How far should an NDA go?

Jeff Mann from Gartner (@JeffMann) blogged yesterday about NDA Games.

It’s an interesting subject, in particular with respect to what useage analysts are allowed to make of information disclosed in an NDA briefing, or to spell it out, a briefing during which the information exchanged is disclosed under a “Non Disclosure Agreement”.

Just to go back a little on the basics, and as Jonny (@jonnybentwood) points out, the ability to exchange non-public information (to a certain extent, because publicly traded companies are subject to some rules on equal access to information towards investors and shareholders, so it should not be material infomation to the sense the SEC understands it) is what differentiates a press interview from an analyst briefing. It’s also one of the things that make this relationship much more interesting and insightful if you ask me. Most firms, such as Gartner, have “blanket” NDA’s with large vendors.

The vendor Jeff mentions should not however say a whole briefing is under NDA, but AR people should take great care in flagging (before and after, as I train my spokespersons to do) what’s under NDA and what’s not. Clearly, what happenned there is not best practice.

Except that talking too soon about a new product can kill sales for today’s product. Some vendors are very good about talking about futures and not selling what they have, but clearly that’s a pre-do-crash business model, not one for today’s business environment.

Any thoughts on how to reconcile this with the need to brief analysts on what’s coming so that their research is accurate?

And question to Jeff and other analysts: can you elaborate on “what’s in it for a vendor to brief you on roadmap/futures?” I think I know some of it but I’m interested in the answers…

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5 Responses

  1. As well as getting feedback and advice as part of a client relationship, vendors benefit when analysts know what they will be coming out with because we are then better able to answer customers’ questions. Even if we can’t divulge details, knowing what is coming means we can put their plans in perspective of wider market trends and help match with what the customer is lookigng for. Analysts are not press, so we are not looking for “scoops;” I don’t go running to my blog or twitter feed when I hear about some juicy bit of news. We do want to develop our own insights though, using all of the inputs we can get.

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  2. NDAs are useful and meaningful when they’re selective. Occasionally I attend an analyst event only to be told that everything shared was under NDA, and I wonder why I bothered attending. It’s fine for some things to be under NDA because clients haven’t given permission to be named publicly, or something is not quite ready to announce (in which case it’s more of an embargo), but providing extensive briefings under NDA is more or less pointless – if I can’t share what you’re telling me with my clients, then it’s of little use to me.

    The one exception would be when you tell me something – e.g. you’re working on version 2 of your product and it will solve the problems I’ve spotted with version 1 – that will affect my analysis even though I can’t be specific about it yet. But again that would be a narrow case.

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  3. Jan, Jeff,

    I don’t want to seem obtuse but while I would think AR pros understand quite well how NDA’s help analysts (or at least I would hope so), it’s less clear how this in turn helps vendors.

    I think it would be very helpful to elaborate a bit on that…

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  4. How does this help vendors?

    Simple: Customers buy futures as well as todays. Many prospective customers reference analysts, to validate vendor claims. If the analysts know the vendor future story and have confidence that it will be delivered, their opinion is likely to validate the vendors claims. For a prospect customer, the fact that the vendor has subjected their roadmap to the rigours of an analyst “tyre kicking” is some evidence that the vendor is committed to deliver the plan. Conversely, a prospect who discovers that the vendor has not briefed the leading analysts of a future plan, wil be more highly sceptical of the vendors commitment to the plan.

    Steve

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  5. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for this, this is what I was getting at.

    Many people, hopefully not many in AR, don’t realise this, so I thought it would help everyone to spell it out!

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