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November 30, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Ex consultant wants to go it alone. What are the rules governing the use in my marketing materials of past projects that I've managed or worked on as an employee?

I've worked on some pretty cool projects as an employee of other companies, and I'd like to know how I can include those projects in marketing materials for my own company. Are there any legal issues with naming names of corporate customers of my previous employers for whom I managed projects? How specific can I afford to be about past projects (project size, scope, success, etc.)?

I would like to mention my past experience in two different ways. First, I'd like to mention "success stories," where I go into detail about specific projects that I have worked on. Second, I'd like to include links to previous projects as part of a portfolio. Is it OK if I use a disclaimer like, "I managed this project working as a Senior Consultant for ACME, Inc."?
posted by syzygy to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Were you a contract employee on these projects or salaried? You want to look at the Lanham Act. Generally I would stay away from the company's marketing material and keep it looking like a resume. If you have confidentiality agreements you can usually get around those by being vague, like: I lead a $50-75mil project to improve the supplier invoice system for a large, multinational dry goods company.

That's really the only way to go about it without getting together with a lawyer and going through your employment contracts. I would be extra careful if the projects were client facing or products that ACME, Inc. sells. Companies are liable to get litigious quickly on anything they see as direct competition. Also getting damages for stuff like this without you actually producing revenue is really hard to do so at most you're likely to get a nastygram from a lawyer.
posted by geoff. at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2009

First, I'd like to mention "success stories," where I go into detail about specific projects that I have worked on.

This should be fine, particularly with the disclaimer that you were part (or the head) of a team effort on the project.

Second, I'd like to include links to previous projects as part of a portfolio.

This is more than questionable, in my view, particularly if the projects are proprietary to the client company. I've handled this in the past by providing a few little bits of the project, conspicuously marking them as a "sample" and making sure that the client name appears nowhere on the sample.

Then it's perfectly okay to list the names of companies you've dealt with as clients in the past.

[I get geoff.'s point about employment contracts, but every one I've ever had was very specific about not trying to poach the consulting firm's clients but also made clear that you could use your expertise and experience in service of your own clients as long as you didn't poach anything that was proprietary to either the client or the consulting firm.]
posted by DrGail at 11:24 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

There can often be tension between showing samples of your actual work product and complying with confidentiality expectations of previous employers. I think this varies greatly depending on industry and position on the organizational chart.

A lot of times, final work product (ie, public marketing materials) are "out there" and not confidential. But other types of work product (think source code, or internal position papers) are probably considered confidential and proprietary.

A lot of resumes that I've seen "sanitize" descriptions of projects. Things like, "In consulting engagement for Fortune 500 energy company based out of Columbus, Ohio, [describe stuff being done and results]."

My suspicion is that for software architects, a lot of the final analysis will depend on how "public" the project is and whether or not the stuff being disclosed is covered by an NDA / confidentiality agreement.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:37 PM on November 30, 2009

Response by poster: I was salaried. My last employment relationship came to an end a few weeks ago. The employment-law attorney I have consulted has told me that there is nothing in my contract nor in the law which would make it illegal for me to poach past clients as of the day after my employment relationship came to an end, but I'm not interested in doing that, yet.

To be more clear, I'd like to have a website that has the following two types of information about past projects I've worked on:

Success stories in this vein:
While employed as a Senior Consultant at ACME, I:
- managed a software project for Gigantic Insurance Company in which we build a complex, multilingual, web-based (extranet) policy generator that allowed the client to begin selling policies in new countries in a short time and at a low cost.
- managed a software project for Some Big Healthcare Company in which we built a complex, web-based, multilingual patient-management "software as a service" system that is now used to manage patients in large, international hospital systems on several continents.

Portfolio links to public-facing corporate websites and portals like:
While employed as a Software Architect for NewMediaAgency, I had a lead technical role in the implementation of the following CMS-based corporate websites:
- I might also want to highlight some of the more complex projects that fall in this category under the Success Stories rubric.

Thanks for the tips so far!
posted by syzygy at 12:47 PM on November 30, 2009

Response by poster: Again, to be clear, in my examples, I'm considering replacing "Gigantic Insurance Company" and "Some Big Healthcare Company" with the actual names of the clients I managed the projects for. If that seems problematic, I guess I could "sanitize" the names as QuantumMeruit suggests.
posted by syzygy at 12:49 PM on November 30, 2009

Best answer: I would also suggest sanitizing the names of the companies. It is standard to put things on your resume such as "managed an implementation of [software product] for large multinational insurance firm, deploying [software] to over 30,000 employees and cutting costs by $X" or something along those lines. I think it is pretty nonstandard to put the names of the clients into the resume itself, unless you worked for that client as an independent consultant AND have their permission to do so. Informally mentioning the client name at some point during the interview or pitch process might be okay, but tread carefully.
posted by bedhead at 1:09 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My impression is that most former employers would NOT have a problem with a former employee pointing at a public-facing website and saying, "that was my project."

There are some consulting gigs where the mere fact that a consultant has been engaged to do xyz is considered Super Secret information. I think that's the driving force in (most) sanitization. So in your example, is it public knowledge that NewMediaAgency did work on example.com's website?

You are not my client. You have your own lawyer already. :)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2009

Best answer: I'm an employer of consultants, but not your employer. At least, I hope not. In any case, I've faced exactly this situation a few times.

Here is would never trigger a lawsuit: a personal portfolio that lists projects, company names, success stories, and an accurate description of your personal role. Essentially, anything that says "I, syzygy, did x on a policy generator project for company y." If there were issues of company confidentiality or a personal non-disclosure agreement in place, I might want you to obscure enough detail so that the client isn't identifiable.

Here is what would very likely trigger all sorts of legal nastiness: a claim that your company had any part project X. For example, "We, Syzygy Software Development Corp., built successful policy generation software for company y."

The former is a consultant looking for a new job or contract work. The latter is a direct competitor using my company's reputation to dishonestly claim responsibility for work that they, as a group, had nothing to do with.

Good rule of thumb: If you are a one person company, it's OK to put projects you worked on at your previous employer on your portfolio page. If you have employees or partners, then those projects belong on your bio on the About Us page and nowhere else, really.

Based on your examples, you seem to firmly be in the safe camp, as you're being very clear that you, individually, performed a particular job on a project, rather than claiming that your company was in any way responsible. So go for it. And good luck!
posted by centerweight at 3:40 PM on November 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all - very helpful!
posted by syzygy at 11:58 PM on November 30, 2009

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