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NDA Games

by Jeffrey Mann  |  April 12, 2010  |  5 Comments

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are a continuing source of controversy and aggravation in the industry analyst world. I thought that most vendors have learned how to deal with these in a good way, but the experience I just had makes me wonder.

j0422761 NDAs are where an analyst agrees not to talk publicly about some of the things the vendor tells you in a briefing or consulting session. Some analysts flat out refuse to accept them under any circumstances, but I don’t go that far. NDAs can be useful so that the vendor can speak freely about ideas they are not sure about, or to pre-brief on an announcement that has not been released yet.

I have no problem with NDAs, so long as they are limited in time and scope. If they want to specify that some details should not be disclosed because they are unsure about whether they will be included, or if they want to keep them a surprise, that is fine. When working with vendor clients, I am happy to treat strategic discussions confidentially as part of the client relationship. A short term NDA before an announcement (also called an embargo) is also sensible.

However, I won’t accept blanket restrictions that keep me from doing my job, which is what happened today. I dialed into a phone briefing, and asked about the NDA terms at the beginning, as I always try to do when talking about futures. They said that they expected that if I took the briefing, I would not talk to any customer about any aspect of the new release until they said it was OK; they could not tell me when the NDA would be lifted. I said “goodbye.”

NDAs are generally acceptable to me, but if they impede my ability to help customers, I can’t agree to them. I take these agreements seriously, so under those circumstances I couldn’t continue the conversation. Too bad, because it is information I would have found useful. I’m sure the vendor would like to get this background out to their customers who are asking about it. I’m sure we could have found a way to agree on what could and could not be discussed while protecting their interests, limiting it to specific details or release dates. I have made many agreements like that in the past, with no trouble. It’s too bad that they insisted on such a broad restriction. Maybe the analyst relations person had strict instructions from the lawyers. Maybe they felt they could get away with it, since they were a big vendor. Whatever the reason, it was unfortunate.

Category: being-an-analyst  vendors  

Tags: nda  non-disclosure-agreement  secrecy  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on NDA Games

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Susan Moore, Jeff Mann. Jeff Mann said: #blogpimping NDA vendor games […]

  2. From an AR perspective, NDA’s are what makes analyst briefings different to speaking with the media and perhaps the single biggest piece of ammunition a vendor can have in differentiating themselves from the competition.

    In a world where many vendors have similar stories, what makes them different is credibility. Providing NDA information can provide this.

    However, as Jeff mentions, a blanket NDA is as good as not giving it all. Being specific is critical as well as timing. There will always be times when a vendor doesn’t know the exact date when an embargo can be lifter but guidelines can at least be given as to a ballpark estimate on when this will be.

    Good piece Jeff.

  3. Jeffrey Mann says:

    Thanks Jonny. The thing that got me in this situation is that they seemed to expect that after hearing this info I would decline any client inquiry that asked about the new stuff. Not using the info they give me is one thing, but I can’t refuse to talk to clients at all because of a promise made to a vendor.

  4. […] How far should an NDA go? Posted on Tuesday 13th April 2010 by Ludovic Leforestier Jeff Mann from Gartner (@JeffMann) blogged yesterday about NDA Games. […]

  5. Guy Creese says:

    I’ve also had the bizarre experience–several times–of being asked to sign an NDA for Product X and then at the end of the briefing being asked, “Would you be OK with our giving your name to a reporter who’s writing a story on Product X?”

    “Uh, OK, but you made me sign an NDA so I won’t be able to say anything.”

    “Oh, it’s OK to talk to the reporter about Product X.”

    “No it isn’t. An NDA is an NDA. I can see no clause in your NDA that says it’s OK to discose this information to a reporter.”

    “Oh, you can just ignore that.”

    In short, they want to NDA to be in place when it’s convenient for them and then ignored when it isn’t. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s all or nothing.

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