December 2, 2014

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Client Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Rights

Client confidentiality and intellectual property rights must be respected. Even if you haven’t inked a formal agreement with a new or existing client, be very cautious about what information you disclose, even over coffee with a close friend. There’s nothing worse than watching years of confidential effort evaporate in a single post.

For this reason, stick to the following rules when considering what can be shared outside of your immediate work team:

  • Decide in advance what you can and can’t talk about, and then stick to those boundaries.
  • Be prepared for your boundaries to be tested. People from outside your company and/or the client organization might be privy to the project details you’re working on. You should never let on that you have access to the same information.
  • Confirm with vendors that they also comply with your set boundaries in advance of sharing any confidential information. When working with vendors or subcontractors that have to handle confidential information, make sure they’re bound by the same agreements that you are. The same rules apply for any freelance or contract talent that may help you on a client project
  • Don’t blow off steam about a project in public. (This means social media, too.) When out with co-workers decompressing after a long day, don’t mention client names or characteristics. After a few cold ones, it may not seem like a big deal, but you never know who’s sitting in the booth next to you. I’m terribly wary of people being able to easily connect a rough timeline of project events to the actual narrative playing out (inter)nationally for my clients.
  • Ask permission for promoting projects post-launch. Always ask permission to show work or send out a press release if you don’t have an NDA/confidentiality agreement in place. This is not only a good business practice; it also keeps you from embarrassing conversations where a client asks you to yank a project from your website. Try to work these points into your contracts, so these negotiations don’t have to happen after the fact.
  • Compartmentalize your work on your computer. Don’t leave client work up on your screen at work, on a computer desktop in public, or in client meetings. This sounds obvious, but if you don’t have work filed away in folders and hidden from view, people can see what projects you’re working on. This may color their perception of how you handle client privacy. Volumes can be told from your work email inbox being projected in front of a whole roomful of clients. I have seen this happen at least a dozen times. It is never pretty.

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