Spin Sucks-Communications Tips for the Compliance Professional

by Thomas Fox
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Spin SucksOne of my favorite social media acquaintances is Gini Dietrich, the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Arment Dietrich Inc. Not only does she bring one of the freshest voices to what might arguably be called ‘one of the world’s oldest professions’, that being Public Relations (PR) (she identified a 1800 BCE PR campaign), she is a top notch cyclist and an über Chicago Bears fan. Earlier this year she released her book Spin Sucks. While the book is obviously aimed at the PR, it provides a wealth of information, which the compliance professional can also use.

As you might guess from the title of the book, Gini believes that if you “Lie or spin the truth you will be found out,” and that folks will “take you to task” for doing so. More than just your reputation will suffer; you will lose the ability to have credibility going forward. Her thesis is that today, “while media strategy is an important part of a communications program, there are many other tactics used in a cohesive strategy: content, email marketing, social media, crisis and reputation management, events, social advertising, investor relations, lobbying, regulatory work, and more.” That sounds like a good prescription for a compliance practitioner to consider in the communication function of a best practices compliance program.

The book is broken down into 10 chapters and for the compliance professional, I want to focus on Chapter 7 – Your Customers Control the Brand. Here Dietrich focuses on a company’s customers because they, in many ways, hold or control the brand. And, as a company, your brand is really all you have. I think this is very true for the compliance practitioner and is not something which is discussed or recognized enough of the time. Dietrich provides seven points that she believes can help shape the perception of your brand. I have adapted them for the compliance professional.

  1. Be Vigilant. Dietrich says this issue warrants “Not just repeating your brand message over and over again, but in monitoring and listening to conversations happening online about you.” While a company may not have as many employees communicating about the compliance function online, the point is nonetheless well taken. You should listen to concerns about your compliance program. Listen through the hotline, at training sessions and any other time you get the chance. I like the way Gini puts it, “Harness that information [and] be vigilant about paying attention”.
  2. Be Honest. Yes your mother, and Gini’s mother, was right, Honesty is the Best Policy. Dietrich says, “Keep people updated. Communicate the ups and downs. When you’re honest about the issues, challenges, or concerns, there isn’t a story to tell. It might be painful at first, but the pain won’t last as long as it would if you lie or attempt to sweep the problem under the rug.” Think about General Motors and its attempts to hide the ignition switch problems, where would the company be if it had been honest about the problem?
  3. Be Open. Dietrich nails the issue on this point when she start off, “This one is so hard. It’s difficult for human beings to keep open minds about many things.” As a lawyer, I would say that can be exponentially true for my juris docum But at the end of the day, the compliance program is not the legal department; it is a function designed to prevent, detect and remediate problems, not just to say NO. Paraphrasing Dietrich, if you show a willingness to talk about issues, and even change your policies based on feedback, you’ll create the most loyal employees.
  4. Be Active. Here Dietrich focuses not on the busy work of being on all types of social media but using such mechanisms to engage your customer base. For the compliance professional first and foremost is to get out of the corporate office and into the field. Let people meet you, get to know you and listen to their concerns. Incorporate their ideas and feedback into your compliance program going forward.
  5. Be Consistent. Gini talks about consistency in messaging because “if you aren’t consistent, how can you expect your customers to know who you are?” For the compliance professional, I would submit that this prong anticipates issues broader than simply communications. I often discuss the Fair Process Doctrine and how that is so important in administering your compliance program. One of the keys to this doctrine is consistency. The consistency of your actions should follow the consistency of your message.
  6. Be Creative. I often say that lawyers and compliance professionals are only limited by their imaginations. This is certainly true in the field of media relations. Here Dietrich suggests tackling a problem head on. In the compliance arena it might mean using a compliance misstep as a lesson learned. For instance, after the Walmart corruption scandal was broken in the New York Times, many companies incorporated the examples that arose of what is and, more importantly, what is not a facilitation payment into their training.
  7. Be Proud. Dietrich states, “Once you figure out your vision-what you want to achieve, who you want to be when you grow up-post it everywhere.” She suggests several mechanisms to make employees proud of your brand and I would submit that you could also do this in the compliance arena. You can create plaques or recognition awards for employees who shine through in compliance. She ends this section with the following, “Be proud of what you are doing and don’t be afraid to tell the world about it.” This is another message that I do not think gets enough play by compliance professionals. We bring real value to our companies and our work is something to be proud of. It should be celebrated.

Dietrich writes in a conversational style that is easy to read and digest. I found her book had some great pointers about communication, which could be very helpful to the compliance practitioner, in addition to the media relation specialist.

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.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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