'Get them the answer no matter what the issue is', say panellists at the INTA session titled: 'Navigating Conversations with the C-Suite':
20 May 2024TrademarksTom Phillips

INTA 2024: WWE attorney shares tips on always being in C-suite’s corner

Experienced in-house corporate lawyers from World Wrestling Entertainment, Harman, United Airlines offer advice on the role of the senior advisor at an INTA panel. Tom Phillips reports.

We have heard of wrestling with the C-suite over the importance of trademarks, but for Lauren Dienes-Middlen it’s all in a day’s work.

As deputy general counsel at World Wrestling Entertainment, Dienes-Middlen can find herself almost ringside during a live match as new tag teams are being created.

Bringing this experience to life at Monday’s well-attended International Trademark Association (INTA) session on ‘navigating conversations with the C-suite’, she shared techniques for becoming a corporation’s indispensable business partner.

“The script is being written, somebody gets injured, they’re creating a new tag team and they're asking me to clear the name because they’re ready to go on in five minutes,” explained Dienes-Middlen at the Atlanta event.

“I can’t just say ‘no, that name’s not clear’. I have to say: ‘That’s not clear—but this is.’”

With IP counsel being called upon to provide advice on cutting-edge technology, privacy, social media, and even public relations issues, the panel shared advice in a personal capacity about how IP counsel can support the C-suite’s growing demands.

Aaron Weinzierl, managing counsel, IP, at United Airlines is a proponent of drip-feeding information to colleagues when the opportunity arises.

“The more we can educate our clients, the more we’re called in early. Because we gave them just enough to remember to come and talk to us,” he said.

 "If I’ve advised businesses not to do something because I think it’s a high risk, and once in a while you get a CND that supports this, they’re likely to listen next time.”

Building that rapport takes effort, the panel agreed.

“You have to get out of your office, walk around departments, get to know people on a personal level so they come to you—put yourself out there so you’re part of the thought process and creative process,” added Dienes-Middlen.

“IP lawyers need to let the C-suite know how IP permeates everything and how we need to be a part of the conversations that are happening, even if they are not aware that we need to be.

“To explain to them where IP comes and how it plays in the protection of your company’s assets—that’s our job.”

Being the ‘go-to’ person

And to play a more strategic role at a company, one that’s more than legal counsel, means getting your hands dirty and being pragmatic about what value you can add.

“Every single member of my team has gone beyond what they were hired to do and taken on so much more because, at the end of the day, we’re business partners providing practical advice,” said Helen Omapas, senior counsel, IP, at audio company Harman International.

Dienes-Middlen, who has worked at WWE for nearly 23 years, has made a career out of being a “one-stop-shop” answer provider for the C-suite.

“I make that my business every single day. When they start a conversation by asking: ‘I’m not sure if you’re the right person,’ I say ‘I am the right person because I’ll get you the answer.

“You have to be able to give them comfort that you will get them the answer no matter what the issue is. It doesn’t mean that they will have to have 50 conversations—you will have to have 50 conversations for them.”

How does someone raise the profile of their contribution beyond simply a cost centre, asked moderator Theresa Conduah, a partner at Alston & Bird.

“We are a cost centre,” replied Dienes-Middlen. “We cost money. Our job is to make them understand that it’s an investment in the company and it’s money well spent.”

Omapas said it helps that her company’s general counsel works hard to show what the IP team is doing in reports to the C-suite, be it a sponsorship deal with Ferrari, an ambassador deal with US rapper Doja Cat, or contracts for the music event JBL Fest.

“This might not translate to a quantifiable revenue for the legal team but the impressions that the company is getting on social—that’s because of legal working with the marketing team to get that out there,” said Omapas.

Remind people of successes

It is also worth highlighting “the big wins”, suggested Weinzierl, who advocates making hay out of solving high-profile legal issues.

“When you have that infringement causing a big problem or the C-suite gets an email because they saw one of our marks being used by someone else.

“It’s about using those opportunities to remind people that we couldn’t have made that go away if it wasn’t for all the work we did over the last however many years.”

Losses can be powerful incentives too, added Dienes-Middlen. “I’m not saying I ever wish to get a cease and desist (CND) letter but if I’ve advised businesses not to do something because I think it’s a high risk, and once in a while you get a CND that supports this, they’re likely to listen next time.”

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