Marketing and compliance have to work hand in hand in highly regulated industries like healthcare, finance, pharma, legal, and education. Marketers strive to develop a compelling strategy and create content that wows customers. Then compliance has to step in and ensure that the content complies with tough marketing regulations.
Can we actually say that? Can we deliver on what’s promised? Can we legally share this customer story? Is it even legal to use a specific word? It’s often a fine line balancing your company’s deeper marketing and storytelling objectives and the reality of a highly regulated industry environment.
The good news is that it’s possible—especially if you build the right content development and review processes from the beginning.
First, a Story
The first time I experienced large-scale compliance intervention was with a client in the financial and payroll industry. A decade ago, the client asked for a series of pieces and interviews on the latest regulations affecting state payroll. Well-researched pieces based on on-point interviews with the company’s most knowledgeable SMEs were getting shredded by compliance—maybe not shredded, but edited heavily. What was left was technically accurate but terrible to read.
One interaction with that client’s legal team helped me realize that writing for heavily regulated industries meant we weren’t in marketing Oz anymore. During a conference call, an attorney went through his concerns. While the information cited was correct, he said, it was a risk because the state-level details could change, and if they weren’t updated immediately it posed a risk for the company. Further, we couldn’t outline advice for specific classes of companies—even though we only serviced SMBs—without providing the same guidance to other companies. However, he noted, we couldn’t do that because we didn’t have the expertise and couldn’t expose ourselves to the risk.
“So should we kill the piece?” I asked, trying to figure out how to close the loop in a semi-efficient way.
He seemed puzzled. “Oh, absolutely not. It’s a really important topic that our customers need more information about.”
“Then how do we get you to say yes?” I responded.
The answer turned out to be a compromise that involved spending time working with legal so they understood the marketing team’s goals and bringing them in as early in the process as possible to develop a winning strategy. At the same time, marketing teams, editors, and writers were briefed on the legal constraints and language preferences. Every piece was a balancing act, but forging a partnership was the most important step to making everything work.
Marketers working in highly regulated industries want to adopt content marketing—but they’re also keenly aware that there can be tensions between great marketing and storytelling and what they need to do within a legal framework. Here some ideas, strategies, and questions to help navigate compliance and develop content marketing programs safely and effectively.
Navigating Marketing and Compliance in Highly Regulated Industries
Engage your domain experts
Franklin Gold of FG Consulting and Advisory oversaw content and educational initiatives for a major retail brokerage brand. Today, he specializes in consulting and advisory services to financial technology firms in the areas of digital and content strategy.
He advises engaging your domain experts from the beginning. “By launching within the business, we were part of the community of business experts, rather than being outside within a marketing function, and had the full buy-in and support of leadership. The team members were split fifty-fifty between content experts and brokerage domain experts,” Gold notes of the large initiative that he ran. After five years, those activities would centralize within marketing. But the initial structure underscores the critical factors of a partnership with your firm’s most knowledgeable players.
Master the compliance challenges of specific formats
Different content formats can have their own unique compliance-related considerations. “With video content, we worked in one or two styles (e.g. hand-drawn animations) and did several of those before moving on and learning to do additional styles of content. Each new type or style of video had its own legal and compliance challenges, so we tried not to work on more than one new type of content at a time,” says Gold. Once you’ve mastered the process and put systems in place to successfully evaluate specific formats, you can then continue to build and diversify your marketing mix over time.
Build tiered reviews into your marketing process
An important lesson is that compliance and marketing have to be in partnership from the beginning. Have them consult on the strategy. Get feedback on concepts, outlines, and final products. The earlier compliance gets involved, the easier it is to head off no-go concepts before you get too far down the road and invest too much.
For example, Gold describes a typical video review process: “Video pieces typically went through three formal rounds of review. First, the video outline was circulated to identify any potential critical requirements. The second-round review covered the script and storyboards. The final review was for the finished piece.” In addition, if the video was being shot in a studio, a knowledgeable reviewer would be on hand to review script changes as they were proposed on the fly.
“From a timing and cost perspective, we never wanted to go back to the studio for a reshoot (and never had to), although we occasionally had to do an audio overdub,” he notes.
Work with legal and compliance so that regulatory concerns are captured at the strategy stage
The reality of certain industries (finance, legal, medical) is that you can be limited by regulation. It’s important to understand those constraints and be creative within them to tell the best story possible. In some cases, it’s also thinking about how you do it that can make the difference—and that starts at the strategy stage. For example, one client I worked with had HIPPA constraints so they couldn’t ask for personal health information (PHI) when sending out info (e.g. “you’re getting this newsletter because you have diabetes”). However, the company could create a series of newsletters centered around certain topics and then allow members to select anything that interested them, from specific conditions to generic topics like fitness or parenting.
Work with writers and content creators who know your industry
When choosing your content providers, it’s important to work with domain experts in regulated industries. As Gold notes, “All our content providers were accustomed to working with the financial services industry. This meant that they were aware of words that could never be used (e.g. guaranteed) and understood that reviews were part of the process and planned/priced projects accordingly.” From a brand perspective, this might mean that projects are pricier to complete, but you’re less likely to lose funds with content mired in lengthy reviews or ultimately being rejected.
Build relationships with your legal and compliance experts
Your legal and compliance experts are on your team. Investing in building relationships and finding ways to work together smooths the whole process. “Invest the time to build relationships and develop joint ownership of the review process with your reviewers. Our biggest win was establishing very specific ground rules, processes, and expectations up front with legal and compliance. They became our joint operating policies. They told us what would trigger more intensive reviews or scrutiny; it was up to us as to whether crossing that line was worth the effort required,” advises Gold.
It’s possible to develop a process that leads to successful content efforts, even in the toughest industries. “We were never blocked on a major piece of content because of regulatory concerns,” says Gold. “There were three components to our success: Having the firm’s experts ‘own’ the content, building time in the schedule for the review process and making sure reviewers understood and agreed to that schedule, and planning for disclosures as part of the creative process.” Marketing and compliance can work together to strike the balance of creating compelling content, while staying within the marketing regulations guiding today’s most closely scrutinized industries.
Learn more about how Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield publishes top-notch content in the highly regulated health insurance industry in this case study.
Featured image attribution: Nik Macmillan