Copywriting for Compliance: How the FINRA On Your Shoulder Can Be a Boon for Your Content

You write some nice copy. You turn it in. And once again, the lawyers next door speckle it with strikethroughs and tracked changes, so that your messaging is blunted at every turn.

Sound familiar?

Imposed by the likes of FINRA, HIPAA, the SEC, the NFA, and other federal agencies, compliance rules that govern marketing can be such a buzzkill.

But having your compliance department painstakingly question every word you publish doesn’t have to kill your killer content. It can actually help boost your credibility, solidify your pitch—and support your message to shine.

No One Wants to Be a Used Car Salesman

Compliance laws are there to protect consumers. Make outrageous claims, and your compliance department will nix it—whether or not you’ve included disclaimers in tiny text.

And that’s a good thing. Whether it’s financial copywriting, healthcare copywriting, or another regulated area, outrageous claims have a tendency to erode the reader’s trust. It’s much better to be human: to maintain confidence while admitting to fallacies, presenting both sides, and carrying the torch of reason, logic, balance.

A Little Cushion Goes a Long Way

What’s the difference between the below statements?

X investment produces gain while hedging against loss.

X investment is designed to produce gain while hedging against loss.

The second is compliant. The first isn’t.

What’s more: the second statement is true. The first isn’t. After all, you simply can’t predict whether X will produce gain under every market condition.

Nor can you say that Y medical device or Z pharma drug will always do its job–exactly as intended. What you can do is cushion your statement, and get it out there.

Both Sides Now

We recently wrote for an exciting new app targeting millennial investors. The SEC was looking over our shoulder, and we didn’t care. Instead, we filed copy like this:

These small-cap companies can really pack a punch. Unlike lumbering corporate giants, they’ve got room to skyrocket (or sink) fast.

You can give both sides of the story and stay compliant without sacrificing story, verve, and engagement. In calling out the potential for small-cap stocks to sink, the copy not only observing compliance—it gives readers an informed and realistic perspective on the risks involved.

By being upfront and saying yes, there are risks, but we’re here to help—you actually build trust and sound more authentic.

Compliant Copy Can Still Captivate

When most financial firms and healthcare companies approach a piece of writing that they know will face intense compliance scrutiny, there’s already a sense of resignation—“there’s no way to make this interesting, we’ll just state the facts and leave it at that.” The truth is that readers are less likely to read compliant copy that’s deadly dull, skimming over the critical information included for their protection.

Don’t equate compliance with paling your copy down, blanding it out, or making yourself—and what you sell—sound boring and undesirable.

The secret is not just copy/pasting the usual disclaimers, but making them your own without distorting the meaning. The secret is in integrating the humanity of your copy—and doing it in your authentic voice.

Image courtesy of Pictures of Money.

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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