FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

October 28, 2014

Bunkie Hunt and the Marketing of Compliance

Bunker HuntNelson Bunker ‘Bunkie’ Hunt died last week. In a state filled with oversized egos and personalities (i.e. ‘Texas-Rich’), Bunkie was one of the true giants. He was a son from the first marriage of the famous Texas oilman-legend H. L. Hunt. Well over 6 feet tall, he also neared 300 pounds in girth when that meant something and let’s just say, it wasn’t all muscle. Bunkie’s greatest notoriety came when he tried to personally corner the world’s silver market in 1980 when he bought up fully one-third of the world’s silver. He drove the price from the mid-teens to over $50 per ounce. However when it became known that he personally was buying up the silver, the market collapsed and the price dropped to less than $11 per ounce and Bunkie was nearly wiped out. That led to one of the greatest Texas-Rich lines of all-time, “A billion dollars ain’t what it used to be.” While I have no personal knowledge precisely on that point, I certainly believe that truism.

Bunkie’s attempt may have failed simply because he did not market correctly what he was trying to accomplish so today I wanted to use his audacious attempt to corner the entire world’s second most precious commodity to continue the discussion of how a compliance officer might work to internally market the compliance function throughout a company. I recently read an article by Raymond L. Panneton, in the Texas Lawyer. It was entitled “Be the Brand: 5 Tips for Marketing a Practice” and provided Panneton’s thoughts on how a lawyer or law firm “might properly distinguish yourself from your competition”. Bunkie’s response was simply to try and buy up all the world’s silver to establish his identity. Alas a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner may not have quite the resources that Bunkie had before his forlorn effort. So I have adapted Panneton’s marketing prescriptions for the compliance practitioner. 

  1. Identify a passion. Frankly, if compliance is just a job for you, you are probably in the wrong field. You can know all the building blocks of compliance but if you cannot influence your company, you have lost the battle for compliance. Moreover, employees know who is just biding time in the compliance function while on their way to bigger and better corporate positions and who really cares. Passion in infectious and the foundation of any successful compliance program is the enthusiasm that a compliance professional can bring to the job.
  2. Send consistent messages. I think this means a couple of things in the compliance practitioner context. First, and foremost, the message of compliance must be consistent throughout an organization. That means up and down the chain of command. If the top says this is our message that is the message that has to go through the middle and into the bottom of an organization. I think this point also illustrates that the Fair Process Doctrine applies to your marketing as well. Both disciplines and incentives must be consistently meted and handed out evenly. If you fire salesmen in Brazil for cheating on expense accounts, you must also fire the same folks in the US if they engage in the same conduct. Equally with incentives, if someone in Western Europe does a great (compliance) job, you have to reward the folks in other geographic areas who engage in the same conduct.
  3. Build a network. Panneton says, “Networking is a critical aspect of building a brand.” Not only can the same be said for the compliance function but it is actually mandatory for our profession. At the end of the day, the greatest strength of any compliance practitioner is the ability to influence. To do so, you must constantly network, network and network at all levels of your organization. If the first time you are meeting the head of Internal Audit, IT or (name the function) is when you need something you are much more than late. You may well likely not get the assistance that you need at that point in time. The same is true for the Regional Manager in East Asia. If the first time they are hearing your voice is the first time they are speaking with you, you are way behind the 8-Ball already.
  4. Market the brand. Here Panneton states clearly, “Marketing should be a daily routine.” Amen, Brother. To paraphrase Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, ‘ABC – Always Be Compliant’. Get out there and spread the message. Get out of the corporate office; go to Africa, go to East Asia, go everywhere to spread the brand of compliance across your company’s regions. Marketing communicates to the troops that you care about them and you will listen to their concerns. Nothing speaks louder in a company than when someone from the home office comes out to the provinces to speak and listen to employees concerns. There is always an added benefit to such marketing, this being that people are much more likely to tell you something in person rather than pick up the phone. However, they are much more likely to pick up the phone and call you if they have met you sometime previously. The key is that you have marketed the brand and you have established a personal relationship in doing so.
  5. Be creative. As a lawyer, I often say that you are only limited by your imagination. The same is true for a compliance practitioner. Panneton counsels that “When building and marketing a brand, think outside the box.” If your company allows internal use of social media (not applicable for companies stuck in the 1900s), have a great compliance website and use that internal social media platform to get the message of compliance out. Come up with an elevator speech about what compliance is and how it moves your company forward through both transparency and accountability. If you are a good writer, pen short pieces for your company newsletter or magazine. If you are a good speaker, talk at business subdivision annual events. In other words, get the word out. But the point is to think creatively. Talk to your IT department, talk to your marketing folks, talk to your communication group; in short talk to anyone within your organization you might give you some ideas about getting your message of compliance out. And never forget, the Department of Justice (DOJ) specifically mentioned 35 email reminders sent to convicted Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) felon Garth Peterson by the Morgan Stanley compliance department as one of the reasons that the employer, Morgan Stanley received a Declination when Managing Director Peterson was prosecuted.

Panneton ends his piece by noting, “Branding is not something that is taught in law school, it is learned through trial and error.” The same is true in the compliance world, particularly for us recovering lawyers. However, I believe a little effort will go quite a long way. Perhaps you can outdo Bunkie and actually corner the world’s silver market all by your lonesome if you have a personal wealth of $16 billion and the right marketing message.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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