Dr. Freelance, I recently added a new client that required I sign a document promising not to reveal our association verbally or in any of my marketing materials, such as a client list. I complied reluctantly. Have you heard of this before? If so, any recommendations for how to handle?—Only the Shadow Knows
Shadow: In most cases, freelancers think of a non-disclosure agreement (a.k.a., NDA) or confidentiality agreement as protecting a client’s proprietary information. I have signed dozens of those over the years.
The type of disclosure that you’re describing with your new client, however, is a notch or two above that. It’s a “no-name-dropping” agreement, too. In essence, you’re serving the same role for this company as a ghostwriter does for an author. I think you handled it the right way, assuming you wanted the business and are getting paid a fair rate for what you’re doing — maybe even a higher-than-usual rate since there’s no marketing benefit to you from the association.
It’s neither good nor bad; it’s just a different way of cutting a deal. Sure, it’s a bummer to not be able to tout the relationship openly. I’ve had clients who’ve asked me to “pretend” that I’m on staff, and others who declined my requests to add certain items to my portfolio, but I’ve never had a completely clandestine relationship (other than ghostwriting).
Now, as far as *why* a company would ask for that higher level of discretion than just a non-disclosure agreement, my guesses would start with:
- They’ve been burned in the past. It’s possible that a prior contractor abused the connection in order to gain business, maybe even with a competitor.
- Lawyers gone wild. You didn’t mention what industry you’re working in, but my personal experience is that certain sectors (high tech, finance, healthcare) are particularly sensitive.
- Creative paranoia. Some companies think it makes them look weak to have creative done by an outside contractor.
On a side note: Over at Anne Wayman’s AboutFreelanceWriting.com, she posted a sample non-disclosure agreement that she uses for her business. She suggests it’s a good way for a freelancer to pre-emptively dispel client concerns that you’re going to steal their ideas — pretty clever, I thought.
What’s been your experience with clients being reluctant to allow you to share samples or even the fact that you’re working with them?