The Call For Project Management

It’s rare that I see a marketing team value project management as much as an IT or software development team. And to be honest, I’m not sure why. I think it’s just a cultural thing. But here are the facts, marketing projects have deadlines, they have delicate interdependencies, they have budgets, they have multiple teams involved, they have stakeholders, and they definitely have an audience (which is not an internal person by the way). So they have all of the ingredients for successfully managing each project.

It seems like most marketing teams thrive on fire drills instead of planned activities. A lot of teams rarely see a planned activity; it’s always the task-du-jour or the whim of some executive. If I’m the marketing VP, that would scare the heck out of me. There is no good plan to grow your business or improve your skills if you simply putting out one fire after the next.

Even though I’ve been in the marketing and creative space for almost 15 years, I’m also wired to think logically or in order. A few years back I became a Certified Project Manager. It was one of the best professional development choices I’ve made. It gave me a system to use with my clients (both as an internal marketing manager and as an outside consultant). Project management is simply a thought process that is backed up by documentation and assignments. And obviously it takes different techniques to manage marketing projects than it does for software development; but you may be surprised at how similar they are.

The foundation of my system is a project brief that goes into details about who the target audience is, what they need, why this project is needed, what the goals are, offers, budget and timeline. These questions need to be answered for before any work is done. They will influence the research, the creative, the strategy, everything. It’s critical to have solid answers before you put resources on the project. And by the way, don’t try to cop out with crappy answers like audience = customers. That doesn’t fly. You need to give details that describe the audience from a demographic, psychographic, and needs point of view. Without detailed specifics, the campaign or project will be too broad, too vague and appeal to no one. Once you truly know your audience, you’ll be able to craft a message and offer that speak to their needs (not your features).

Once the project brief is written, and agreed upon by all parties involved (including stakeholders), then you can begin assigning tasks and due dates. There are tools that help you manage the process. Microsoft Project is probably the best recognized. I’ve personally used AceProject for over four years with three separate vendors with much success. BaseCamp is getting a lot of good press but it’s not as fully featured as I’d like at this point, but I’m keeping my eye on it. AceProject is nice because it has about 90% of the feature of Microsoft – the features you’ll use most of the time like Gantt charts, user workload, built-in discussion threads, templates, and a ton of reporting options. Its web based, updated regularly, and priced right.

But just like installing for CRM or JD Edwards for accounting, simply having a project management system and tool in place will do nothing but cause headaches if you do not change the culture to take advantage and value what good project management brings to the table. And that’s accountability, measurement, and collaboration.

Nick Rice

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  1. “And by the way, don’t try to cop out with crappy answers like audience = customers.”

    I get justifications like the above all of the time. As a project manager, I’ve learned to ask for more detail. More often than not, the requester never responds. Presumably they realize the project has no value or they’re off looking for another PM to do the work 🙂

  2. To a certain extent, the culture of a company and the technical profficiency of its staffs both have heavy weightage on the adoption rate of project management tools.

    To me, you need both to really take advantage of all its software tools.

  3. Nick, I think it’s not only about culture, but about experience as well. If you just start with a new product or you are a small business owner, you are not able to create effective 1-year marketing plan. The better thing for you is to use opportunities that you find on the day-to-day basis. By the way, even expert managers prefer to apply scrum in marketing. Comparing to long-term plans with that you have to be consistent regardless of changing market conditions, agile approach allows you to do what is really relevant to your business. What do you think about this approach?

    As for better approaches to marketing management I not as sure, as about the PM tool that I use. I really like Wrike ( It’s much more convenient than MS Project and gives much better visibility than other web tools.