SUMMARY: At the enterprise level, when your company is regularly engaged in mergers and acquisitions, one challenge is bringing in all of the new teams from acquired companies, but sometimes the main company itself is diluted to the point where marketing teams aren’t really working in tandem.
This case study tackles both of these issues, while offering a blueprint for implementing a project management tool that so far ended up saving this energy company over half a million dollars each quarter this year.
Many MarketingSherpa newsletter case studies cover campaigns or strategies that reach out into the marketplace. This week’s article is a bit different because it covers an internal challenge at NRG, a Fortune 250 energy company that regularly acquires, and integrates, new companies and the accompanying employees into the NRG fold.
According to Heather Loftiss, Creative Director, NRG, the issue that most affected her department was that with each new business the company acquired, the marketing team was asked to begin supporting new brands, new products and new companies.
Each acquisition also came with additional creative teams that had to acclimate to NRG’s creative processes.
To add to all this new integration within NRG itself, each marketing group, from email to digital to creative, all had different processes for initiating and running a new program. Those groups were all then reporting to management separately and in different ways.
Loftiss was able to address both of these separate issues in an effort that saved NRG $1.6 million over the first three quarters of 2014.
This campaign is a bit of departure from the typical customer-facing case study because the "customer" for the overall effort is internal at NRG. For this article, the customer includes team members within Marketing and new groups brought into the company after acquisitions.
Given the size of NRG and the scope of the issue of integrating not only the new creative teams that came aboard via acquisition, but also the internal groups that each managed programs differently, Loftiss understood it would take some sort of shared solution that each of the marketing teams would want to use to get everyone on the same page.
Step #1. Understand the overarching problem
Even though integrating new teams that join NRG via acquisition was challenging, that issue could be solved by finding a solution that worked and implementing that as part of the process of joining the NRG fold.
The internal disconnect was more difficult because it was entrenched within NRG’s current way of doing business.
Loftiss said, "It’s really about stopping the insanity and getting everyone to do things in the same way, speak the same language, use the same vocabulary and streamline things across the whole group."
To illustrate the challenge, she explained that everything was siloed and if, for example, someone wanted a new website created, they would go to the creative group to get that aspect of the page done. Then, they would take Creative’s work to the digital group where Creative’s work might, or might not, get implemented. Essentially, the two groups were working on the same project independently of each other.
"Creative felt as though we were spinning our wheels working on projects no one was going to use," Loftiss explained. "The digital team felt like their toes were being stepped on. The accounts team felt like they had to go chase down five different people to get anything done. It just wasn’t working for anyone."
Step #2. Choose a vendor for the management solution
It was clear if each group was using the same project tracking and management tool that allowed visibility across the groups, the entire department would become better aligned. At the same time, a tool of that sort would help orient new teams as NRG acquired companies.
Vendor selection happens in many different ways — bidding through a request for proposal, manual vetting of a selected group based on certain criteria and even a simple vetting process of companies that trusted colleagues recommend.
Loftiss’ vendor selection process was a bit more unorthodox — and might make vendor sales teams cringe a little — but proved to be effective.
During the time she was thinking about how a project management tool would solve a number of problems, Loftiss’ husband, who works for another company, was working over a weekend and using a management tool as part of that project. He complained that he didn’t like his dashboard, so Loftiss played around with the system and built him a dashboard more to his liking.
She also realized this tool had all the features she envisioned in order to solve her problem at NRG.
Loftiss explained, "He really showed me all of the things that were possible in [the project management tool]. After that, I was sold and went back [and] literally started the process for getting [the tool] brought into the company the next week."
Step #3. Use the tool to track projects
With the new tool in place, Loftiss was able to see improvements over the previous project management tool that had been in use.
The previous tool only documented requests to show rounds of revisions or the need for additional information. The problem was that these documentation points had to be manually added to the system, and the output was used after the fact to show what happened during the process of completing a project.
Loftiss outlined another issue with the old tool: "In the old system, it was just Creative. None of the other teams [such as Email and Digital] were interested in participating at all.
With the new tool, Loftiss explained, that information and tracking ability is built into the ongoing workflow.
She said, "If I want to find out what happened with a project that someone’s complaining about, I can just pull the job up and go through all of the comments, and I can quickly and easily see how many rounds of revisions, where there were problems — like if the Creative was asking for more information at the beginning."
"That, more than anything, has helped foster collaboration. Because it’s such a transparent system, it means that everyone has to work together, or it’s really obvious that you’re the problem," Loftiss added.
Also, after seeing the utility of the new system, groups beyond Creative within NRG became interested in using the new tool as well.
Step #4. Learn additional benefits of the new system
After implementing the new system, Loftiss found a feature that is now taken advantage of with every project — the ability for proofing elements of the project.
She said this ability allows users to pull up creative pieces across multiple devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers, and mark up the creative within the system in real time.
This way all changes are tracked in one place.
Loftiss explained the benefit: "We used to do phase approvals, meaning internal approval and then director approval, then legal and regulatory, and so it goes through multiple stage approvals. Now, it goes through one cycle of approvals. Everybody can see what everybody else is saying, and it really has shortened the review cycle quite a bit."
Loftiss also created a custom dashboard for the team, andsince it came from the design group, has more visual appeal than the standard dashboards for the tool.
Step #5. Address internal resistance
The new system was in place, but within NRG, there wasn’t immediate buy-in everywhere.
Loftiss said, "If I had my magic wand and could do whatever I wanted, I would absolutely have just forced all of Marketing into the system from day one. We would have dealt with the idea that all requests come into the system, get routed first to the strategy team and then through development, through launch, through reporting, analytics — just the whole thing."
She continued, "We’ve been successful in getting over the hump in some areas, and then in others we haven’t been … but all projects that come through any of the development teams — Creative, Digital, Social and Email all come through [the new management tool].
The key result of this entire effort is over the first three quarters of 2014, the new system has saved NRG $1.6 million based on average number of projects, hours-per-project and bill rate. Loftiss estimates the actual savings figure is probably higher, but just based on those three KPIs, it is a significant figure at the company.
Although the entire increase can’t be attributed to the new management tool, Loftiss said there was around a 14% increase in jobs from 2013 to 2014.
Loftiss offered two key takeaways from the process:
"One, patience is a virtue. It's not a virtue that is very natural for me. But just kind of waiting it out has been very much worthwhile."
"The other is lead by example. Do what you think is the right thing for your group yourself, for just your team, show that it works and then that will attract others."
I was not in a position where I could really force [other groups using the tool] from the top down — [saying] ‘This is the way that we're going to do things,’ so I stopped trying to do that. And really, the minute I stopped trying that top-down forcing it through approach is when others got on board."
She said one other advantage is clearer visibility across projects. "When requesters will go to multiple teams and request the same thing, and all that wasted effort, a lot of that has just gone away completely because there are checks and balances in place," Loftiss stated.
About the Author
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.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner