Surviving the dreaded NDA

At some point in your working life, you’ll probably have to sign a ‘non-disclosure agreement’ (NDA) with a client. Either that or the agency you work at will sign one, and it’ll apply to you by default. It’s pretty much just another way to say ‘confidentiality agreement’, but ‘NDA’ seems to pop up more often in conversation.

The small print in NDAs typically means that you can’t lay claim to the work you do under it. You can’t put it in your portfolio, and if you’re allowed to even talk about it on LinkedIn or in interviews then you probably can’t name the client. It’s a legal document, so you’re screwed.

It might be a massive project, for one of the biggest brands in the world, but you gotta keep schtum. So now what?

Don’t get too precious

Yes, it’s your work. You’re the creative one, you put the effort in, it’s your baby. But NDAs are so prolific that you just have to roll with them.

And there is an advantage to this way of working. If the client decides to change your work beyond all recognition, then you don’t have to associate yourself with it. Think of it as a lucky escape.

Read the NDA – at least twice

The wording of the agreement could give you a workaround. If it’s iron-clad then forget about it, but always double check.

You might be able to describe the industry the client works in, just not their name. Being able to show you have experience in that industry is better than nothing.

Bide your time

On long-term projects, the people in charge can change. If you work with this client in future, there might be someone else leading the project who doesn’t bother with NDAs. There’s also the slim possibility that just this one project is important enough for a NDA and the rest won’t be.

The other advantage of waiting is that, like copyrighted material, some NDAs have time limits. Sure, you can’t use it right now, but give it five years or so…

Work on something else

Plenty of clients don’t bother with getting you to sign an NDA. They’ll obviously want you to keep the work confidential until it’s done, but after that it’s up to you if you want to use it.

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