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How to work with your organization's branding team on compliance and ethics training and communications.
Fun fact: if something goes really wrong at your company and your compliance training comes under fire, the team who will end up in the hot seat is you: the compliance and ethics team.
Not the branding team or the marketing team.
The compliance and ethics team.
And yet we’ve all heard compliance officers complain that they’re hamstrung in what they can do with training, communications, and reminders by company branding. They’re not able to do nearly as much as they know they need to do because their branding team is either roadblocking or dramatically slowing them down.
If that’s you, this is a frustrating problem. You have someone who doesn’t have anything at stake making it harder for you to do your job on account of something that doesn’t even make sense in this context.
It’s also a solvable problem—if you know how to handle it. So today, I want to walk through how I solved this when I was in-house and then break down how you can do it, too.
How I solved it.
In one of my in-house jobs, our team member in charge of training was complaining that the branding team was making it really hard to get stuff done. Whatever they submitted for approval would get kicked by one of the branding team members, and the actual brand standards were really difficult to work with for compliance training purposes.
I found out about this and was surprised. My peer was really trying to work with their processes and the whole thing seemed very silly and unusual.
So ... I called the head of branding, which went like this (as memory serves):
Me: Hi, head of branding. This is Ricardo in Compliance.
Head of Branding: Hi, Ricardo.
Me: Hey, we’re trying to work on some compliance training here and getting roadblocked by one of your junior folks. I’m sure he’s just doing his job, but this is entirely internal and will not leave the company. Does this really need to follow our brand standards for stuff like this?
Head of Branding: No, that’s fine.
Me: OK, great, thanks so much.
That’s it. Path cleared. The whole conversation was like a minute long.
That said, there’s a lot going on here, so let me break it down the three things you need to do in order to get the same result.
Talk to the right person.
First, note that I called the person in charge. You have to do this because this is the only person who will give you an answer other than “no.”
That is, you might be getting roadblocked because, like a good compliance person, you are trying to follow the branding team’s process, and those requests go to some junior, front-line person in branding or marketing.
And here’s the thing: that gatekeeper might get in trouble if they tell you “yes,” but they will NEVER get in trouble for telling you “no.”
So, by default, they will tell you “no.”
They will especially do this because you are asking for something that falls way outside the typical request a branding team will get, and they can either: (1) spend time trying to figure out how to tackle it or (2) just tell you “no” and see if you go away, in which case they’ll conclude your request probably wasn’t that important. The second one is easier.
To avoid this, you have to talk to the person in charge. I had spoken with our head of branding before, so I could make that call easily. If you don’t have that line into them, have the CCO or General Counsel make the call.
Frame the request the right way.
Next, note that I framed this as a purely internal, compliance training thing. You have to do this because, without giving them this context, they’ll assume it’s much broader than that and say “no,” and you can’t blame them for doing so.
That is, branding typically deals with how the company presents itself to the outside world, and so by default your branding team will be thinking about that. And if that’s how they’re thinking, they’re going to require everything you do to stick to their brand standards—which means scaling back your program while you wait forever and a day for them to approve stuff.
Instead, you have to make it crystal-clear that you are talking about an internal activity. That’s a different calculus entirely, and one that gives you a ton more flexibility in what you do. You still may want to apply some brand elements (logo, font, color) so people know it’s from you, but you get to make that call. Moreover, you are freed up from having to get the branding team's approval, which is what takes the most time.
Raise the stakes.
Finally, if the first two steps don’t get the job done, you’ll need to raise the stakes for your branding team. In my story the first two steps were enough, and that’s probably going to be true for a lot of you because the issue is often just a miscommunication about what you’re trying to do and why.
But if your branding team digs in their heels, then you’ll need to turn the temperature up a little bit. You do this by framing up acceptable outcomes for them, like this:
“OK, I understand every employee communication has to go through branding. We also have a legal requirement to get this done, and I’ve got to report back to our [General Counsel / CEO / Board] on this, so I think we can do one of two things:
1) You can let us know who our dedicated point of contact is to help apply and approve branding. We expect we’ll need [XX] hours a month from that person if we’re working with the full brand standards on off-the-shelf stuff, more if you want to create it internally.
2) Or we can agree that we’ll apply the company colors, font, and logo to anything we make or buy, and as long as you give us the color codes, font, and logo files, we can manage that ourselves—and if you see something from us that is too off-base, we can reconnect and calibrate then.
Which of those do you think will work better?”
There are three things going on with this.
First, you are telegraphing that this is going to go back to the most senior leader you report to. It doesn’t matter if it’s the General Counsel, CEO, or the Board; it just matters that this person is someone the head of marketing/branding really doesn’t want to get an angry call from. And trust me: this is the type of thing that this senior leader would rather handle now than after something blows up and you then say “well, we were going to train on that, but it was too hard to work with the branding team so we didn’t.”
Second, you are framing it so either option is fine for you: you either get a resource to do it or you get clearance to do more simplified branding yourself. The second option is probably what they’ll select as it involves no cost to them and lets them revisit it later.
Third, you are specifically excluding a third option, which is “give up control of compliance training to the branding team and take whatever they are willing to give us.” This is where a lot of folks get in trouble—you back off to play nice, resulting in either doing nothing or scaling back to whatever your branding team actually agrees to do. This is giving up control over something you are accountable for to someone who has nothing at stake, which is, like, a bad idea.
Basically, if your branding team digs in its heels, you need to be very strong in communicating that they can either give you a resource or give you runway to DIY, but in no circumstance are you going to pull back on compliance and ethics requirements. Because remember: you’re the one whose job is at stake.
Branding is important, but not always.
Look: branding is important.
It’s how you communicate who your company is to the world. Broadcat has a Brand Manager (hi, Ryan!), defined brand standards that rival yours (and probably exceed those of you in B2B), and it takes about two seconds of being on our email list to recognize that we are ruthless at staying on-brand.
But: all of that is what you see. It’s external-facing.
When it comes to internal communications, it’s a totally different calculus; we’re not communicating to the world, but to people who already work here. Sometimes we brand internal stuff for fun, but the idea that we would miss or scale back a business objective—like compliance training—because of branding limitations is absolutely absurd.
Here’s an analogy to help explain.
Imagine that you work at a hospital. Your EMTs have to wear uniforms so that, when they do their job, people know they are official EMTs. They have official hats and jackets and everything. It’s an official “branding” requirement and it makes a lot of sense so members of the public know they are real EMTs and not some randos.
Now imagine that you are sitting in the hospital break room with an EMT—who isn’t wearing their official EMT hat at the moment—and a couple administrators. One of the administrators starts choking on food and you shout to the EMT to help. She springs into action and runs over to your choking colleague, but before she can make it there the other administrator jumps in her way, holds her back, and shouts “WAIT! YOU NEED TO PUT ON YOUR HAT FIRST!”
That’s what it’s like when your branding team holds you back from doing the training and communications you want. Their requirements make a whole lot of sense when you’re looking to the outside world. And if you can pull them off internally, that’s a great nice-to-have, too.
But if they prevent you from doing your job, something has gone horribly wrong. You need to push back and retake control of the things you are responsible for, because you are in charge of getting this done and not your branding team. Use the tools in this post to help.
And when you do get clearance to do it yourself, don’t forget: we’ve got a whole site full of guides on how to do your own branding lift right here.
Want compliance training and communications that are easy to DIY edit and brand? Check out Compliance Design Club!