Compliance and creativity: Why regulations don’t mean the end of creative marketing

When marketers make a move to the a regulated industry such as finance or healthcare, from another unregulated one, the need for compliance approval of marketing materials can be an eye-opener. It can seem like a whole new world with new tactics, approaches and rules to learn. At first those rules might seem restrictive, but once the reasons for compliance become clear, it becomes much easier to adapt your strategies to suit. Keep at it and you might just see that the regulated market isn’t as creatively restrictive as a new starter first thinks.

For those considering such a move, or having just made it, that word, ‘compliance’, is one you’re about to become very familiar with it. Whether you’re governed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) or any other regulator – making sure you appreciate and understand their guidelines, as well as their impact is essential for success.

If you want to ensure your promotions meet the regulator’s requirements, you need to understand a few things first:

Why are promotions so heavily regulated?

Taking the FCA as an example, the association makes the point that your marketing might be the consumer’s main or only source of information with which to base decisions on. In a complicated market such as the financial services sector, it is important that facts and conditions are laid down clearly in a way that customers can comprehend.

The FCA says that financial promotions must be “fair, clear and not misleading”. Any that fail to meet these requirements pose a risk to consumers. Understanding this will help you appreciate the reasons behind changes made to your content before sign-off.

What is a regulator looking for?

Having a clear understanding of what a regulator will take issue with will help you create marketing materials that get signed-off first time, with minimal revisions.

As explained, you must write content that’s fair, clear and not misleading. This is critical; check your content before you hand it over – does it meet these requirements? If not, tone it down, tidy it up or reduce the jargon.

Make your content appropriate for your audience. Depending on your audience, your tone and the words you use will need to be different to when you’re writing for internal marketing purposes.

Check your disclaimers and disclosures are accurately worded. Getting the right disclaimer, disclosure or regulated statement can be a challenge so list all the points you need to include up front and then make sure they’re correct and prominent.

Steer clear of offering advice and remember promotions need to inform, not recommend. If you understand the difference you will avoid inadvertently creating content that will automatically be rejected.

Be aware if any products have specific requirements. If you’re promoting a particularly complex product ensure you know whether it has unique requirements, and how these will impact marketing copy before you start writing.

If you’re working with an external agency, they will need to understand your regulator’s requirements as well as you do. Brief them clearly on what’s allowable and ask them to sign up to the regulator’s website for updates if they can. They should be on top of changes to regulations as you are.

What is the role of your compliance team and how can you work together?

A close relationship between the marketing and compliance teams is vital; collaboration can deliver continuous improvement.

Although the two teams can sometimes seem like chalk and cheese, remember you share the same goal. You both want to promote your firm and its products in a compliant way, and streamline approvals with minimum amendments, interventions or reworking along the way.  Trust me; collaboration is the key to success here.

Are there any regulatory changes planned?

Make sure you keep up with regulatory change. True, most regulations are pretty standard but the associations do update guidance occasionally to keep up with changing market practices. The FCA’s rules on social media for example were amended last year, so do keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines and make sure you don’t get caught out. 

With a firm understanding of regulatory requirements in place, you should also be aware of the impact these guidelines can have. For example, approvals in a regulated sector can take longer than in others. Approvals aside, you also need to leave a clear audit trail documenting all changes, versions and approvals of your promotion. If the regulator decides to visit and investigate your firm they will want to see evidence that you have followed procedure and obtained the correct approvals in advance of publishing. All of this creates an extra layer of marketing admin in terms of the management, tracking and documenting of the approvals process. So when planning activities remember to build extra time into your plans.

Meeting the guidelines put in place by a regulator can slow campaigns down, there is no denying that. But they don’t have to curtail your creative flow. If you immerse yourself in the market and gain a clear view of the supply chain you will quickly see the sense behind the rules and realise that creativity and compliance can co-exist.