7 Lessons From BlackRock and Guardian Life on Hurdling Content Marketing Compliance Issues

If nothing else, South by Southwest Interactive presents a dizzying array of things to do. On Saturday afternoon, for instance, you could have found yourself traveling on the Interstellar spaceship via the Oculus Rift, eating the best brisket of your life at GE’s “Science of Barbecue” center, or waiting in line to rage with Kid Cudi.

However, instead of partaking in the fun, a whole bunch of marketers chose to sit in a packed parlor room as I interviewed two of the smartest people in the business—Tara Meehan of Guardian Life Insurance and Ann Hynek of BlackRock—about the art of navigating legal approvals in brand newsrooms.

(Full disclosure: Guardian Life Insurance is a Contently client.)

Here are seven important lessons we learned during the discussion.

1. Work closely together

Coming from the insurance and finance worlds, respectively, Meehan and Hynek face as many compliance hurdles as anyone. But they don’t use it as an excuse.

“Compliance is a hurdle, but I really don’t like to call them a hurdle,” explained Meehan, who, as the head of social media content for Guardian Life, leads the company’s social media efforts and manages the tactics used by the company’s 2,700 representatives. “Their first job, and legal’s first job, understandably is to protect the brand. Our job is to tell the story. So it’s very critical for us to work with our compliance team very closely to make sure we’re all on the same page. There’s no demonization of compliance. We’re not, ‘Compliance bad. Content good.’ It’s not like that.”

Both panelists stressed that getting content passed swiftly through legal approvals often comes down to the personal relationship between content and compliance teams.

As a vice president at BlackRock, Hynek is the managing editor of BlackRock Blog, a publication chock full of smart, daily financial content. She also oversees all of the company’s content and social media marketing. One big key to her success has been having a compliance representative on the team to guide their efforts.

“We were starting this from the ground up, and he was really sort of the major player from the very beginning,” Hynek explained. “It was, ‘How do we tell these stories to the investor, remain true to the brand, and remain compliant?'”

For BlackRock, having compliance fully integrated into content creation proved incredibly successful. Their compliance rep approved everything for the team on a daily basis, from tweets to blog posts. Hynek also kept him looped into the team’s plans. “Any time we had a piece that might have been a little tricky from a legal perspective, it was, ‘This is coming down the pike,’ so there were no surprises,” she explained.

Meehan agreed that kind of close collaboration is crucial.

“When you keep that constant flow of communication with legal and compliance, you help them understand that this is an infographic that’s going to educate the public about how Whole Life can help you pay for college,” Meehan added. “Disclosures should not be all over it.”

2. Set clear rules

Those close relationships with compliance also helped Meehan and Hynek establish clear rules that kept non-compliant content from clogging the pipeline.

“The big one is no promissory language,” Hynek said. “We absolutely have [rules about] what we can say and what we can’t, but it’s pretty general. Once you’ve been in it for a while, it’s pretty much common sense.”

Meehan agreed that disclosures are crucial, adding that it’s also important to keep any personal opinions out of your content. “Compliance and legal on our side is very cognizant that it’s a very conservative industry,” Meehan said. “Nothing from HuffPost or Fox News like, ‘Obama really good! or ‘Obama terrible!’ You can’t do that. Try to stay away from those hot-button topic issues, but still stay trendy and still give topical content and valuable educational content.”

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of making sure each side knows what the other is supposed to deliver. “Setting expectations on both sides is critical,” Meehan said.

3. Train, train, train

When trying to educate an entire company on best compliance practices, it’s hard to put too much importance on the initial training period.

“It’s a constant educational training model,” Meehan said. “I work with our internal teams who actually have their own compliance rules. There are certain disclosures that only retirement needs, and there are certain disclosures that only life needs, so it’s important for me to learn that and have those groups inform me constantly of the different rules.”

“Anyone that touches those different [social] channels is required to go through training,” Hynek said. There’s somebody on the compliance team who’s charged with talking everybody through it, and answering any questions that they may have—talking about best practices with [the employee’s] own social media channels right from the beginning.”

For Hynek, that extends to the various writers she works with as well. Her life as managing editor is made, well, manageable because all of her writers know what’s compliant and what’s not from the very beginning.

4. Let technology make your life easier

When it comes to compliance, record-keeping is key. But figuring out how to set up an organized system to handle those records isn’t always intuitive.

“One of the very first things that we did with compliance was worry about how we’re going to keep track of everything. Their question was, ‘So do we take screenshots of every tweet and every blog post?'” Hynek said with a chuckle. “We were like, ‘No, that’s not how we’re going to do this.'”

Instead, BlackRock used social media archiving tool Smarch to capture all blog and social media posts.

Similarly, Meehan relies on an archiving tool, Socialware, to capture and monitor Guardian Life’s far-ranging social media activity. “It would be pretty much impossible to be able to monitor what goes on for every single rep [without it],” she said.

5. Pick up the phone—or holler across the office

To solve a problem unique to the digital age, sometimes the best answer is old-school communication.

“We’re so wrapped up in the digital space—everything is email, email, email,” Meehan said. “Following up with an email to see if you got the email, and then following up a week later with an email about the email. Sometimes it’s really crazy, but there’s this thing on your desk. It’s called a phone. And when you pick it up and dial it and hold it to your ear, there’s another person on the line that’s a human.”

Hynek, on the other hand, bypasses the phone and takes it a step further: She hollers over at the compliance team, which sits at a nearby pod of desks . “I can stand up and say, ‘Hey, is this tweak going to fly?’ and Scott [in compliance] says, ‘I’m on the phone, but we can talk about it in a second!’ It’s kind of nice because they’re right there. They’re easily accessible.”

6. Respect compliance’s time

Considering just how important relationships are between content and compliance, it wasn’t a big surprise that respecting compliance’s time was a point both panelists emphasized again and again.

“Every week I always send our entire editorial calendar for that particular week just to say, ‘This is what’s coming,'” Hynek said. “‘We’ve got this product launch on Thursday. This blog post has to be live at 8:00 a.m. What can we do to work together to make sure that this goes out?'”

And that weekly routine has done wonders when it comes to keeping her content cadence on beat.

7. Don’t let fear kill your creativity

During our question and answer period, one member of the audience brought up a common concern: Content creators can get discouraged by compliance regulations and be afraid to try out creative ideas that push the limit.

“It’s not like the world’s going to fall apart if I submit something and it gets rejected,” Meehan said. “If it’s something I feel strongly about, but I feel like it’s going to cause some friction, it’s important to have a meeting before I submit to say, ‘There’s something coming down the pipeline you haven’t seen before. You may have questions about it. Please don’t freak out about it. Just come to me and I’ll work it out.'”

For Hynek, that advanced notice is equally important. “We have a weekly meeting where content and compliance come together,” she said. “It’s [crucial] having the foundation of an active group and figuring out together how to get around it—collaborating.”

Ultimately, that collaboration is the key to a smooth relationship between content and compliance. Bring them into the fold and talk constantly. And if there’s anything we learned from South by Southwest, it’s that brisket and breakfast tacos will make people show up to anything. At the very least, spring for some bagels.

Image by Ostill

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