A Freelance Contract Question

By Lauren M. Leetun, APR posted 11 days ago


Last week, as I was reading through the commentary in the PRSA Community, I came across an interesting inquiry from Pat Check, APR of Latitude 34 Company Communications in the Atlanta area. I thought the question she posed may be an issue that many independent practitioners have come across (or will), and I enjoyed the thoughtful commentary between a few of our section members on the topic. With the permission of the participants, I am including some interesting feedback below because I thought other section members may also benefit from that discourse.

Here was Pat’s original question:

“I'm considering contracting with a freelance writer to help me with some ongoing content development for a long-standing client. The writer has a clause in the contract that states he would "retain the right to display links, graphics and other content elements as examples of his work in his portfolio and website." The writer would not have any contact with the client, I'm handling all the editing and approval process. What are your thoughts? Should I strike this from the agreement? Or, is this the standard in these types of agreements?”

Two of our section members provided some great feedback, which I’ve summarized below:

  • Consider the point of view of the freelance/contractor. After all, many independent practitioners find themselves in these roles on a regular basis. Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA noted, “I always include specific language in contracts governing my rights to acknowledge and/or reproduce the work. There needs to be a specific understanding by all parties about the boundaries.”
  • Be clear about who owns the work in both the eyes of your client as well as those of the public. In some cases, your client may not even know that there is another contractor performing these tasks on your behalf. Even work-for-hire should still be considered the work of the entity under contract with the client. Timothy D. O'Brien, APR pointed out, “Do you want the freelancer, who may be very good at self-promotion, to be seen as the 'agency of record' for this client, or do you want it to be you?”
  • It is important to consider the language in your own contracts with your clients. O'Brien also noted, "You may have language in your own contracts with clients that stipulates you must get their approval to disclose any information on the work you're doing for them." In this particular case, it was suggested that it might be prudent to go back to the freelancer to change the verbiage in the agreement so that it did not give "carte blanche approval as was indicated in the original language."
  • Another interesting point that came up was that related to awards submissions. In the question above, this wasn’t necessarily the case, but the notion of gaining client permissions to promote your work is certainly relevant when discussing awards submissions.

As I mentioned above, and as Pat noted in her responses back, additional perspectives on the issue were both appreciated and thoughtful. One of the key takeaways I walked away with was that most contracts do have some ‘wiggle room’ built in, so it’s important to discuss any suggested modifications when you feel uncomfortable with any of the clauses contained within.

As Falkenthal so astutely suggested, "Open a conversation and ask about it first. No one should mind discussing it and most should be willing to reach middle ground."

And that's essentially what happened. Pat had a conversation with the freelance writer who agreed that Latitude 34 would remain the agency of record for the client. She also gave permission for the freelance writer to list Latitude 34 as his client and, if satisfied, she would recommend the writer to others.