Meeting Content Needs in a Highly Regulated Industry

What do mutual funds and prescription drugs have in common? They’re both produced in a highly regulated industry: Government and third-party controls guard consumers as they choose and use these products, and that means additional and continually changing rules for the brands that create and market them.

If you work in financial services, insurance, health care, or gambling and gaming, you know this firsthand. Content marketers in a highly regulated industry can start to feel like Ginger Rogers: Having to do everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels.

It’s not easy, but a few guidelines have helped me and my team create award-winning content that meets our client’s business objectives.

1. Don’t make excuses.

Knowing from the start that you cannot use creative approaches that could be misleading—such as hyperbole or satire—should be just one more motivator to come up with the most creative, audience-responsive, targeted work possible. Every content team works with constraints on budget, time, and technology. In highly regulated industries, compliance and legal concerns are no different as a creative challenge than those constraints.

2. Don’t fall back on clichés.

I have to credit Pace Creative Director Larry Williams for this one. He and I have been partnering on financial services content for seven years, and in our collaborations we try not to use the industry’s expected visuals. One of my favorite pieces was a portrait we took of a top-performing broker. Rather than photographing him in a business suit at his office, we showed him at the workbench in his silversmithing studio.

3. Put yourself in their shoes.

Compliance departments are not bureaucratic black holes. They’re teams of dedicated people trying to do the best job they can to ensure that communications, products, etc. are produced with the regulators’ guidelines in mind. Their goal is your goal: to help the company thrive. They do it by preventing litigation, regulatory sanction, and the loss of status like accreditation. Invite them to the table as you map, optimize, and apply content strategy.

4. Get comfortable with a target that moves.

Creating compliant content would be easier if everyone had set rules. But regulatory oversight tends to be a subjective business; news events and recent missteps can trigger more conservative approaches by the regulators, and a good compliance department will often anticipate that. Creative approaches, visual direction, or word choices that were OK three months ago may be sent back for changes now.

5. Build an appropriate process.

Our project discovery includes questions about compliance and legal guidelines for the specific products or lines of business we’re working for. Our workflows and review cycles have steps for compliance and legal reviews at the stages where they require it, and the stages where having their signoff helps us prevent costly rework. Our internal style guides and checklists include learnings from past reviews and requirements documents from the regulators. Our design and video professionals know that templates need to have space for disclaimer text and iconography.

How have you seen successful content used in a highly regulated industry? Share your favorite examples that resonated with you in the comments below. We would also love to hear your tips to add to your list.

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