protection in a wide range of territories around the world - some established and others more emerging markets.
'Australia loves seafood and it's one of our top export markets,' says Silverstone. 'Over the past couple of years we've been focusing on increasing our penetration and market share into Australia, with both our frozen products and fresh fish, particularly hoki.'
China is another important market that holds enormous potential for Sealord, he says. While many New Zealand companies are just starting to think about trade mark protection there, Sealord registered its first trade mark in China back in 1992.
'Sealord isn't particularly well known yet in China, but as we roll out our brand proposition there, we'll work to establish Sealord as a name to trust because food safety and security issues are so important there.'
AJ Park operates a worldwide watching service that notifies the firm whenever a trade mark close to SEALORD is filed anywhere in the world. They can then choose to oppose registration of the trade marks, or reach an agreement with the other party. While Sealord is currently involved in a couple of oppositions in Europe and Asia, it's never encountered any major attempts to infringe its IP in his time at Sealord, says Silverstone. 'Without that monitoring service, we wouldn't have identified these issues by ourselves as quickly, if at all,' he says.
There's a lot to keep an eye on but AJ Park manages our IP extremely well. Knowing they'll advise us when issues arise gives us peace of mind.- Tim Silverstone, Sealord
Conducting regular health checks on Sealord's portfolio is another important ongoing service AJ Park carries out in conjunction with the team at Sealord. The aim is to ensure all its key brands are protected in the appropriate regions and that the trade mark protection still reflects Sealord's strategic goals.
'Often an opportunity can arise in a new market, and once things kick off there, putting the trade mark protection in place in this new market can sometimes be overlooked,' cautions Smith.
'We also assess whether we can let go any old registrations for brands that no longer have value,' she says. 'It's tempting to hold onto old brands and continue to renew them, but if they've lost their usefulness, it's wiser to put your IP budget to better use.'