How Content Blueprinting Helps You Manage Legal Risk

In my earlier post on the subject of content approval and legal review, I mentioned a client’s extremely slow content review process. Other challenges we’ve faced include our clients’ needs for extensive uses of trademark symbols, copyright symbols, and footnotes; legal-specific wording to health and benefit claims; and legally approved product content that is insufficient for consumer research and online retail templates.

While there are many details to consider, the basic formula for meeting these challenges is simple:

  • Partner with your client to manage their risks
  • Manage your and your client’s expectations before the project starts
  • Establish a realistic content strategy based on your client’s “worst-case” legal challenges

Here are a few insights we’ve learned over the years about how to implement this formula with content blueprinting.

Become Your Client’s Valued Risk-Management Partner

When manufacturing products that could have adverse effects on the health of consumers, risk management becomes a significant part of our clients’ overall business strategy. Having a (slow and expensive) legal review process for all consumer-facing claims is, unfortunately, a necessary part of that risk-management strategy.slow legal review

As a result of lengthy and expensive legal reviews, we can’t always provide what we consider to be a best-in-class content strategy.

When faced with this challenge, don’t fight it, embrace it. Take the Daoist approach and go with the flow.

Partnering with your clients to manage their risks keeps them in business and your invoices paid. Remember, your direct clients are probably as frustrated by their legal constraints as you are, so work with them to ease their frustration rather than adding to it with your own.

Manage Your Own Expectations

Before you sign a statement of work (SOW) or answer a request for proposal, make sure you have the information you’ll need to know how to allocate resources to the project. This is basic SOW 101 advice, I understand. But when it comes addressing your client’s legal requirements, don’t take anything for granted.

  • Get the details, in writing, of the company’s legal review process. In particular, understand how the content will be reviewed: Hard copy mark-up? Digital MS Word track changes? And get as clear of an understanding as you can of the rate at which the legal teams can review your content.
  • Ask to review company style guides. Make sure they include specific rules governing the use of trademarks, copyrights, footnotes, and so on.
  • Ask to review the company’s “claims database” or the like. This would be a listing of the specific, approved wording of all product claims.

Once you have all this information at hand, set up a pilot test with a handful of content pieces before you finalize your pricing. This extra “hands-on” step will help you understand the nuances of your challenges and manage your own risks with the project before you fully commit your resources.

Manage Your Client’s Expectations

If you produce content for multiple retail channels, you know there are no content standards for product pages. The uses of trademarks, word choice, word count, and so on vary from retailer to retailer. If you don’t manage these rules with your client before you start producing content, your relationship will suffer.

We recently had a client who took us to task for not informing them that Amazon’s new product-page templates could not accept the extra-large font, bold-faced typography their legal department required. Obviously, this rule was a remnant of the era of hard copy advertising and doesn’t work in today’s digital world, but our client was bound by that rule.

Another issue we’ve been confronted with is when the company’s legally approved content doesn’t meet the retailer’s word-count requirements. Insufficient word count can make for substandard pages, inferior product information, and a poor customer experience.

To meet these challenges before they become major relationship issues, take the extra steps to educate your client on their retailer’s requirements.

  • Provide a “rules summary” for each channel you’ll be delivering content for. This summary should include the retailer’s guidelines on the use of trademarks and copyright symbols, the use of headers, the use of images and video, rules on specific uses of language, and other such details.
  • Provide your client with an example of what their product page would look like on each channel.

Once you’ve created your first batch of content for legal review, include with that batch a summary document that lists the sources for your information, the various style guides you applied, and notes on what business objectives and benefits the content was produced to achieve.

This document will be for the legal team reviewing your content. The importance of educating the legal team on your processes and objectives shouldn’t be underestimated. It will save time, headaches, and money.

Create a Risk-Adverse Content Strategy with Content Blueprinting

Once you have a full understanding of how the legal teams will impede your ability to provide an outstanding content solution, it’s time to build out an outstanding content solution with content blueprinting. But in this case, “outstanding” is defined by your client’s legal challenges, not your content playbook.

Carefully consider the content needs of your client’s most important retail channel and do what you can to build a strategy around that channel.content blueprinting for success

For instance, if Amazon is key to your client’s online strategy, your client has sufficient product information to produce quality A+ content, and you have no chance of getting more than one product description per product approved by their legal team, propose a plan to produce A+ content for Amazon and a basic “mass market” description for their remaining channels.

Make certain you write the content in a modular way that will allow you to excerpt paragraphs and bullet points verbatim from those descriptions for your other channels. That excerpted content will have already been approved, so you will effectively get two or more descriptions reviewed for the price of one.

However, if your client can’t deliver the sufficient assets or information for you to create the 300-word descriptions that A+ pages require, figure out the “common denominator” of content you can produce across your client’s SKU list and tailor your publishing strategy around that.

Your client’s most important retail channels may only get basic product-detail content with this strategy, but that content will be accurate and consistent across all channels.

In sum, we can probably all agree that a world without lawyers would be ideal, but so would a world without climate change and bad TV. Rather than wishing your way around legal review, a better approach is to partner with your client to map out plans for a content strategy that keeps the client happy and their lawyers at least satisfied.


Want our help with content blueprinting? Email David Zimmerman.