Accountants, lawyers, bankers, consultants, government entities—and even vendors who serve regulation-heavy industries such as health care and financial services—frequently have to explain regulatory changes to their customers.
The goal is to educate and reassure in the face of change. Unfortunately, professionals most often fall short on this goal because their explanations are as difficult to decipher as the regulation itself. It makes sense. When your whole professional life is focused on, say, copyright law, it’s hard to take a step back and view new limits on database protection through a layperson’s eyes.
Your clients need the simplest explanation of what’s changed, what it means to them, and what (if anything) they should do differently as a result. If that explanation is written in the same complex, legalistic language as the regulation itself, the audience is lost.
Our firm is often called on by professional clients to help write articles about regulation aimed at a general business audience. I realize, however, that not every communication is important enough to warrant paying for outside help. You may have to write an e-mail or memo, or maybe just a couple slides in a deck that explain the effect of a new rule.
So, dear experts, “sexy” may be an overstatement, but here are some basic guidelines for how to write something useful for your clients and—if you put a little time into it—interesting as well.
1. Do not focus not on the changes themselves, but on what they mean to your audience. Many SMEs make the mistake of taking too many words to describe—or worse, list verbatim—the regulation changes themselves. While there may be utility in a brief overview, chances are there’s little value in regurgitating the actual rules. Consider including a link to the regulator’s site for reference. Your busy readers have a short attention. The best use of their precious time, and the best way for you to get them to keep reading, is to focus squarely on how they will be affected. In the introduction you should explain not just that there are changes to the regulation but also what the changes might mean to your audience—hint at what they might have to do differently.
2. Elaborate on the reasons why it will be easy or hard to adapt to the changes. What complications will hinder their ability to comply? Keep them reading and buy yourself some credibility by clearly articulating and demonstrating that you understand the challenges they face. Why will adapting to these changes be easy or hard? Will the changes require a new mind-set? Are parts of the organization now affected that previously were not? This tension is a critical part of any compelling story.
3. Describe the actions—the concrete next steps—if any, that your clients should take, including a time frame for action if possible, to overcome those challenges and respond to the changes. (Helpful hint: the actions should not begin and end with, “call me.”) Reward them with something insightful and useful. Who within the organization is typically responsible for implementing the changes? (Does this differ from who should be responsible?) What might they do differently? In some cases, it’s possible to offer real prescriptions. In others, it will be more like, “when considering the new rules, companies will have to carefully think through X and Y, and they might end up doing [this thing] differently.” That’s fine.
These steps are intuitive but often quite difficult to execute for one simple reason: it requires a lot of thought. And thinking is hard work. In essence that’s what this exercise is about—putting in the time to think through these issues so that your clients don’t have to do it themselves. They’ll love you for it.