Growth of digital contract service is a sign of the times

Based in Palo Alto, CA, amid the tech giants and digital startups, EchoSign also allows subscribers to track contracts in real-time and analyze stored, back-up contracts from any Web browser.

What: EchoSign wants to banish cumbersome paper contracts and move along a deal by closing it faster.

Founded in 2005 by Jason Lemkin, a former attorney specializing in startups, the service allows businesses to send and receive signed contracts over the Web.

Based in Palo Alto, CA, amid the tech giants and digital startups, EchoSign also allows subscribers to track contracts in real-time and analyze stored, back-up contracts from any Web browser.

How: After signing up for an account, businesses and individuals can e-mail the document to a receiver for electronic signature. Then the receiver types in their name, initials the document, and returns it. Both parties receive a PDF copy when the transaction is complete. A copy of the contract is also stored in the subscriber's EchoSign account.

In addition, the service works through other third-party Web- based services, such as Google Apps. New users can give the service a try with up to five free transactions per month.

Why: For tech PR, the difference between a paper contract or an electronic one could be the key factor between losing and winning a client in the Web 2.0 era.

Communicators "need to communicate the right image to their own clients," suggests Lemkin. "You have to sign up your customers through the Web." After all, if a tech and digital PR agency considers itself tech savvy, a paper contract could look a bit awry.

The use and acceptance of electronic signatures was boosted greatly all the way back in 2000, when President Clinton signed the federal "e-sign" act, making electronic signatures just as binding as paper ones.

Who: Julia French, founder and MD of San Francisco-based tech PR firm Covered Communications, uses Echo- Sign for all business contracts.

"When people see you using different technologies, they think you actually know what you're doing," she says. "It makes us look really good."

In truth, using an electronic contract puts the "tech" in tech PR. Companies subscribing to EchoSign include Verizon Business, Facebook, PayPal, and Pandora.

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