By Alistair Robertson – Creative and Strategy @ Nucco Brain (strategic content agency operating at the intersection of storytelling and technology / clients include Deloitte, the European Space Agency, Google, HSBC, JP Morgan, BBC, John Lewis Partnership and Water Aid).
Picture this: you’ve come up with the perfect campaign for your corporate client. It’s daring, it’s different to what’s been done before, and you’re sure the target audience is going to love it. You meet with your stakeholders to walk them through it – but within seconds the “compliance guy” kills the idea: “We’re not allowed to say that”, or “we need six lines of T&Cs on that ad”.
It’s true: compliance has killed countless creative ideas. But for marketers in large organisations – particularly within regulated fields like legal, finance and pharmaceuticals – compliance is a necessary and truly valuable part of the process. And approached in the right way, it can paradoxically birth the most innovative and brilliant campaigns.
When creativity and compliance clash
Advertising agencies are conditioned to create work that pushes boundaries and makes clients feel a little uncomfortable. But to make a marketing manager feel uncomfortable, versus an compliance manager, is an entirely different thing.
The rules that compliance teams must follow are clear, but there’s often an element of subjectivity from which disagreements can arise. If it’s factual, things can be backed up by data and the fine print, but where you need to be careful is when you’re making insinuations. What a marketing team wants to say versus what a compliance team wants to say can at times be very, very different.
A creative and a compliance officer are coming from opposing perspectives – the former pushes the boundaries and the latter focuses on staying within them. I’ve experienced pushback from client compliance teams on social media executions before, saying: “Even though it’s a 15 second video, what we’d like you to do at the end is present the equivalent of 15s worth of T&Cs”. But obviously that’s not how social media works.
Sometimes, however, restrictions can be a good thing. The challenges that very heavily compliant areas provide are the ones that deliver the best creative opportunities – the ones that make you think more than anything.
Communicate from the get-go
Given compliance is in fact non-negotiable, how should marketing teams ensure they’re meeting legal requirements without having their creativity stifled? In my experience, it all comes down to good communication.
When it comes to creating campaigns, it’s key to bring compliance in early to get them on board as part of the journey. It’s not a good idea to just loop them in at the end as an afterthought. If you do that, nine times out of 10, you’re going to have to start again because there’s lots of things you haven’t considered.
Instead, focus on taking a collaborative approach. To a certain extent, this comes down to culture. In the US, with its culture of suing, there’s a lot more day-to-day involvement for high-level projects. Whereas in the UK it’s less formalised. But with compliant-heavy industries, the key to a successful project and smooth working relationships is frequent communication.
One banking client I work with takes a particularly collaborative approach when launching a project that pushes the boundaries. They have what’s called an advice session, where marketing teams take their compliance counterparts through what they intend to do and get their initial views, just so they can understand if this is something that can be done.
It’s the perfect solution because creatives have the chance to test the waters before becoming married to an idea that just isn’t feasible. Creatives will never have a full understanding of regulations. So check-in meetings provide the chance to make sure teams are aligned on all sides.
Ultimately, really great communication drives everyone forward together. When we link arms, that’s when we all benefit. There’s sometimes a tendency for marketing teams to run and hide at the mention of the word compliance, but they’re doing the very important job of protecting the company they’re hired by. Acceptance and understanding of each other is vital for a successful campaign.
Ensuring success – get stakeholders on board
If you’re experiencing pushback from compliance on your campaign idea, having a champion within the legal team can be make-or-break. Beyond complying with the necessary regulations, compliance teams might be reluctant to okay an idea because it’s so far removed from what they’re used to.
These champions can be the connectors between adventurous marketing teams and cautious stakeholders, helping to strike a happy medium that suits everyone. When you build champions in those teams, they become the go-to people to facilitate your ideas and you gain a valuable sounding board.
Getting stakeholders on board is all about coming from a place of understanding. But if you’re still getting pushback, ensure the goals of the campaign are clear. What might be obvious to a marketer might not be to a legal officer. And when you’re coming from different perspectives, it’s more important than ever to encourage mutual understanding.
In conclusion, while heavily-regulated industries will always come with challenges for marketers, the potential is exciting. The difficulty of marketing something can be the springboard into genuinely brilliant work that blows away the competition.