Marketing Project Management 101: Schedules, Approvals & Asset Management

February 22, 2017 Marcus Varner

In a recent webcast hosted by MarketingProfs and Workfront, two experts teamed up to talk about how to better manage marketing projects. We turned their ideas and insights into a three-part blog series featuring Jason Falls, Chief Instigation Officer at Conversations Research Institute, and Brent Bird, Solutions Marketing Manager at Workfront.

Please enjoy the final post in this series: Schedules, Approvals & Asset Management. (Missed the first two installments? Here’s part one: Creating an Intake Process that Works. And here’s part two: Request Forms and Workflow.)



Tip #4: Creating Schedules—and Sticking To Them

Brent: Our fourth tip is something I personally have a great time with. That is creating schedules and then making sure you stick with them. This may seem like it goes without saying, but I think it’s something that’s really worth mentioning. Personally, I’m the worst at keeping schedules or knowing when something is actually going to happen. The only thing that’s kept me married for 13 years is a shared calendar in Google. The fact that everything we're going to be doing together is in a shared calendar is the only reason we are able to stick to schedules and make sure that everyone is happy on a personal level.

From a work level as well, you know that sticking to schedules can be difficult because our timelines shift. We may tend to just accept every bit of work that comes into us, and then we end up under delivering because we’ve taken on too much. And we really don’t have visibility or know how long things are going to take, especially when everything is due yesterday. So really sticking to a schedule is important.

Jason: I would throw in, too, the best hack that I can give you, something that I started doing years ago and works for me is when you know you have work to do, block out time on your calendar for work so that people don’t schedule you for meetings and so that you don’t get distracted from needing time in order to do things to get your projects done.

Try to employ that with the rest of your team, too. If you can go into someone’s calendar and block out two hours to say, “Finish this project in this two hours,” then you’re able to protect them from the distractions that slow things down.

Brent: That’s great advice. In addition, it’s also helpful to make sure that you’re estimating the dates that are important in those key milestones. And I think blocking out time to get that work done is a great one to adhere to, as well.

We already talked about getting key information up front. We talked about developing that scheduling template that you can share. But making sure that you are able to communicate in context the work that you’re doing so that you can easily stick to the deadlines that you’ve committed to, and making sure everyone is held accountable by having that schedule that’s documented so that everyone knows exactly what they need to be doing.

And most importantly make sure you’re sticking with it so you can make sure you’re consistent. Then for something reason if something falls out and you’re not able to stick to the schedule that you’ve agreed to, communicate when that’s not going to happen. We’re now going to move onto the execute portion of the workflow.

Tip #5: Crushing the Review & Approval Process

Brent: Our tip here is make sure you can crush the review and approval process; something that can be burdensome a lot of times. But if you can really do a good job at it, it can make a huge difference. We know that the approval process could be better, based on some research that we’ve done. We know that more than a third of marketers say that the fact that approvals are delayed makes their work late twice a week or more, which is crazy to think about but actually true.

So we’re talking about up to 100 delayed projects for a team that does 1,000 or more projects each year. That’s significant. That’s a lot of stuff that is being delayed by one thing, and that’s your process.

Jason: Let’s talk about that process a little bit, and I want to use the social media example here. It’s not exactly project management, but it’s the same type of thing. You may have heard the story of Southwest Airlines, and if you’ve interacted with them online at all, you know that they have very good social media response teams and response times.

The story behind that is several years ago when they were first starting to offer customer support on platforms like Twitter, they realized they needed to be compliant. They needed the social media responses to be approved by Legal in many situations. So they communicated about it within the organization. The social media team, marketing team, and customer service team met with the legal team and said: here’s our problem. We have a 48-hour turnaround time for legal decisions; we need to close that down quite a bit so how can we do that?

And the way they did it, and the legal team agreed to this; they put two of the lawyers on staff on call 24/7. They obviously rotated the schedule so one person wasn’t overburdened with this. But they were on call 24/7 that if they got a message from the social media team, they had to respond within two hours. That was a new requirement and they all agreed that this would help solve that problem of getting things done faster.

They actually got the response time down, in reality, to about ten to 15 minutes. It was because they met, they agreed on the priority, they shared the needs across the organization and worked to solve the issue. So if in your project plan, and if in your project execution you have some approvals, whether it’s from a client or whether it’s from a higher-up in your own organization that consistently delays a project, meet with them. Show them the numbers, show them the data, and see if there can be a different way to go about it in order to close that gap.

If it’s possible in a huge enterprise organization like Southwest Airlines that’s responding to hundreds and thousands of customers in a given week or a given month, it’s certainly going to be possible within your organization. It’s just getting all of the stakeholders at the table and having that conversation.

However, when we do get the stakeholders at the table and have that conversation, we want to be very careful to make sure that we’re selecting one or two people that get to make the decisions. We can’t fall into the trap of decisions by committee and group think. I think everybody here probably understands and knows when you leave a decision up to a group of people, it adds time, it adds complexity, and sometimes it turns out to be a stalemate and you get no decision.

So every project needs to have one active decision-maker. And then certainly if there’s a higher-up that needs to be involved, they can sign off as a secondary person—but not as the time-sensitive, deadline decision-maker. But let’s make sure we do that. Fred Allan is probably the one person whose quote I love more than anything:

So let’s try to keep those decision makers down to a single person.

Brent: Absolutely. That’s great advice. That’s exactly what we were talking about in how to make your review and approval process less painful. One of the things right there, as you can see, is minimize the number of approvers that you’ve got that are mucking up the ability to get things done and to facilitate your workflow.

Also make sure you’re setting expectations at the beginning, that you establish a clear service-level agreement so that they know when the work is going to be coming to them, when they need to approve that, and how quickly they need to turn that around for your team. Because you’re really waiting on them and it’s causing you to have late projects and different things like that. Lastly, use digital proofing as a way to speed things along.

Some other information we found is that all the content the marketing teams are producing, the fact that you can use the digital proof component can improve your speed to market by 56 percent. Because everything is in context, everyone can see exactly all the approvals that have come through, and so you’re not actually waiting for everybody because everything is collected right there in the asset that’s being created. So you know everything that’s going to be taking place from that point. It can really help you get things done more quickly.

Tip #6: Get Your Assets Organized           

Brent: We’ve made it to No. 6, and it’s get your assets organized. Once you’re done, you want to make sure your internal audiences and customers can find the asset you’ve created. You want to make sure they can consume them, and they can actually use that unicorn that you’ve lovingly crafted from scratch to fire up some revenue or to get some interest in the marketplace as well.

Jason: Let me illustrate this point by throwing out this one example for you. Where do you find a utensil to eat spaghetti? One place, right? You know exactly where you’re going. You’re going to the silverware drawer and you’re going to use a fork. If you’re old school Italian, you might also use a spoon but a fork is what you’re going for.

Why in the world would you put something that your team needs to eat spaghetti in an inaccessible location if you’re serving spaghetti for lunch?

The point there is why would you store things on your hard drive? Why would you put things in your own personal folder on a shared drive, when you know that those assets are going to be used by different people? And why on earth would you ever just attach things to emails and create multiple copies of them that sit on everybody else’s hard drives?

Embrace the concept of the cloud. Embrace the concept of shared folders, and organize them so that things are easy to find. If you don’t do that in today’s age with technology, you’re wasting everyone's time. You’re creating a lot of additional cost and burden and resources on your infrastructure, on your technology. When all you really need to do is make sure that the forks are in the fork spot in the silverware drawer. That way, when someone is ready to eat spaghetti, they know where to go to get it.

Brent: I like that; making sure that our content is in the content drawer. We want to make sure you’ve got one place for your completed assets. And also when you’re naming them, that you’ve got naming conventions that make sense so people know exactly what they’re searching for. They don’t have to search for document 18375 stroke 7; instead they know exactly what they’re looking for because the naming convention makes sense.

And then make sure that the organizational structure follows the structure of the fork drawer. So when people come in, they know exactly where to find the information they’re looking for. Using a digital asset management tool can help with that as well to keep everything organized so you don’t need to spend time looking for things; you know exactly where it is.

Lastly, we want to make sure that you can also measure your performance to figure out what works. Being able to use a dam and things like that can help you because you know who’s acquiring what information; what they’re able to see. As you can see, this baby is very effective because we’ve been able to measure it. so we can see just how effective it is as it goes throughout its life.

Content is the very same way. The marketing materials that you’re creating work the very same way, as well. You want to make sure you can measure the effect and these are the things you are doing so you know if you need to repeat that or if you need to let that go in the future.

So just to wrap up, these are the skills that we went through. The project management skills we’re going to take to improve our marketing. Make sure you have an intake process that works, use request forms, make the most of your workflow, use those schedules and stick with them, crush review and approval, and then lastly make sure your assets are organized.

This wraps up our three-part blog series based on Brent Bird’s and Jason Falls’ webinar with MarketingProfs. Watch the complete webcast on demand here.


About the Presenters

Brent Bird is Solutions Marketing Manager for Workfront, where he leads go-to-market research and content marketing strategy. He’s worked with hundreds of global marketing teams and agencies to help them effectively manage their workloads and control chaos.

Jason Falls is the Chief Instigation Officer at Conversations Research Institute and an advisor at Elasticity. He’s one of the most widely read and respected voices in the digital marketing and social media industries. A social listening and analytics innovator, he spends much of his time analyzing online conversations for clients. He also loves Louisville, sports, and bourbon.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Over the last 9 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront. His focus is always on breaking through the clutter while engaging audiences with brands' most foundational messaging. He currently oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content at Workfront.

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