How to make legal and compliance as happy as your readers

Form the right bonds, and legal and compliance will be a creative resource and partner rather than a barrier.

BY Kristin Danekas
Imagination Contributor

My first big legal and compliance (L&C if your relationship is solid) intervention was with a client in the financial services industry about five years ago. We created a series of social posts, and when I received L&C feedback, it was a tangled mess of Word edits.

I’ll be honest: The finished product was extremely accurate—but painfully dull.

My first thought: They are preventing us from doing great, creative things!

My second thought: How can we meet in the middle to do great, creative things together?

After spending quite a bit of time going through legal constraints and language preferences—both essential for marketers and L&C reviewers to know and discuss—I hopped on a call with the company’s lawyers and came to a compromise. That call helped my team understand L&C’s goals and helped L&C understand ours. We also adjusted our process by looping in L&C early on for any ambitious new initiatives to prevent the dreaded rewrite or, even worse, dismissal. And the final content got better. Win-win-win.

My final thought: Developing a good relationship with L&C and working hand in hand with them are crucial to developing quality content, especially in regulated industries (you know who you are).

So, how do we as marketers become effective partners with legal and compliance reviewers?

Understand your L&C team

One of my regular contacts, a vice president of digital content marketing at a Fortune 500 bank, advises putting yourself in L&C's shoes. They are trying to manage risk for the company—and often have a large workload. When L&C shares expectations and needs with a content team, it aids in understanding.

Marketers need to recognize the regulatory environment that L&C deals with day in and day out, as well as the very real lawsuits they see. This will help the two groups take their status from “it’s complicated” to “in a relationship!”

Find time and give context

Don’t just email stories for review and wait for feedback. Schedule time to review content together.

Getting L&C to review content can be a challenge since many team members have other responsibilities. Scheduling time to talk through feedback together and come up with solutions on the spot can be especially helpful.

Building multiple levels of review into your process and setting time aside also helps eliminate a lot of the back-and-forth emails.

And be sure not to overwhelm L&C. They need to review story text, for instance, but do they always need to review smaller elements such as images, keywords, metadata, etc.? Keep it simple when you send text for review.

Don’t be afraid to push back

Often L&C partners give feedback for clarification’s sake, but it ends up being legalese in the worst possible way—no offense.

Remind your L&C team that the average consumer might not understand jargon and technical language and suggest working together to address the issue in a more consumer-friendly way.

Setting expectations helps, too. If the relationship is good, let L&C know you will consider all of the editorial feedback but may not make all suggested changes. If L&C's feedback isn't truly legal or complicance related, know when to push back.

Get L&C approval without sacrificing quality

Keep in mind L&C wants to write marketing copy about as much as marketers want to write contracts. This means these edits aren't always verbatim—but sometimes just general direction. Capture the spirit of the concerns, but remember that the polish and tone come from you.

It’s also important to make sure that every writer, editor, strategist, etc. who touches a highly regulated account knows the industry (and common sensitive words and phrases). This saves everyone time.

Build your relationship with L&C by setting ground rules, processes and expectations at the very beginning so you and your team can develop creative, quality content that your audience will understand (and want to read).

published: September 10, 2018