How to Speak Up In Industries Where Regulations Seem to Discourage It


Maintaining a positive relationship with the press and the public in a highly regulated industry can feel like an unwinnable battle. You want to be a thought leader. You want to be part of the conversation on Twitter and Facebook. But you’re up against a thicket of rules against making selective disclosures, speculating about the future or discussing new products under government review.

Health care and pharmaceutical executives have to contend with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Finance and insurance executives don’t want to cross the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Energy executives … well, you get the idea. So some executives figure the easiest way to avoid saying something they shouldn’t say publicly is to say nothing at all. They scarcely ever call the press and avoid contact with the public.

You don’t have to be one of them. It is possible for a company in any one of these highly regulated fields to build innovative, attention-grabbing media campaigns without breaking rules or unsettling their government minders. Three tips:

Know Your Referees: You’ll have an easier time staying inbounds if you genuinely know the rules and the people who enforce them. So read the rules. Learn the specifics. The SEC, FINRA and FDA play by exacting regulations, but they also publish a wealth of guidance about them.

Next, talk to your regulators. They’re obliged to explain their polices to their constituents. You may be surprised to find they’re happy to share insights on what exactly is or isn’t allowed when engaging in a public relations or social media program. Get familiar with how they view the rules they’re enforcing. They may not see things the way you thought they did.

Empower Your Staff: Get your public relations staff and consultants to explain exactly how they’ll help you steer clear of problems. Make sure they know the rules even better than you do. Ask them to produce a clear set of guidelines that lay out which rules apply to your company and who enforces them. Social Media Today published an article earlier this year summarizing some of the rules a few of the big government agencies enforce.

Ignore Rules that Don’t Exist: Executives who don’t know the rules on public disclosures tend to assume everything is illegal, effectively adhering to rules that aren’t.

Knowledge is confidence. Once everybody knows the rules, ask your public relations advisors to find issues you and your colleagues can discuss publicly without violating them.

One of our clients, a law firm, represented a number of drug and medical device companies who had issues open with the FDA. Our client’s representatives weren’t allowed to talk about any of these matters. Yet they were eager for the press to be aware of the depth and breadth of their expertise in dealing with the FDA.

So we organized a roundtable on their behalf. We worked with them to develop a list of topics that would be safe for public discussion. We invited a number of top-tier business and industry reporters to listen in. We encouraged our clients to speak freely. We allowed the reporters to ask questions, get answers and get acquainted with several attorneys and their specialties. After the event, several of the reporters published stories quoting our experts. Our clients became go-to sources for some of the reporters they met at the event.

Whatever field you’re competing in, well thought-out communication strategies help you build credibility among key stakeholders. In a highly regulated industry where many of the players are too nervous to talk, boning up on what you can actually discuss can really help you stand out. Think of how refreshing it is to the reporters, investors and customers who hear from you—mindful of the limits and yet willing to share your insights in the press, in public, and even on social media.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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