Identifying and stepping around potential compliance issues during podcast planning is an important step to avoid legal issues. Process is critical: You’ll need to work proactively with your legal team and plan your publication lead times accordingly.
Our focus is largely on branded podcasts for information-intensive businesses, so our clients tend to be highly attuned to the need to conform to a wide range of compliance requirements. I’m writing this with financial services podcasts in mind, but these tenets apply to a wide range of industries. Biopharma organizations, high tech companies, and professional services firms come immediately to mind as well.
Compliance considerations for financial services podcasts
In most respects, these requirements are the same for podcasting as they are for other customer-facing communication vehicles, but there may be some unique dynamics particularly to podcasting in financial services:
- Relationship disclosure: It is important that the podcast host is transparent about the sponsoring organization’s relationship with podcast guests. Anything spoken that can be construed as a conflict of interest, or an explicit product endorsement for specific investing situations, should be given particular scrutiny.
- Compliance with the SEC: A podcast could be viewed as much of an advertising and/or promotional vehicle as any other form of communication. Hosts and guests should talk about general advice rather than talking about specific financial vehicles, lest they risk being perceived as less than objective, and worse, find themselves in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Privacy concerns: Divulging personal data is a clear no-no. It’s tempting, as personal information can form the basis of, or amplify, the stories and examples that make podcasting such a powerful medium. Without certain ground rules, a first-time podcast guest might go off the rails here, so any written preparatory material politely warning against this should be part of the process. Ground rules should be presented to the podcast guest in written form.
- Specificity of financial advice: This may seem obvious, but informal conversations about a specific stock or other investment vehicle can be construed as financial advice that should only be dispensed by an expert with an in depth understanding of a client’s specific situation. This tends to be a minefield that accidentally gets stepped on by folks outside of the financial services industries when talking about financial matters.
Stick to education and not tactical advice around specific investments (also known as “touting”) and client “testimonials” highlighting investment products.
- Unsubstantiated claims: Among the worst of the worst compliance blunders: overstating client results, which will earn you a very long trip to the compliance penalty box. Again, as a podcast host you might not see it coming; the guest gets on a roll and who knows what will be said if this isn’t spelled out in advance.
As a general rule for all industries, be sure that you have the necessary rights for music, sound effects, and any copyrighted material. Attribute specific concepts, ideas, and inventions to their true originator. Also, there are American Disability Act (ADA) requirements for creating episode transcripts, so that this content is available to all.
Getting your compliance partners onboard and keeping them on the train
Most senior marketing professionals in financial services have well-ingrained compliance habits, but there are often other organizational functions involved in a podcast series. So, it’s important to proactively address issues early and at multiple points within the podcasting process. But even if everyone understands the right behaviors, compliance can be the Number 1 cause of episode publication delay if the right actions don’t happen at the right time.
There are quite a few best practices to follow here, so I’ll focus on what I believe to be the high impact principles:
- Get your legal folks onboard early: They know the applicable statutes and regulations that can blow up a podcast, such as FINRA Rules and SEC regulations, so why waste your time even thinking about content that has no chance of passing regulatory muster? Besides, compliance people are no different than anyone else in a gating process, they don’t want to be told at the last minute that they need to review something on a compressed timeline without thoughtful consideration of context. If you can get alignment on goals early, you’ll have a constructive partner in the process.
- Expect approval delays and plan for them: Compliance is almost always addressed too late, and then your episode is really too late. A podcast might not be a financial organization’s biggest priority, and multiple sets of eyes and ears might be needed for approval. For this reason, and many others, you should have episodes planned and corresponding guests lined up at least 6 Episodes in advance in an Episode Calendar. Maintaining a release schedule ensures your listeners are not abandoned for long stretches, as they could lose interest. And you might want to stay away from too much commentary on certain current events that could change by the time approval arrives.
- Involve compliance professionals in the editing process: This is particularly important for early episodes during which you’re trying to build trust. This can actually shrink, not expand, lead-time. If you identify compliance risks before final editing, this will save your podcast production resources from having to cycle through changes during post-production, which is both time consuming and costly.
- Don’t forget about guest compliance issues: I’ve seen a great Episode stuck in compliance review within the guest’s organization for over 3 months! Your compliance issues may be the same as your guest’s compliance issues, particularly if you’re a financial services company and your guest is talking about another highly regulated industry. The good news... addressing compliance with mutual interest in mind will strengthen the client relationship.
- Keep records: Document goals, timelines, approvers, and rules of the role. Retain schedules of episode content and publication completion, both forward and backward-looking.
CYA and include an audio disclaimer
One of the best ways to cover parts of your body you don’t want and can’t have exposed? An audio disclaimer! We recommend recording one within your podcast episode. Here’s a stock example:
“The information in this podcast is educational and general in nature and does not take into consideration the listener’s personal circumstances. Therefore, it is not intended to be a substitute for specific, individualized financial, legal, or tax advice. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a final decision.”
We find that most compliance professionals want to do the right thing for both the podcast creator and the sponsoring organization. Knowing the minefields and establishing a strong process will get your podcasting rolling smoothly and quickly.
We’d love to start a conversation with you about your own podcast aspirations. We welcome you to visit our website at www.gomodpod.com, or reach out to us via our Contact form or at firstname.lastname@example.org.