Embrace open communication with your agency and divulge your company’s trade secrets, as needed and with an NDA.  This inside scoop creates higher quality work.

I was asked recently by a former client how business was going and if the agency was working on anything interesting.  The short answer was we have several new projects in the hopper along with a few recent additions to our client roster — but that’s about where I left it.  I realized about half of the clients my agency are now working with are covered by some form of legally binding non-disclosure agreement (NDA).  While it has always been smart business to not betray client trust, I’ve experienced a sharp rise in the use of NDAs as part of the client on-boarding process.

Clients seem to be formalizing what had previously been handshake agreements, honestly I’m fine with that.  The peace of mind my clients have once the contract is signed allows them to open up to me more than previously, making our working relationship better.  With assurance that I can be trusted, my clients rely upon me more as a partner and less as a vendor.  For instance, I recently met at a client’s office here in Portland. When determining which room to meet in, the CEO suggested the “war room” was fine because we’re under NDA, but otherwise they don’t allow anyone in. The walls are covered in white boards filled with trade secrets that mere glances at by competitors would divulge too much.

By sharing non-public plans with the marketing partner you’ve selected, you allow your agency to produce better work for you.  They’ll have a more well-rounded view of your entire business, even things seemingly unrelated to “marketing”.

This more complete understanding of your company’s operation will permeate through the creative work they produce and frankly make your job easier. An obvious example of when you want to divulge trade secrets to your agency partner would be when you have new products in development that will need marketing support.  A less obvious thing may be the consolidation of manufacturing, or new supplier or distribution agreements.  These things can all have an impact upon the marketing work you and your agency are tasked with. Knowing about upcoming changes can keep the agency from asking “stupid” questions that arise from being uninformed. You’re also spared from reviewing creative that missed the mark if what’s true for your company today will not be true tomorrow.

There is definitely risk for your full-service marketing firm to inadvertently disclose non-public information.  Even if your agency never interacts with your competitors, they probably deal with the trade media serving your industry and the media absolutely is talking to your competitors.  Social media is also a potential conduit for inadvertent disclosure.  While the old adage “loose lips sink ships” definitely rings true, the benefits of sharing your trade secrets with your marketing partner outweigh the risks.  Just do your due diligence and talk with the principals at the agency about your needs for the agency to keep your secrets private.  Have your legal counsel draft an NDA for the agency to review and sign.  Then trust and share.  Enforce the NDA if it comes to that, but any firm wanting to earn your business should value your trust above all else.