May 30 2008

I didn’t sign nothing (NDA)

Published by at 5:48 am under Blogging

As Public Relations folks continue to embrace bloggers and treat us more like press, I get more and more press releases and opportunities to talk to the people at security companies. I enjoy getting this information and appreciate talking to these companies as an analyst/press. But I have to laugh sometimes when they pull stupid stunts, like putting the phrase ‘Under NDA’ in the middle of a presentation. If I didn’t sign any paperwork, the only thing obligating me to that Non-Disclosure Agreement is common courtesy, something PR people need to be very careful of expecting as they dip their toes in the blogosphere.

Something that PR people, as well as bloggers, are still figuring out is the exact nature of the relationship between the two groups. PR professionals are used to building relationships with reporters and knowing exactly who they’re talking to. With bloggers they don’t have that relationship, they don’t even necessarily know the name of the person they’re dealing with. On the flip side, most bloggers have no idea how to react to invitations and press releases from PR agencies. The reactions can range from completely ignoring PR to maliciously using the information provided. I suspect most of us lean towards the ‘ignore them and they’ll go away’ camp.

I used to ignore most press releases, but I started changing that recently. Blogging is about communication and learning, both of which are the exact thing PR people are trying to provide. I’ve started responding to some press releases, letting the PR folks know if I find their press releases relevant or not. I’m trying to build some of the same relationships ‘real’ reporters have and making PR aware of my interests is part of that.

But the relationship has to go both ways; PR folks need to communicate little things like the expectation of not releasing product information prior to the products release date. In this case, it’s not a big deal: the product will be out next Monday. But when I saw the NDA statement cleverly slipped into the presentation, part of me wanted to post about it right away just out of spite. Luckily the larger, more responsible part of me decided it’d be a poor treatment of the company.

Bloggers and PR folks have a lot of learning to do about one another. We have to understand that PR professionals have access to a lot of valuable information we might not be able to get elsewhere. PR professionals need to realize that bloggers are not reporters, we don’t have the background a reporter does and in many cases a quick flash of popularity and traffic is more important to us than a ‘relationship’ with a PR firm. If you want something to be under Non-Disclosure Agreement, ask up front if a blogger is willing to respect a verbal NDA. But don’t slip it into a slide in your presentation and expect it to be honored.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “I didn’t sign nothing (NDA)”

  1. Lori MacVittieon 30 May 2008 at 8:05 am


    Nice post, and a great subject. One I’ve spoken to in the past.

    I suspect that we (meaning folks like you and I who’ve been members of the press in the past and are now bloggers without the equivalent “credentials”) have an easier time dealing with these situations and understanding what can/should be publicly disclosed and what shouldn’t.

    While I agree we [as in bloggers] are under no particular legal obligation to recognize “NDA” in the middle of a press release because we’ve signed nothing, there is still an ethical obligation to do so. The fact that many would ignore this is one of the reasons it is so difficult for the corporate world to treat bloggers as they do journalists.

    If we don’t start recognizing the responsibilities and obligations that go with being journalists – whether “citizen” or “traditional press” – then we are going to remain “separate but equal” for a long time in terms of what information we will be fed.

    Do you want the pablum that’s been carefully chewed for us by corporate communications or do you want the meat?


  2. Evan Schumanon 31 May 2008 at 11:28 am

    Interesting post, but I must take some exceptions to some elements of it.
    Most critically, both you and Lori MacVittie seem to be using the term “blogger” and “journalist” as mutually exclusive and I can assure you they are certainly not. There are many journalists who don’t have blogs and are therefore not bloggers, just as there are many bloggers who are not journalists. But there are a huge number of journalists who have active blogs.
    Are you actually suggesting that, for example Dan Balz of The Washington Post isn’t a journalist because he also writes on a blog? (
    I assume not.
    Blogging is a communication device and a blogger who is anyone who uses that device to communicate. There are doctors and lawyers and U.S. Senators who are bloggers. All three of those groups have their own obligations and privileges and the fact that they have a blog changes none of it.
    Yes, as a career journalist who also happens to be blog, I get rather touchy on the subject.
    Now as to the core of your message on NDAs. You don’t come right out and say it, but you seem to be suggesting that the NDA-related obligations are somehow different with journalists and bloggers who do not happen to be journalists. I would argue that there is none.
    An NDA is a very simple concept. It’s an agreement between two or more parties and needs to be treated as such. The issue you’re getting at here is crucial: namely that far too many PR people seem to believe that an NDA can be unilaterally dictated. The “a” stands for “agreement.” Every time I get one of these uniliterally-declared NDAs, I am sorely tempted to reply, “Attached please find a copy of an agreement that you owe me $5,000. Given that you apparently believe people should adhere to the terms of an agreement unilaterally dictated by another, thought this would be a good way to pick up some easy cash.”
    The procedure of an NDA is the same as it’s been for many decades. The PR person contacts the reporter (or non-journalist blogger) and says something like, “We have a new version of our security application coming out next Tuesday. If you’ll agree to sit on the details until 12:01 am Tuesday, I’ll brief you on those details right now.”
    The reporter would then ask a little to determine if it was a mutually-beneficial deal, check with his/her superior (if there is one) and then decide. If it’s a “yes,” it would be done in writing (E-mail is fine) and only THEN should the details be revealed.
    ANY shortcuts in the process risk problems for the PR person.
    P.S. Your comment “But when I saw the NDA statement cleverly slipped into the presentation, part of me wanted to post about it right away just out of spite,” was interesting. You should know that there is a VERY small minority of PR people–but they do exist–that play on this. If they have something so trivial that no one will run it, they’ll deliberately say it’s embargoed (without getting an agreement) HOPING that it will make the news look sexier and that it will goad some reporter into using it.
    I’ve been working with PR people professionally since 1979 and these kinds of issues have changed surprisingly little over the years.

  3. […] MacVittie misinterpreted my rant on an NDA slipped into a recent presentation I saw as “don’t trust bloggers” when what I […]

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