Disclaimer: Julia DiNardo, or anyone at IFB for that matter are not attorneys. This post should not be considered legal advice.
How exciting! A brand just confirmed you for a campaign and are elated. Yippee! Congrats! Dreams DO come true! You are getting paid! Now a W-9 and a contract arrive in your inbox, and although you shouldn't have a tremendous sense of fear when dealing with this contract, you shouldn't quickly skim and sign it either. For years, I have dealt with contracts and specifically blogging-related ones. I've settled into a routine of what to look for in the contract, and when to raise the alarm.
I've discovered that most contracts tend to lay out pretty much the same terms, but you should ALWAYS read everything over before signing just to be sure you are comfortable with everything and you aren't expected to do something you didn't originally agree to do.
Look for The Deliverables
As mentioned above, your laundry list of items, which, for a blog campaign will most likely include:
- a post and social media (from you)
- a hashtag and social media handles to use (from the brand)
- links, a tracking code
- brand logo or image
The contract should always list the deliverables. Usually deliverables can be found on the first or last page, and outlines, usually in bullet format, all that you have agreed to do. Make sure that the contract lists the specifics; for example, the due dates for each of these items, and how many times you post on social media per platform. It's always great to have these items in writing, ideally via an email, but for your protection they really must be found in the contract as well.
I can't tell you how many times that in the 11th hour of something about to go live or already live, after the contract has been signed that other “requests” for the campaign get sent my way. You've already taken the right measures by making sure that the agreed upon terms were in the contract, which means that now the power is in your hands to negotiate for more money, or to say no to these new add-ons.
Make a List of All of the Items that Need Explaining as You Read Through It
Gosh is it easy to get caught up in the minutiae of contracts and honestly, to let your eyes glaze over as the language can be, um, a bit dull. As I read through the contract- I keep a sticky, either an actual hard copy one or one on my computer desktop to jot down the section, sentence in question, and what I'm unsure of, so I can quickly paste it all into an email to the brand/agency before signing it. Also look out for misspellings of your information, such as your name and address, so that the payment process goes smoothly, and don't be shy about asking for corrections.
Are there certain items that you just can't agree to? Chances are if you speak to your contact/issuer of the contract; they will be willing to work with you on it. The first time I signed a contract that briskly asked me to waive my “worldwide, non-exclusive, fully-paid, royalty-free license to use to telecast, copy, perform, display, edit, distribute, link to and otherwise exploit the deliverable, or any portion thereof, and any ideas, concepts, or know how contained therein…” I was taken aback and almost feel off of my chair. “Wow – I'm totally being taken advantage of!” “This is brazen and ridiculous!” “How can they do this?” and “Why would I ever agree to this?”thoughts flooded through my head, but as I've gone on to sign several dozen contracts since, I've learned that this is a pretty standard term. I've never felt 100% content with it, but on the other hand, to my knowledge, it's never been put into practice either.
Beyond the Actual Work: Call-Outs To Look For
Make sure that you understand the requirements when it comes to confidentiality, and if there are any competitor restrictions and for how long. and who/what is considered a competing brand (for example: if you do a campaign with Saks Fifth Avenue, then you can't do one with a competitor, like Neiman Marcus, for three months). Also make sure that somewhere in the contract it is understood that you will disclose this is a paid/sponsored opportunity, due to the FTC guidelines., and the language that you will use. Believe it or not, I've experienced several attempts by brands to get around this, which is completely non-negotiable.
Get Someone Else, Anyone Else, to Look Over the Contract
It's incredibly easy to miss potentially questionable components of a contract, and it never hurts to have an extra set of eyeballs to help you out.
If you can afford legal counsel, it's always good to have a professional review your contract. If you cannot afford legal counsel, perhaps you have a family member, close friend, or significant other with legal experience and wouldn't mind doing you a skinny now and then, I'm sure they would be glad to lend a hand.
I have yet to ask my newly minted lawyer brother for help, since the past 10+ years I've been relying on whoever can give about 20 minutes and a diligent eye to it. Mentors and/or parents can be very helpful, since they are predisposed to ALWAYS be looking out for your best interest, but the minimum requirement for who to ask to look one over is just someone who cares about you. If you don't feel comfortable asking someone you know, you may be able to get free small business legal counseling services in your community that you can enlist for help as well.
Can you offer some additional pointers for dealing with contracts?