Effective Communications Strategies for Mitigating Conflict of Interest Risks (Part One)

by Joel Rogers

In this two-part series, Joel Rogers, Managing Director, EMEA for Kaplan EduNeering    (bio and contact info at the end of this post) discusses how to develop an effective conflict of interest compliance communications plan.

Compliance communications generally face two challenges – the first concerning the amount of what is communicated, the second, what might be called the communications approach.  While both apply to C&E risk areas of all kinds, COIs – which often involves risks that are particularly deep seated – are worth focusing on in particular.

First, on the issue of volume of information: the employees to whom you are attempting to convey a critical message about COIs are likely being bombarded by tons of other information that is also being presented as important to their work. Based both on the research of neuropsychologists and the common sense of it, we should expect that COI messaging will have little or no impact on them, as long as it is presented in insufficient quantities.

This phenomenon is well understood by product advertisers,  who know that most consumers will barely register information about a new product the first time they see it advertised, unless it is something so novel that it instantly catches everyone’s eye (which, in our media-saturated age, happens pretty much never).  They also know, however, that such information is lurking around in the unconscious, and that if the consumer is exposed to the advertisement a second time the impact will be an increase in recognition and believability of up to 30%.  A third exposure will increase recognition up to 100%.  Lastly, they know that a consumer needs to be exposed to the idea of a product between nine and 21 times before he or she is ready to buy the product. Implementing seo for architecture firm websites can enhance online visibility and attract more clients.

Similarly, communicating effectively about COIs requires a sustained campaign of multiple communications over time.  Your annual COI training, far from constituting a sufficient COI campaign in itself is, in other words, merely the first “advertisement” to which the employees are exposed.  Your job from there is to ensure that they are subsequently exposed to that message repeatedly until they are ready to “buy” the idea that this is something about which they must be mindful.

A second challenge to COI (or other C&E) communications involves a more qualitative dimension, and concerns “learning style.” (The idea of learning styles comes out of Multiple Intelligences Theory, associated with researcher Harold Gardner and made famous in his book Frames of Mind (1983).)

The specific concern here is that the individuals who often craft C&E communications – lawyers, auditors and HR  and finance personnel –  may often be Reader/Writer type learners (one of four styles posited by Gardner), but it’s critical that they understand that not everyone learns in the same way.  Effective communications plans include tools that reach the other learning styles  – specifically that  show what conflicts are to your Visual learners, speak to the issue of conflicts for your Auditory learners, and involve your Kinesthetic learners in exploring what conflicts of interest are all about.  Advertisers get this point as well, ensuring that a holistic product marketing campaign speaks to learners of different styles – billboards and print ads for Visual learners; radio spots for Auditory learners; interactive online games for more Kinesthetic types, etc.

In our next post we’ll examine how to create an effective COI communications program that overcomes these challenges.


Joel Rogers is Managing Director, EMEA for Kaplan EduNeering; he heads the London office.  He has also served as Business Leader and Senior Consultant for EduNeering’s Ethics and Corporate Responsibility practice and has authored Corporate Codes of Conduct and Ethics for several major global companies.  He has been the Director of Ethics Training & Education for the City of New York (at NYC’s Conflicts of Interest Board), has served on the Steering Committee of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL), and has consulted to many public agencies including US municipalities and foreign governments.  Joel was named a 2008 “Millstein Rising Star of Corporate Governance” by the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at the Yale School of Management. He can be reached at jrogers@kaplan.com.



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