NDA? No Problem! Doing PR with Anonymous Clients

by Susan Shelby

Winning and completing significant projects can be exciting and newsworthy events for an AEC company. Announcing work with a key client can open doors to prospective clients and new employees, show traction with a project type, and position the firm as a leader in a target market. A press release announcing a project selection or completion is ideal. However, if your firm has approached a client for permission to do a press release and the client declined or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in your contract prohibits PR and publicly naming the client, what can you do? Rest assured, there are still ways to do PR with clients who wish to remain anonymous.

It’s helpful to appreciate a client’s position for declining PR with your firm. Some large companies have policies against doing PR with any vendors, because if they did, they would have a never-ending stream of requests from all the firms working on their projects. For smaller companies, a press release with your firm might place unwelcome attention on their investment (read: money) in new projects. A blanket policy of no PR is typical for clients in high-profile markets or industries such as biotech or pharmaceuticals where sensitive information and trade secrets are closely guarded.

How can you publicize a project without breaking confidentiality or compromising a signed NDA? Remember that public relations is more than press releases, so other media vehicles like editorial opportunities and byline articles can be leveraged in creative ways. Here are a few ideas to try.

Media interviews provide an opportunity to convey your thought leadership by speaking to a reporter about a particular topic or trend. Rely on your broad project experience to make a point about typical project challenges and solutions without naming names. If a reporter probes for client details, you can say “a university client in Massachusetts” or similar broad-brush description. Reporters understand that client name dropping is not always permissible, and they are usually happy to cite even an unnamed project example in a story. Just be honest with them before the interview so you set expectations. Don’t expect to be able to review a reporter’s article before it’s published, though, so be careful with how much you share.

Byline articles published in industry publications provide an excellent way to position yourself as a thought leader, and client mentions in byline articles are not always necessary. Writing trend-focused articles (as opposed to case studies) allows you to deliver knowledge to the reader and control the content that’s published. For example, mentioning an interior fit-out project for a “global financial services firm in the Boston area” lends vagueness to the client’s identity while allowing you to highlight the project’s best practices in the body of the article. Most editors will allow such a client mention in a byline, as long as the reference to the anonymous client is germane to the topic at hand. It’s courteous to mention to a client your intent to use project information in this way, even if it’s just a heads-up and not asking for permission.

Photo captions can be used the same way by providing a generalized client descriptor with your firm’s services in the caption text. The visual of the photo will convey the project information, making the client name less important – and the lack of one sometimes unnoticeable. Just be sure that the client’s logo and branding aren’t included in the photos.

Even with an NDA, there are ways to publicize your experience from working on a project without naming a client. By sticking to the core reasons why you were selected for the project in the first place, you can still establish yourself as a thought leader. That’s what PR is all about.

Susan Shelby


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency.