‘Off the record’: A phrase we should leave in 2021?

Richard Newstead has over 20 years’ legal experience and is the Managing Director of Rinew Legal. He has built a strong reputation as a specialist in commercial and employment law, and leads his team’s focus on legal issues in key industries including digital, manufacturing, and leisure and entertainment. He spoke to Business Leader about why the phrase ‘off the record’ should be removed from meetings at the workplace.

Marketing is abreast with catch-22s. Day-to-day, you’re working with some of the most exciting brands on some of their most exciting projects, yet you can’t tell a soul. Especially soul-destroying when you’re the one that’s come up with the strapline for their new product launch, which is to be posted everywhere, but you’re bound to secrecy… Or when you’ve just landed the biggest retainer of your career with a new client, but you’re having to celebrate on your own because of the NDA.

Confidentiality is the bread and butter of the marketing world. After all, disclosing even the most minor detail about a new campaign to a friend could have the most major implications. As more companies are incorporated, competition increases, and the belt of confidentiality needs to tighten. It’s never been more important to shout loud about keeping things on the down-low.

Confidentiality from the get-go

Most active interactions with confidentiality come at the start of employment. From day one, employees are privy to a plethora of client information, competitor insight, and inside knowledge of great value. Often embedded within other ‘new starter’ formalities, like contracts of employment and employee handbooks, confidentiality clauses must be cemented without ambiguity.

Privacy expectations require black and white detail, with any related examples of misconduct clearly laid out, too. It’s imperative that employees understand behaviours that could land themselves, the agency, and sometimes even the client, in hot water.

Such confidentiality-related clauses must be enforced throughout employment to avoid future complacency. Humans are creatures of habit, and people follow people. Within a dynamic organisation, establishing clear boundaries of which project or client details can be shared, with whom, is vital to avoid breaches.

And it’s a given that slips in confidentiality can have very serious implications. For example, if you share the findings of a client report, competitors could gain invaluable insight and advantage about a new product. Letting on to a friend in the industry about the next client you’re pitching too could afford your agency a host of disadvantage, not to mention reputable damage.

Walking the confidentiality walk

But, panic not! The confidentiality walk is actually one that’s relatively easy to navigate with confidence. Drawing up clear-cut, contractual agreements surrounding confidentiality that are kept up-to-date will help to establish the exclusive nature of information.

Pinpointing exactly what clients are happy for you to be open about and what they are not leaves no room for assumption. Sharing a post from your client’s page on LinkedIn might not seem like the biggest deal – after all, you wrote it! – but if they’re protective about employing an agency, they’ll want to keep this under wraps. Producing non-disclosure agreements are a watertight way to ensure that what’s private, stays private. Both parties’ expectations and responsibilities are detailed, with any breaches dealt with accordingly.

The value of an idea

And it works both ways, too. The marketing industry revolves around ideas. After all, that’s what your clients are paying you for! Your creative thinkers boost their product or service via innovative copy lines, mind-boggling aesthetics, and thought-provoking adverts. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the most successful campaigns aren’t born overnight. Least, not most of the time…

When pitching ideas to a client, current or new, it’s one thing getting a rejection, and another when they actually go on to use your whole campaign. Establishing protection via legal documentation reduces your vulnerability and affords protection. It’s also an influential tool; the client is more likely to respect and understand the significance of your pitch.

It goes without saying that most of the time, it’s better to be on than off the record. Underestimating the attention to detail surrounding confidentiality can be a costly exercise. Don’t be the next to fall into the trap. We believe it’s about time confidentiality lost its ‘grey area’ associations.