How smart PR tactics can help your business navigate the changing regulatory landscape

Last week I talked about the need for companies of all sizes to recognize the growing tension between innovation and regulation and understand the implications of that tension for their business. Today, I want to talk about the role smart PR and communications can play in staying one step ahead.

In my experience, many companies do not readily embrace regulators. Instead, they turn a blind eye, cross their fingers and hope their brand, image or business will not be impacted. Or they arm themselves with crisis communications firms and public policy experts, and ready themselves for battle.

Neither is the right option.

For one thing, crisis communications and public policy resources like that are expensive. If you’re Uber, perhaps you can afford it. But most companies simply don’t have millions in the bank to support lengthy regulatory battles and protracted negotiations.

For another thing, going to battle or just plain ignoring regulations can do irreparable damage to your brand. The result can be billion-dollar valuations slashed, high-level management shake-ups, job losses and more. The list is endless – just look at Zenefits or Theranos.

So with all that at stake, what are the proactive steps companies can take today to avoid a regulatory crisis?

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Your first step is to recognize the value of communications and storytelling. You need to be smart in both strategic and tactical communications, and integrate them into your business. Your communications team should have a detailed understanding of the laws and regulations that impact your industry today and are likely to impact it tomorrow. And they should be engaging in regular conversations with any public policy team you might have as well. Today’s smart money is on experts who can integrate the governmental and regulatory know-how of public policy experts with the storytelling and media relations savvy of public relations.

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Second, make your voice heard. As we saw last week, regulators and legislators are often struggling to keep up with the pace of innovation. Companies have an incredible opportunity to influence the development of these regulations. Take the time to become active in consortiums, engage in community outreach where appropriate and evaluate speaker opportunities. Rather than trying to work around the regulations, actively participate in their creation in a way that works for regulators, the public, your customers and your business.

Third, PR should not be viewed as just a series of product releases and customer announcements. Think instead about why your product or service matters to people. How does it make their life better? What kinds of issues are impacted by your product and the way you do business? Security? Privacy? Whatever the issues are, it is vital to understand, recognize and address the broader concerns of your audience. We call it issues-based storytelling. When you understand your customers and they feel vested in your company, you will be in a much better position to negotiate regulations.

Technology has enabled businesses to do so much, and there are few signs that the pace of innovation is slowing down. At the same time, however, high-profile failures and customer activism on privacy and security are changing the regulatory and legal landscape. Don’t ignore this trend – get in front of it. A long-term strategic PR approach is the key: Work with PR teams that combine knowledge of your business with regulatory and legal smarts. Make your voice part of the regulatory process and talk candidly about the issues that matter to your customers.