It’s difficult to find a more frustrated person than a junior marketer or account manager responsible for motivating another department. It’s like a Navy SEAL endurance course, except with anxiety instead of sandbags. The creative team misses their deadline; the strategy department shows up late to every meeting; and oh god, the design team needs to update every asset with a new font again.
But these frustrations are nothing compared to when marketing approaches compliance.
Compliance and marketing have a notoriously complicated relationship. Today, marketers aim to produce engaging content and other marketing assets at a rapid clip. This doesn’t always jive with legal, which wants to mitigate risk. When talking with marketer friends, I’ve heard rants ranging from “Does legal even listen to our corporate goals?” to “They’re all plotting against us at happy hour, aren’t they?”
The conversation soon turns to tactics. Experienced marketers talk about “greasing wheels,” “smoothing feathers,” and a dozen other clichés for manipulating other departments in the name of “getting shit done.” Free pizza, unsurprisingly, does seem to go a long way. But even the best New York slice can only do so much.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned from marketers who regularly produce compelling, relevant, and timely content with legal as a standard part of the workflow. Here are their stories.
10 commandments: Big Swiss bank
The social media crew at “Big Swiss Bank” worked with their legal department to define 10 common issues that hold up the approval of content—10 commandments that shall not be broken, if you will.
The social and legal teams shut themselves in a room and defined these commandments in a common language. If a piece of content risks violating up to three of the commandments, it goes through a specific legal process. If it infringes on four or more, it goes through a stricter process. And so on.
Their workflow is simple: Each piece of content goes through legal with a digital cover sheet that contains 10 checkboxes that need to be addressed. Voila!
Why it’s worth it: Content once took an average of 90 days to get through legal, meaning that every new message was at least 90 days stale. By using this new process, content can go live in under a week, if it abides by all the commandments.
Fixed/flex/free: Global hardware company
Similar to the 10 commandments crew, this company worked with legal to define clear parameters for content approval. Since the stakes were smaller and the major no-no’s were a bit more straightforward, they only required three categories of rules: fixed, flex, and free.
- Fixed rules are hard and fast. They include anything that would “break the law” of the brand/brand voice, anything that would break the actual law, and anything that would put the company in a major PR crisis. In short, it covered anything that would get someone fired … or worse.
- Flex rules are creative guidelines. While not hard set rules, these are sensitive areas that require more attention from both management and legal, like things that have never been done before or anything that could be considered provocative or aggressive toward the competition. The rules also include guidelines for formats, story angles, and new channels.
- Free is just as friendly as it sounds. This is a list of common FAQs that any new employee or freelancer would need to know. It also includes a library of work already published.
Why it’s worth it: Given the scope of this company’s content efforts, which include publishing in markets across the globe, there’s always someone new writing stories. The Fixed/Flex/Free model made it easy for everyone to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. It encourages fresh thinking, and—in most instances—allows the company to publish articles that fall into the “free bucket” without legal review.
The celebrity obituary: Major U.S. credit card company
One of the more darker media practices is the celebrity obituary. Newspapers and magazines have pre-written obituaries for popular celebrities, political figures, and other persons of interests that cover every possible cause of death. Upon an untimely death, these prepared obits help publishers scoop their competition and/or make sure they’re not too late to the news cycle.
A kinder name for this model might be “predictive publishing.” This is when a company prematurely drafts content in response to major events that haven’t happened yet. For example, a major U.S. credit card company drafts explanatory content in the event that The Fed increases interest rates. The content has already been put through a full legal review with areas were flagged for future edits. Because of this forward thinking, the company will be able to take that story to market quickly as soon as interest rates actually go up.
Why it’s worth it: During certain events, like the volatility in the marketplace in Q1 of 2016, people clamor for content explaining what to think and how to act. But most brands provided content that was thin or dated, at best—a missed opportunity as people look for information that can help them plan, understand, or act during market swings. Most financial companies didn’t publish helpful information during the volatile period earlier this year, because it wouldn’t have been relevant by the time it got through legal. The few companies that practice predictive publishing had content ready to publish, and they looked really smart when they took advantage of the moment.
Add legal to your team: Major mutual fund company
When you can’t beat them, ask them to join you. A major mutual fund company that publishes content to empower its financial advisers has made legal a true part of the content team, inviting them to sit among the company’s editors. This move lets legal contribute to brainstorms, stay in the loop, and drink with a pack of writers during happy hour.
Why it’s worth it: In this instance, collaboration between content and legal has resulted in fantastic story ideas. Interactions are quick and pleasant instead of slow and painful. Take a look at your setup—there may be a valid argument for having a member of your legal team sit with content.
When all else fails…
When all else fails, or none of the approaches above are realistic solutions, try spending quality time with the people who deal with compliance. The goal isn’t to get legal to say yes to everything; it’s to get them to stop saying no immediately. Over time, you can get to a place of “yes, but…” or “yes, if…” It all starts with playing nice. After all, it’s harder to say no to an email address with a face attached to it. It’s even harder to say no with a mouth full of pizza.
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