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Creating an effective content strategy in regulated environments

Team of people strategizing on a white board

If you work to oversee or review content in a healthcare, pharmaceutical, or financial setting, you’ll be familiar with the many challenges of a highly-regulated environment. How can your company provide timely, practical resources and information for those who need it when your content must filter through the lens of internal stakeholders and subject matter experts, legal approval, or the policies of one or more government agencies?

A thoughtful content strategy can transform the performance of digital tools and products in pharma, finance, and similar industries and ease the burden of these requirements on the business. Our content strategists have supported teams in highly-regulated environments, and we’ve seen firsthand that when our partner organizations can streamline and improve their content operations, the effort results in more efficient internal and legal reviews and a better overall customer experience for your target audience.

What is content strategy, and why is it important for teams in regulated industries?

Content strategy is bigger than an editorial calendar or style guide. A holistic content strategy builds a structure for managing your content throughout its entire lifecycle—from idea to publishing. 

An effective content strategy can help you better connect with your target audience and reach your business goals. In one of our favorite books, Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson defines content strategy as “planning for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” 

Creating a content strategy in a regulated industry can be complicated

Regulations governing the industry often dictate the content requirements, including what can and cannot be said. There must be strict compliance with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations. Often, content creators must also consider how their message will be interpreted by audiences in different parts of the world.

Organizations must develop and adhere to a comprehensive content strategy that considers all applicable laws and regulations to create content in a regulated environment successfully. This includes understanding the legal implications of any language used in the content, researching best practices for producing compliant materials quickly and efficiently, and tracking all content created to ensure that changes are made when regulatory standards or guidelines change.

Organizations should also create a set of procedures and processes for producing content with the required legal compliance information, such as disclaimers, warnings, and other important information. The content must also adhere to copyright laws and ethical considerations while providing an engaging experience for the audience. Additionally, content creators should be trained to understand the implications of their work and how best to comply with industry regulations when developing new materials.

Finally, organizations must also consider how they will distribute their content in a compliant manner. This includes understanding any limitations or restrictions on where materials can be shared or distributed, such as specific markets or jurisdictions. Additionally, organizations should consider how their content will be monitored and tracked for compliance with applicable laws and regulations. This may involve creating a system to regularly review materials before they are distributed to ensure that the content is compliant and up-to-date with any changes in industry regulations.

Exciting, compliant content is possible

By creating a comprehensive content strategy for producing and distributing compliant materials, organizations can ensure that their content adheres to all applicable laws and regulations. This will help them protect their organization from potential legal issues while providing an enjoyable experience for the audience. Ultimately, it is critical for businesses operating in a regulated environment to develop a comprehensive content strategy that takes into account all relevant laws and regulations to ensure a successful outcome.


What makes a successful content strategy?

We’ll review what to consider when creating a successful content strategy in a regulated environment. The clients that we have worked with have found success when they have: 

  1. Considered their audience and adjusted content accordingly 
  2. Analyzed their processes to ensure both compliance and areas of improvement
  3. Established guidelines for compliance

Consider your audience

In regulated environments, your content must be accurate and accessible to the targeted audience. That means understanding your target audience and tailoring language, structure, and tone of voice accordingly. Make sure you are up to date with industry terminology and consider who may need specialized tools such as braille or audio versions for accessibility.

Analyze your processes

Once you have a clear idea of your target audience, assess how content production and distribution works in your organization. This will help you identify gaps and areas for improvement in your content operations. A content strategist can help support workflow and process by working to understand how content moves through your organization and uncovering opportunities to reduce the risk of errors, save time, and create better connections across teams. 

Establish guidelines for compliance

Establishing guidelines is essential for ensuring the accuracy of all published content. This helps ensure that everyone involved knows all applicable regulations and your organization’s standards. Content governance policies should include how content is created and reviewed, who needs to approve it, when it should be published, and on which channels. These guidelines can then be a reference for future content updates or revisions.

By taking the time to understand your target audience, analyze processes and set standards for content production, you can create compelling content strategies in regulated environments. Review and update your guidelines consistently, as regulations may change over time. With an effective system, you can ensure that all content produced is accurate, accessible, and compliant with applicable rules.

Benefits of a formalized content strategy

Within the context of compliance needs, we have seen healthcare, pharmaceutical, and financial organizations benefit most from:

  • Building a consistent content model, and 
  • Designing well-planned workflows and content governance 

Structured content models are essential for helping content teams approach their work with a “create once, publish everywhere” philosophy. By developing predictable structures or models for content, you can plan for how content components should appear across multiple platforms and channels like audio, video, data visualizations, and more. 

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We can help create a content strategy and ensure your communities are getting compliant content—faster.

Focusing on content governance and the guidelines for creating, updating, and maintaining content streamlines content operations and leads to more efficient internal and legal reviews. Less time spent in reviews will free up your team to focus on developing the most aspirational and engaging resources possible for your audience.

We’ll dive into content models and governance in more detail below, and we’ll also share some examples and essential questions to get you thinking about how it can impact your organization.

Building a consistent content model

A content model lays out the different content types an organization produces for those who need it and defines the relationships between pieces of content to provide structure and meaning. When building a content model for your organization, the goal is for your content creators, designers, and developers (and subsequently your CMS [content management system] and search engines) to have a structure for the different types of information in your product. For example, a “publication” might be comprised of these pieces: “author,” “published date,” “abstract,” “body content,” and “footnotes.”

One of the best ways to make a content model work for your team is to enforce standardized content strategy templates for each type of content, detailing what goes into each piece and ensuring that all your pieces are present—especially if a regulatory authority requires certain types of content. Standardizing content templates involves a process of inventorying, auditing, and envisioning content needs—something best left to experienced content strategists.

A content model gives your content creation team guardrails

If your industry is highly regulated, you can streamline content creation by “baking in” compliance at the content model level. By leveraging the content models’ structure, items on your compliance checklist can automatically be checked off, easing the burden on those who create, enter, and approve content. 

For example, suppose there is a disclaimer you must include on all pages about a particular product. In that case, you can connect that product to the disclaimer attribute in the content modeling phase to build that element into every instance in which that product appears.

If there are regulations on the amount of space certain marketing content can occupy on a scientific information resource (e.g., a webpage on a medical information website), a template powered by structured content can allow you to ensure that these requirements are met every time, automatically.

Creating content from a templated content model will automate and streamline many aspects of compliance. With a clear content strategy in place, we have seen organizations with complex regulatory and compliance challenges:

  • Reduce ambiguity around legal and regulatory requirements
  • Mitigate risk
  • Improve confidence throughout the content creation and approval process
  • Create compliant content the first time
  • Increase speed to market of vital content updates for your audience

Improving content governance in your organization

Your content strategy should include a plan for content governance, which outlines the process for how content is produced and published, and who is involved. Good governance happens when you and other contributors know who is doing what in the content workflow and how decisions are made. To gauge the health of your organization’s content governance, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is our current content workflow?
  • Who is responsible for each part of the workflow, from ideation and creation to approval, publishing, and archiving?

If you’re having trouble answering these questions, your team may benefit from additional definitions and documentation around your own content governance.    

In regulated industries, your team must ensure that content meets rigid medical or legal standards at various steps before it goes live. Good governance is an essential tool for making this process smooth.

Planning for governance helps your review process go faster

If you want to ensure that reviews are efficient and seamless on your team, you should take the time to examine existing roles and processes carefully to implement:

  • Guidelines for smooth content operations across digital platforms
  • Training, processes, and tools for contributors to use to follow those guidelines
  • A strategy for progress tracking   
  • A governance plan that establishes accountability for all decisions and approvals throughout the content lifecycle

When we’ve helped teams to implement a process like this, we’ve witnessed review timelines reduce from weeks to days (or even hours). 

One key thing to note is that a digital-first approach and streamlined approval process ensures quality and compliance is a repeatable, sustainable element of governance. We’ve found that getting as close as possible to having content produced and reviewed in an online environment within one platform can reduce risk, increase the efficiency of content production and review, and reduce confusion around technology.

Content strategy helps provide structure and speeds approval 

Your goal is for the communities you serve to get the right content—compliant content—faster. Content models and content governance, both elements of a successful content strategy, ease the creation and approval process burden and help you meet this goal. When you build compliance into your processes and have a solid governance plan, you and your customers will have a better experience.

If you want to discuss your organization’s content strategy needs, reach out. We’d love to help you make this process a reality for your team.

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