Project Manage Like a Pro With Kelly Santina — Part 1

May 30, 2017 Marcus Varner

In a recent webinar, Kelly Santina, senior digital marketing strategist and director of operations at Convince & Convert and Ashley Spurlock, solutions marketing manager at Workfront, shared three ways you can streamline reviews and approvals.

What follows is the first in a three-part recap of the webinar. See part two here. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.

Ashley Spurlock: Today we’re talking about what a marketer’s day is mostly spent on, and I’m sure you can relate to this as far as searches, emails, and interruptions as they apply to the review and approval process.

I’m sure that you’re on the phone today because you may have been constantly interrupted, asking questions about the status of deliverables, maybe you have to stop what you’re doing and track down approvals or approvers, and maybe you’re working with just tons of email, like I mentioned earlier, with new comments and versions and that’s just piling up in your inbox and you need a solution.

Download our free white paper, "How To Simplify The Chaos of Marketing Work," for tips on breaking through the noise and being more productive.

So today, hopefully Kelly and I can provide some solutions for you.

But first, a little bit of data.

Did you know that 36 percent of your time may only be spent on your primary job duties? You may be spending the rest of your time on busywork, like we mentioned; sifting through emails as far as finding new tasks or projects or new versions.

Maybe looking for information to update a specific task or project. I started my career as a copywriter, and I know a lot of my time was spent just searching for the right answer.

You know, I need to update page two, this is version five and I need to double check it with the data that’s on this other asset, and I have to sift through my email to find that if we didn’t have the right things in place to fix that.

So, that’s a pretty interesting stat, I think; 36 percent of your job on primary job duties.

Ninety-two percent of marketers say approval delays are the biggest reason for missed deadlines.

Wow. Yes, for me, I'd bump that up a little bit more; 98 percent of my time as far as missed deadlines would be attributed to approval delays. What about you, Kelly? Do you have anything to add as far as that 36 percent or the 92 percent as far as the biggest reason for missed deadlines?

Kelly Santina: You know, on the 36 percent I had to chuckle, because I also think as marketers, we don’t work an average 40-hour week most times. So 36 percent is probably your daytime hours.

But as marketers, you know you think in the shower, you think on your drive home. And so by missing deadlines and having to track things down, it just extends your already busy day and the 40 hours that you should be working becomes 50 or 60 in some of our lives.

Ashley Spurlock: Absolutely, and I often think of that work as far as tracking down an approver as kind of like that. I don’t really have to think about that kind of work, so I’m just going to do that when I go home, put my baby to bed, I’m gonna log in and then I’ll send my email to chase the approvers that I need. 

Because my daytime hours would be better spent thinking about things that are strategic, or that I can help move the needle a little bit. So sometimes we kind of view that as the busy, kind of lower down work as far as tracking down approvers. But that’s been my experience, anyway.

The third data point I wanted to cover is this: more than one-third of marketers say approval delays cause the work to be late more than twice a week.

So not only is it that most deadlines are missed because work is not being approved, but it’s also causing late work twice a week or more.

For marketers, that’s really important. We’re trying to hit deadlines as far as ad copy goes, if you’re doing print ads or doing online ads; of course there’s deadlines for that.

We have an email cadence we have to hit as far as updates to the website; that can be pushed at a certain time so we’re trying to hit a deadline for that.

Or print deadlines; we do a lot of content marketing on my team and sometimes we print those assets for trade shows and of course you’ve got to hit print deadlines. So approvals are a really big part of that.

And not only approvals at the very end, but approvals throughout the whole process and we’re going to talk a little bit about that today.

The next slide, and Kelly I want to get your take on this slide as well, it’s kind of more about the chaos of reviews and approvals.

I know we’re just like preaching to the choir here on this webinar, I’m sure. But this has a really great demonstration of not only the chaos of the review routing routine, but how much time each of these steps can actually take.

It’s a lot of information to track and collect from all the stakeholders involved, and then once you actually collect that feedback, you also have to determine what’s relevant, what needs to be worked on, and of course what’s unimportant or unnecessary.

You might have a reviewer and approver who’s maybe trying to do a value-add and maybe is adding things that aren’t really necessary. So you have to be the one to decide what’s applicable, and what’s not, of course.

Most companies are still managing review and approval by email. They’re sending large attachments, maybe even walking proofs from reviewer to reviewer. I have a story about an agency about that later.

So it becomes just a really manual and inefficient process, and it eats up a lot of time, kind of back to that slide of potentially 50 percent of your day, or that other set of 36 percent of your day is only spent on your real work. 

Or just wasting a lot of time on this process that really should be more seamless. It’s 2017, we have lots of technology. We understand process a lot better. Why can’t we fix this?

So, let’s talk about the three main problems that you might find.

Oh, sorry. I wanted to give you a chance, Kelly, on that slide. Anything you’d like to add for the chaos slide before I move into the first problem that we’re gong to cover?

Kelly Santina: I think that’s actually a simple way to put it. That has four people involved, and it doesn’t even have a legal review or a C-suite review or otherwise. So, 12, 13 steps in a simple illustration is probably the easiest way to look at it.

But you’re right, Ashley. There’s lots of manual work that most corporations, most organizations are still having to do.

So let’s jump in. Let’s talk about some solutions here and how you can save 50 percent of your day and do some more fun things outside of work.

Ashley Spurlock: Okay, I love it. I love it.

Okay, so for the first one, I’m sure this happened to you maybe today, maybe yesterday, or it will happen; "excuse me, can you look at this proof for a minute?"

You might be in deep concentration, you’re crafting beautiful copy for an upcoming campaign and then a call—

Kelly Santina: Ashley, Ashley, you got a minute? Can you text something for me?

Ashley Spurlock: See? It’s happening right now on the webinar. I’m being interrupted right now. No, just kidding. Thanks, Kelly; that’s a good illustration. 

So maybe Kelly’s popping her head into my office saying, "Ashley, I need you to check on something." “Excuse me, do you have a minute” never means do you have 60 seconds; it means I’m gonna need at least 10 to 15 minutes of your time, and that’s on the better side.

You’d like to say "no," but of course if you say "no," it doesn’t matter now because your concentration is already broken. You’re going to have to reset anyway. You’re going to have to read back through what you were writing or start your brainstorm over again, whether you answer the question or not.

So you might as well; might as well take the interruption. "Okay, sure."

So the question might be something like "hey, did you make those edits?" Or, "can we go over the feedback; it will only take a minute." But of course, like I mentioned, it never takes a minute.

And I’m not saying I’ve never done this. I mentioned at the beginning of my career I was a copywriter, and I had a CMO who was really difficult to track down. In order for him to review things, I would have to interrupt him.

Or, I would have to leave copy on his chair because then he’d have to move it in order to sit down to do whatever he was going to do when he sat down. So, I’m definitely a culprit of this as well.

But as marketers, we kind of learn those habits to oh, I don’t know, the workarounds; the workarounds of how we’re going to get things done.

We might have a process in place but no one’s following that process, so this is my workaround. My workaround early on was leaving content on the chair.

Of course sometimes team members just want to have a discussion about revisions. Others want to check for status updates. Or maybe you have team members that have a habit of stopping by people’s desks just to instill a sense of urgency. This ever happen to anyone? 

This makes me totally lock up as a writer. I just can’t. I get paralyzed. I can’t even work with an Excel doc with someone over my shoulder. I need to be alone. So it doesn’t help. The urgency standing person next to me doesn’t help.

Of course these are all productivity-sucking parasites. I’m sure you have experienced this.

And maybe again, like those workarounds I mentioned, I had an agency example of this interruption. I had an agency customer that before they implemented Workfront, they had two offices downtown in New York.

They would finish a project, whether it be just copy that was written in a Word document or whatever, or maybe it was a layout piece, and they had it printed and needed somebody to approve it.

They would be in one office, they would grab a cab, go downtown to the other office, and then interrupt them doing whatever they were doing, and say, "I need you to review this right now; I just hopped in a cab from the other office." And it didn’t matter if they had a meeting or not.

The amount of time that would take is pretty incredible. Not only was it not a digital process, they’re manually delivering something.

But they’re also interrupting the other person in the middle of whatever they’re doing, whether it’s a brainstorm, or maybe they’re working on something that has a deadline as well. So kind of a funny illustration of this whole interruption thing.

So, 39 percent of marketers say that unexpected phone calls are also an obstacle to getting work done.

Maybe you’re not getting interrupted physically by someone manually walking over and saying, "hey," or physically walking over; "hey, I need you to look at this." But you may be getting bombarded by phone calls or emails, and that of course can add to the chaos of your day.

So doom and gloom over; Kelly, tell us how we can solve that with some quick fixes.

Kelly Santina: The example you gave reminds me of Mad Men.

Let’s talk about some practical applications to fix this. First of all, let’s streamline the review and approval request, right?

Sounds so simple! But let’s look at a few details to actually make this happen.

First, consider requiring a request queue.

What does that mean? It could be as simple as have a central email address that's the distribution list for the core people working on a project. Make all requests from sales teams, from other stakeholders in the organization, send their marketing needs through one pipeline.

Take the guesswork out of it. Help your stakeholders communicate with you what they need. By requiring a request queue, you can save a lot of runaround on who’s asking for what, and duplications on those asks.

It might be hard at first. You might get a few grumpy eye rolls along the way: "oh, what do you mean, I have to send it to this email address and it will get looked at by the appropriate marketing team?" 

But if you stick to your guns and prove the process out, I think you’ll have more adopters than you expect.

The next thing is allow one way for feedback and approval.

Here’s another practical application to this. First, if you require the request queue, but then put tools in place for your stakeholders, for your clients, to give you their feedback and approval in one location, that is going to save so much time.

That could be a shared Google doc, where everybody can see everybody else’s comments and changes. It could be a shared Dropbox, if you have a smaller team, with some organization put in place on that.

It doesn’t have to be a huge tech solution if you’re just starting out and trying to make your life simpler, and therefore make your stakeholders more appreciative of the work you provide, also.

Keep reviews to three rounds. I’m going to say this one again. Practical advice: keep reviews to three rounds.

You know, it’s not a mystery why that would be beneficial, but here’s some food for thought. You could start to designate round one for strategy changes, and identify the people who have a strategic influence on a project or asset.

Perhaps round two is for those minor changes, more of the creative side of things. Maybe copy tweaks, once you know the strategy is sound. And that might be a different group of people.

By the time you get to round three, you really want to look just for approval. So perhaps that’s someone with a clean eye on a project who doesn’t have the authority to necessarily say, "I don't like blue."

All the objective review is already out of it at that point; it’s strictly to make sure that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. If you do a little bit of that planning up front, you can save a lot of time on the background.

That doesn’t mean that if you saw a typo or another change that was critical in round one or round two that you would ignore it as a reviewer, but it makes expectations clearer and can move your project through the process with a lot less frustration for you and your stakeholders.

Twenty percent of marketers say the best way to improve productivity would be to have uninterrupted blocks of work time.

Amen, right? If I could just have an hour or two hours to get this project off my desk, I would be so much less stressed. We practice this at Convince & Convert, and have for the history of our organization.

It’s not uncommon for our team members to say: "You know what? I have Thursday afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00 blocked off to work on this project." What that does is it signals to our other team members, "hey, if you have influence on this, I need it before this time."

But it also signals "I am uninterruptible during this time." It’s blocked on the calendar, and honestly, it’s respected throughout the organization.

So think about starting small and allowing yourself actual work time on your calendar, respect it as much as you can.

When new conflicts come in from different stakeholders who want meetings or want to talk when you’re dedicated in a work zone; I’m telling you, pretty soon it will be adopted and people will start to respect that that’s your work time and you can get more done throughout it.

Ashley Spurlock: Those are some great tips, Kelly. I love the idea of blocking out time. My organization is a lot—like I’m sure many of you on the phone—where we have an open seating arrangement. It’s not everyone in an office.

Sometimes that can make it difficult that even when you have blocked off time, that maybe someone is going to do what I said on that first one. They’re going to walk up to your desk and say, "I need to take five minutes of your time," and that’s fine, and it can play into a little bit more than five minutes.

So, I like that idea of blocking off time and maybe for me, going a step further and putting myself in a conference room so that I’m really uninterruptible.

I also like your idea of the editing rounds, as far as what to do on round one, a different strategy for round two, and then round three of course. That’s what we learned back in my college days of editing classes, which is probably as nerdy as you can get.

When you’re reading something and editing a piece, don’t try to find all the things that are wrong. Just for this first round of editing, look for items one, two, and three and on the second round you can look for the next set of items. That definitely makes it easier. Thanks for sharing those, Kelly.

To watch "Project Manage Like a Pro: 3 Expert Tips to Streamline Reviews & Approvals" with Kelly Santina and Ashley Spurlock, click here.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 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, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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