You know the drill: Your email app dings, announcing your latest Google Alerts. You rush to your inbox, scan every headline, pull out two or three you think would make great stories and begin writing a timely, fresh piece that will resonate with your target audience and capitalize on trending topics.
Then, because you work within a highly regulated industry, you send that time-critical article off for review. You wait. And wait. And wait. Days later, your no-longer-relevant article comes back with more red on it than a Valentine’s Day bouquet. You consider revising it, but ultimately throw in the trash and start over again with a new article topic.
The burden of compliance can seem overwhelming at times -- particularly within highly regulated industries such as health care, finance, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and tobacco. You might find yourself wondering if it's even worth it to keep creating new, innovative content.
Content always is worth it.
Creating regular content within these environments can be challenging. But if you prepare and have a little patience, the benefits of providing scheduled, timely content make the exercise well worth your effort. Maintaining a regular stream of content can lead to:
- Improved search-engine optimization (SEO).
- Increased brand recognition.
- More followers and better engagement on social media.
- Improved relationships with your customers.
- The opportunity to turn casual readers into customers and brand advocates.
- The ability to position your company as a thought leader within your industry.
You could, of course, reuse the same tired content over and over, avoiding your compliance team altogether. But then your company would look just as tired and unoriginal as the content it’s putting out there.
Five steps to create quality content within the rules.
Developing effective, creative and even timely content in highly regulated markets demands an awareness of the requirements and a willingness to accommodate them.
Step 1: Determine your compliance requirements.
Every company has its own approval requirements, but highly regulated businesses often necessitate layers of approval to greenlight even the simplest content. You may need to filter your work through several channels. These might include your team lead, the product team, the legal department and anyone else involved in managing regulations.
If your company is operating in this sphere, it also should have a compliance team that's responsible for ensuring adherence to the many local, state and federal regulations in place. As an extension of its expertise, this team should have the ultimate authority on content requirements as well. If your business doesn't have a compliance team, you'll need to build your own de facto version. Identify all individuals responsible for reviewing and signing off on content, and make sure to keep them in the loop.
Step 2: Get to know your compliance team.
There’s no point devoting hours to content creation only to have every word redlined by your compliance team. Before you start any project, make it a priority to determine which regulations and requirements exist within the industry. Find out:
- Are there things you’re not allowed to say?
- Do you need to use disclaimers? If so, how?
- When do you need to back your claims with a statistic? Are there preferred sources you should use?
- How will the review process be handled? Who needs to review each piece of content?
- Are there any previously approved statements or content that you can reuse without approval? If so, how much can you modify that language before you need to seek approval?
As you review your company's requirements, be sure to compile a guidelines document for reference. Schedule regular meetings with the compliance team to keep this resource updated and stay on top of any changes to regulations or standard language. These meetings also present opportunities to share any upcoming projects that could pose a compliance challenge or might require special consideration. Compliance teams generally don’t respond well to surprises (and neither will your timeline).
Step 3: Develop templates.
Having ready-to-go templates makes your job easier and streamlines the review-and-approval process. Compliance-team members who know where to look for critical points can complete their work faster, too -- keeping you ahead of pressing deadlines.
Templates will vary by industry and project, but they always should:
- Be created in cooperation with the compliance team.
- Separate nonregulated content, such as the creative story, the pitch and other materials that don't need the same level of review.
- Include standardized, approved language.
- Include a section for citations, notes or anything else you night need to help the review processes move more smoothly.
Step 4: Embrace the disclaimer.
No one likes disclaimers. They take readers out of the story you’re trying to create. They’re often filled with legalese. And in some industries, they can run longer than the creative content itself. On the other hand, disclaimers protect you and your company from liability. Embrace them and learn to use them effectively.
Make sure you understand how and when disclaimers need to be displayed. Ask your compliance team:
- Which types of claims require a disclaimer?
- Where must the disclaimer appear?
- What size does the disclaimer need to be?
- Is there any way to rephrase a statement to avoid the disclaimer?
Once you know these requirements, you can establish standard practices that minimize the need for disclaimers and the distraction they create -- while still adhering to industry regulations.
Step 5: Set up creative briefs.
Developing a creative brief for every product, service, image, article, video or event your company offers will enable you to manage most compliance battles up front, before there’s a time crunch. This tactic also will prevent you from pouring your creative energy into something so perfect that any criticism will feel like a personal attack. Work closely with the compliance team on these creative briefs so everyone has a clearly defined baseline for what can and can’t be said.
Step 5: Know when to push back.
Most compliance teams have one focus: ensuring employees adhere to all regulations so the company can avoid any legal or financial repercussions. It’s not a compliance professional's job to think outside the box. Quite the opposite, in fact. These individuals are happiest when everything is comfortably situated within that box. Still, there's always room for negotiation and interpretation.
Don’t feel as if you need to accept every suggestion the compliance team makes. Its members are being cautious, and they're working solely within their realm of understanding. It’s your responsibility to push back from time to time and educate them, if necessary.
When you initiate these conversations, be prepared to:
- Provide a rationale for pushing back. Clearly explain how their revision reduces the quality or effectiveness of your content.
- Demonstrate how your take on the language still falls within your company's compliance guidelines and industry regulations.
- Be willing to compromise. You might not get everything, so prioritize the language that's most important to your project’s success.
At the end of the day, compliance-team members want the company to succeed just as much as you do. They should welcome a better approach as long as it doesn’t put the company at risk.
Step 7: Partner with quality content producers.
If you’re struggling to come up with appealing content under highly restrictive regulations, it’s OK to ask for help. There are plenty of content producers out there, and chances are some of them are doing exactly what you’re attempting to do. Why recreate the wheel?
Consider partnering with a successful content producers who already have an established presence within the industry. Make sure your potential partners know industry regulations and adhere to them in their own work. The best way to find qualified content producers is to review industry publications, attend conferences or use an online resource such as our company, ClearVoice. Even if you’re not looking to bring on outside help, you still can learn from observing their approach.
Option B: Don’t worry about regulations (and face the consequences).
There’s always the option to throw caution -- and the law -- to the wind and write whatever works creatively. It might even work, for a time. Eventually, though, the regulators will catch up with you. You might be let off easy with a simple warning and a fine. But if a government agency pushes harder, you could be driven out of business. And then there’s the potential flurry of lawsuits from customers who (rightly) feel deceived.
Your compliance professionals get paid for a reason. Trust them. Work with them. Make great content together so your business can grow and become even stronger.