A key theme from our Tech In Review report series was the prospect of more regulation for technology. Of course, regulation isn’t new for tech, but what is changing is the scope and speed of new regulations. Therefore, managing PR around tech regulation, and those on the cusp, requires a strategic approach.
FinTech and HealthTech are already familiar with the challenges of communicating their offerings within strict, and well-established consumer guidelines. Similarly, areas such as AI are now on the cusp of becoming regulated.
In addition, there’s new pressure around Big Tech. For example, changes to privacy and media regulations could have knock on impacts to other sectors and tech companies.
The final piece of the puzzle is industry-specific regulation (like financial services). Typically, these help protect consumers or businesses rather than specifically managing a technology.
The impact of a regulated sector
The reality is that the impact of regulation on technology will increase. And communicators must prepare for it.
Broadly, we can put the communications challenges of regulations in two categories. Firstly, for example the EU’s draft AI regulations or GDPR, which impacts the market. They change ow your business operates or how your clients operate; the challenges and opportunities; the scope of our technology; and how the public perceive you. Splitting your approach into two phases of pre-regulation and post regulation will ensure a coherent strategy.
The second is most visible in the consumer space, and governs how we communicate. Not being able to promote specific products in healthcare PR is the obvious example. This could become a key communications challenge in the ESG arena, as regulators clean up greenwashing. In September 2021 the UK Government published guidance on communications on environmental claims.
Why horizon scanning is crucial for PR campaign management
Certainly, too often, communicators don’t catch regulatory changes in their industry before it’s too late to make meaningful change. They’re told about it rather than telling others. Communicators must be constantly horizon scanning. Without it, you cannot support stakeholders, or take a proactive role in shaping the narrative in your industry. Above all, this is risky for startups and scale-ups. Become involved in the conversation, or risk being blindsided.
Critically, you must define your objectives for any communications campaign. Can you ensure your business is a thought leader within the space? The go-to firm for clients battling with an issue? GDPR saw the cybersecurity, legal and privacy sectors fighting for coverage for years. Additionally, you might also be early enough in the regulation’s development to be able to shape the changes for the better. Build a bank of evidence, through customers, clients and case studies, allows you to effectively campaign for your cause.
The importance of stakeholders in regulation management
Bringing in the right stakeholders early is vital to a successful campaign. Naturally this includes compliance and legal teams, but product development, commercial and business development teams too. Further, outside of your own organisation, startups must leverage their ecosystem in order to speak with a coherent voice. This could include borrowing influence from VCs, universities or research groups. Map your stakeholders now, today, if you haven’t already.
You also need to be able to read the room in order to make the right communications decisions. Get to the heart of how stakeholders and the public are reacting to proposed regulations. What are the reasons for these regulations in the first place? What are the public or stakeholders worried will happen without the regulation?
The pre regulation choice facing businesses and PR strategies
Before regulations are implemented, businesses will make a decision. It’s an ethical decision. Do you “make hay” (and push the market boundaries), or, do you play by the new rules sooner? The only viable path forwards is acting like you are regulated.
Trust in your company is the guiding principle of communications. PR around tech regulation is no exception. Without it, you’ll be out of the market, either regulated out, or your customers will have lost trust. This is just as important for regulations on how you communicate, as for those with impact your market. As soon as you have a clear view of the new rules, you need to play by them. In conclusion, put in the work well before you need to with all your stakeholders to build and measure your trust.
Technology companies are some of the most trusted businesses out there. In the vacuum of trust that exists today, responsibly stepping up and being part of the solution is essential. Ethical communications requires agencies and in-house teams to hold ourselves to the highest standard. Cracking down on misinformation, taking responsibility for corporate actions, and showing transparency into the fast paced and highly influential world of tech.
5 best practice tips for effective communications around PR for tech regulation
- Establish a clear criteria of what you can and can’t do. These should be built into every internal briefing document, at the hands of every spokesperson. Everyone who is involved with your communications must know the new constraints of the market.
- Don’t stifle creativity. In many ways, new regulations can bring a huge amount of clarity to your communications. Rather than trying to lead the market yourselves, you now have a best practice framework laid out for you. That’s great because you now know exactly what you can and can’t do. Your creative communications can flow freely within that.
- Always act like you are regulated. Keep to that principle of best practice and lead the industry through upcoming changes.
- Welcome thought leadership. Thought leadership has been increasingly important to communications and its potential is now clear within the technology sector. Executive profiling will be crucial (we have a guide for that here).
- Don’t fall into the jargon trap. Even in the most technical industries, with complex legislation, keeping communications clear and consistent is vital.