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Effective Content Strategy in Regulated Environments

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If you work to oversee or review content in a healthcare, pharmaceutical, or financial setting, then you’ll be familiar with the many challenges of a highly-regulated environment. How can your company provide timely, effective 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 as well as 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 the 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 structure around your content and processes for how your content is managed throughout its entire lifecycle—from idea to publishing. 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.” 

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 ahead for how content components should appear across multiple platforms and channels like audio, video, data visualizations, and more. 

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 content governance in more detail below, and we’ll also share some examples and important questions to get you thinking about how content strategy can impact your organization.

Building a consistent content model

A content model lays out the different content types that 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, or 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 templates for each type of content, detailing what goes into each piece and ensuring that all your pieces are present—especially if certain types or pieces of content are required by a regulatory authority. 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 structure that content models provide, items on your compliance checklist can automatically be checked off—easing the burden on those who create, enter, and approve the content. 

For example, if there is a disclaimer that you have to include on all pages about a particular product, you can connect that product to the disclaimer attribute in the content modelling 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 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

An organization’s content governance 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 definition and documentation around your own content governance. 

In regulated industries, your team needs to 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 that you serve to get the right content—compliant content—faster. Content models and content governance, both elements of a good content strategy, ease the burden of the creation and approval process and help you meet this goal. When you build compliance into your processes and have a solid governance plan, both you and your customers will have a better experience.

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


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