Top 10 Productivity Problems Marketing Managers Face and How to Solve Them

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Due to the increasing number of communication channels, savvy customers, and advanced technologies that make it easier to tune out the onslaught of messages, marketing teams must work extra hard to provide constant, finely tuned and targeted messages to engage their customers. Whether it’s the need to push more content out the door on a day-today basis or launch a new social media campaign, it is a challenge for marketing teams to stay ahead of the curve.

As your marketing organization attempts to keep pace, business processes and technologies in the workplace are also changing rapidly, and constantly disrupt the way work gets done. From accurately planning resource hours, so projects stay on deadline, to moving assets quickly through the approval process, or just finding the time to work without interruption, the day-to-day challenges of getting work done have become a constant struggle for marketing organizations.

To increase productivity while still delivering high-quality content and campaigns, marketing teams must get better at how they work. This includes the regular, everyday repeatable work, as well as the work that comes in while you’re executing campaigns—the work the VP or CMO needs done right now.

If you’re one of those marketing managers ready to pull your hair out because work is chaos, then keep reading. This piece examines the top 10 every day pains that prevent marketing managers, like yourself, from getting work done, and offers some new and trusted solutions for improving your productivity.

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1. Managing Frequent Interruptions

Frequent interruptions are the name of the game for most marketing managers. In fact, interruptions have become such a big problem that according to a Basex report, knowledge workers spend 28 percent of their day on unnecessary interruptions and recovery time.1 Whether they are quick question, “pop-ins” by team members, requests for status updates by stakeholders, or emergency work requests, there seems to always be someone demanding your time and attention. But constant interruption makes it difficult to keep your train of thought, slows your pace of work, and can ultimately lead to missing deadlines.

What to do

While other work always comes up and there will be fires to put out, it is important to eliminate interruptions when you can. To ensure you have a solid block of uninterrupted time try to:

  • Look for patterns in the interruptions (who, where, and when)- Once you identify the typical triggers for interruptions, you can work to manage and minimize the interruptions. An easy solution is to establish two to three short blocks of time throughout the day when you will update or assist other people. You can ask the repeat interrupters to come back during your regularly scheduled time.
  • Set aside dedicated work times- This is a time when interruptions are not allowed. If possible, find a quiet place to work where you won’t be interrupted. If you can’t do this, create a system to alert others that you aren’t to be bothered, such as email auto-responders or putting up a card that says, “In the Zone, Do Not Disturb.”
  • Actively minimize distractions- Do this by turning off email and phone notifications and sending calls directly to voicemail. Then schedule daily blocks of time to reply to email and phone messages, and respect that time like you would a meeting.
  • Prioritize your to-do list- Work on the things that are the most strategically aligned until they are done. When interrupted, train yourself to go right back to what you were working on so you stay as much in the groove as possible.

Everyone is more productive when they follow a standardized process that allows time for both collaboration and real work. Interruptions become less frequent and are left for critical fires instead of every work request.

2. Providing Executive Status Updates

Your CMO wants to know what the status is on a new product launch, but you can’t provide the quick update your CMO is looking for. Why? Because you have several different spreadsheets tracking different components of the project and these are all out of date because everyone is too busy to check in. Now, you’re going to have to spend time, time you don’t have, updating all the spreadsheets and compiling the data.

Once you’re done, you send the status report by email. The CMO gets hundreds of emails a day, however, and by the time he gets to it, the data is already out-of-date and is too granular. He just wants the “big picture.”

What to do

To deliver real-time updates to executives:

  • Deliver effective reports- Different executives within an organization typically want different reports. Instead of spending extra time creating specialized reports for each person, create a minimal number of reports that will satisfy each need at a high level—and the more you can automate, the better.
  • Help executives and team members create a habit around your reports- For example, if you upload a new version every Friday at 8:00 a.m. without fail, you can teach your team to check for the report each Friday morning when they arrive at work. Make sure to input all action items into one central location that is visible to executives (like your CMO) and team members.
  • Work closely with your executives on data- This will ensure that you’re learning about and providing data on points that correlate to real problems and solutions they want to know about.

Executives are responsible for thinking about what’s coming down the pipeline next. They are often the first ones an unhappy stakeholder approaches. Ensuring executives can quickly access the information they need when they need it is crucial.

3. Getting Asset Approvals

Just about everything that goes through a marketing department needs to be approved by someone, from project plans and budgets to creative content and graphics. The problem is that often the review and approval process creates delays—serious delays. The approver list usually consists of multiple people, including senior management, legal, and outside agencies. Getting approval from these folks can be like pulling teeth— they’re just too busy to look at it right now. But when your assets get stuck in the approval process, it can lead to missed deadlines and other bottlenecks for downstream projects.

What to do

Some best practices to ensure the review and approval process goes smoothly include:

  • Identify approvers at each stage- From strategy to creative brief to asset development to production, providing a clear picture of the approvals that are needed will ensure that no one will be forgotten or added to the list at the last minute.
  • Use a standardized plan for approvals- This will give a clear understanding of who needs to provide approval, at what stage of the project, and how that feedback or approval should be received. Work with the approvers to develop committed review timelines and build those into your campaign development plans.
  • Provide visibility into the project schedule- When approvers can see the schedule, they will understand how their delays can impact the entire project timeline. Point out the timeline when you distribute the asset for approval and remind the reviewer that the on-time asset completion is contingent on them adhering to their committed turn-around time.
  • Define done- Too often, when you think you’re finished with an asset, one last person swoops in with significant changes that force another complete review cycle. You can take one of two approaches. Either you can wait for each person’s review before marking something as finished, or set an agreed-upon threshold (typically about a week in order to give time for everyone to review) when you close an asset for comments.

Proofing and approvals are marketing departments’ biggest bottlenecks. Waiting on approvals can create a significant cost to schedules and budgets, and has a cascading effect on other work. By streamlining and standardizing the process, you will be able to get approvals much faster.

4. Juggling Work Requests

The problem with managing work requests is that they come at you in a variety of ways, such as emails, hallway conversations, instant messaging, and sticky notes. And, they come from a variety of people—all making it difficult to track. Since you don’t know exactly what work requests are in the pipeline or what other projects your team members may already be committed to, further problems ensue when trying to accurately estimate and allocate resources. This is why, when it comes time to execute, you often find yourself short on resources and struggling to meet your deadlines.

What to do

By taking the extra time to create and follow consistent processes, you will save time in the long run. You will find that you have better insight into both upcoming work and resource availability if you:

  • Use one method to submit all work requests and stick to it.- Only accept new requests if they are submitted through the set process, which should include a creative brief and business case for the campaign or job. That way you have all the information you need to prioritize and assign the work.
  • Use templates to automate or eliminate repetitive tasks- These should include the steps, resources, and time needed for every marketing activity so you don’t miss critical tasks, approvals, or milestones.
  • Consider holidays, time off, and internal work when projecting resource availability- This ensures that you won’t have a scheduling crunch when a major holiday comes around and half the team is taking extra time off.
  • Make saying no okay and know when to say it- Not every request is do-able, nor are all of them aligned to strategic objectives. It’s hard to say no to a request, but if you have data and business objectives to back up your stance, you can easily defer the work.

Not every request is do-able, nor are all of them aligned to strategic objectives. It’s hard to say no to a request, but if you have data and business objectives to back up your stance, you can easily defer the work.

5. Enforcing Effective Production Processes

Whether your organization has a designated production manager or each campaign is assigned a manager, you find the process never goes smoothly. Traditional production or project management hierarchy is based on a rigid, top-down structure but that’s rarely the case in the real world of marketing. Your department is continually juggling 20+ projects on a daily basis and each team member is involved in several of them, plus there’s the other work— the ad-hoc work that just comes up. Having just one project manager, especially if they are inexperienced, don’t collaborate well, or just aren’t on top of it, can lead to clogs and fire drills.

What to do

What you need is a more flexible, team oriented approach to campaign and production management. To achieve this you can:

  • Have a communication plan- This will allow for frequent dialogue with key players. Provide ongoing status updates to the team, ideally through an online, central location so you can eliminate most status meetings.
  • Allocate only 60 – 70 percent of the hours to planned work- Do this in order to have flexibility to deal with unexpected work requests or changing priorities.
  • Schedule open time in your daily calendar- This is time where you never allow meetings and you can spend it on last-minute, ad-hoc projects or on ongoing campaign work. This way short-turn projects won’t feel as stressful to an already maxed-out day.
  • Work on projects in smaller chunks- Then review and critique to determine the next steps. This can help you move more quickly through the process. If you only have two or three things to focus on at a time, versus 20, you can really provide focus and strategy at each step.

Then review and critique to determine the next steps. This can help you move more quickly through the process. If you only have two or three things to focus on at a time, versus 20, you can really provide focus and strategy at each step.

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6. Providing Work Visibility

Your marketing team is full of busy people, but you often don’t know what they are busy doing, because you don’t have any visibility into what they are working on. And without this visibility, you don’t know what work is coming next for downstream resources or when resources will be available for a new project. You can’t even provide accurate status updates for stakeholders who want to know where their priorities stand in the process.

This creates a cascading effect of chaos. Disgruntled stakeholders begin to work around the process by going directly to team members to request that they work on their priorities. Now you have even less of an idea of who is working on what.

What to do

Before you lose complete control, you have to find a way to rein stakeholders in and provide the visibility you both need. Here’s how:

  • Manage stakeholder expectations from the beginning- Set clear expectations about communication, timeline, and budget. Some stakeholders may not understand the significant time it takes to conceptualize, write, design, and program a landing page for example, but if you manage expectations out of the gate, they will understand the timelines at play.
  • Require everyone to document all campaign progress- Do this in a centralized place where others can easily access status updates as well as in-progress and finalized assets. Take the time at the start of a campaign to think through everything that will need to be done and work back through your project schedule in detail to thoroughly understand time frames and touchpoints. Then, when change requests come in later, you can show what it will mean to deadlines and cost.
  • Make meetings count- It can be tempting to schedule a meeting for every needed activity. But attendance can suffer and people either don’t show up or dread the whole thing. Don’t use meetings for status updates but for critical issues. Use strict agendas to ensure only the most important items are discussed.

Following these steps will help cut down on stakeholder drive-by additions and provide a clear view of the progress being made. Visibility also encourages discussions about how implementing any new deliverables will affect outcomes, deadlines, and resources.

7. Becoming Overburdened With Commitments

It’s the same old story day after day. Too much work, not enough time to get it all done. And, every time you turn around, more work has beenn piled on. You could work non-stop for the next month and still barely make a dent. It’s not just overwhelming; it’s downright discouraging.

A recent study shows 66 percent of workers feel like they don’t have enough time to get their work done,2 so you are not alone. The problem is, if you don’t get things under control, you and your entire team are going to burn out. In addition, the quality of your work suffers. Instead of ensuring you are doing things right, you’re just trying to get things done. You are too busy to accurately track things or look forward to see what’s coming down the pipeline. This means sometimes tasks get repeated or logjams occur due to poor planning.

What to do

To gain control of the situation and get your life back, you should:

  • Create a baseline for standard project timelines- To manage expectations, you need to start by better tracking the work and the time needed to do the work right. If you have a clear understanding of the time it typically takes to complete a standard request, you can more realistically forecast it into your team’s schedule.
  • Anticipate crises- In the real world, things will crop up that need to get done. To deal with unexpected work requests or priority changes, allocate no more than 60 percent of yours and your team’s time to planned work. As mentioned previously, if you work in smaller chunks, with shorter deadlines—perhaps tracking by days or a week—you can regularly see if you are on track with your deadlines.
  • Have a backup plan- You and your team only have so many hours in the day. Inevitably, crucial jobs come into the pipeline that can’t be ignored but that will completely cripple productivity. Have a backup plan in place to leverage freelancers, an agency, or other team members. When crises pop up, you’ll have a plan to handle them.
  • Buy lunch- If you’re asking your team to give extra hours, bring in lunch and take a short break to work together. The small price for food will pay off in productivity.

Overcommitting time can seem like the natural state of a marketer, but with advance planning and management, it doesn’t have to be.

8. Managing Campaign Planning

Campaign planning is complicated, especially when you have dozens of campaigns going at once. Even the best laid plans often seem to go awry—priorities, deliverables, and campaign scope can change with little or no warning; people typically think they can get things done in less time than they can; and too often people forget that others’ availability effects deadlines as much as their own. The next thing you know, your campaign is behind schedule and over budget.

What to do

To conquer these challenges, be agile enough to roll with the punches, and keep everything on target:

  • Communicate the campaign production schedule- Share the schedule and the task list with all of the players involved so that each person understands how their work impacts the overall schedule. Use data from previous jobs to determine how many hours each new piece of work will take. Allow team members to keep track of their tasks and hours in a visible location so that, if a project overruns the estimate, other team members understand why there was an impact to the schedule.
  • Make proofs available to the team- As you move through the process and need approvals and reviews from multiple players, make them available to everyone at once—typically through an online proofing tool or centralized file—so that you can expedite the process.
  • Discuss what worked and what didn’t- It pays to have a post-mortem after major activities so that you can augment and improve your overall campaign production process. Incorporate feedback from your projects into your templates to make sure next time runs more smoothly.

One of the key factors for successful campaign planning is visibility into past campaigns. Calculate time spent on prior projects, both in man-hours and weeks of production time, as well as how much they cost. Then, you can much more accurately estimate how long the next campaign, one that is dependent on the same type of assets (emails, landing pages, or print advertisement), is going to take and if you can meet your deadlines and budget.

9. Providing Work Measurement And Accountability

Your CEO demands measurable outcomes and accountability from your marketing department. But you’re not sure how to tackle this problem. Historically, there has been a disconnection between marketing activities and business goals. Marketing teams were rarely held accountable for ROI. This means, of course, that the right work, the work the can most improve the bottom line, is not always the work getting done.

What to do

So how do you align marketing activities with strategic business initiatives, effectively measure the outcomes, create accountability, and justify your marketing team’s actions to both CEOs and CFOs? Here’s how:

  • Know and understand the strategic goals- This includes your entire organization and how your activities align with those goals. Then prioritize requests based on the highest overall business return.
  • Create an internal measurement system- Make sure it uses a common scale to evaluate each internal activity. It can be hard to measure some activities that don’t have a direct impact on the sales process—such as creative development. However, you can set goals and metrics around improving campaign development times, and reducing approval cycles, for example.
  • Track effectiveness and efficiency separately- Kathryn Roy of Precision Thinking notes there is a difference between doing things that drive results, i.e. effectiveness, and doing things— including the wrong things—well, i.e. efficiency. Never substitute efficiency metrics for effectiveness metrics. Having a 20 percent email open rate doesn’t mean much if the people reading would never qualify as prospects.

Work is pointless if it doesn’t benefit the business. That’s why prioritizing work bbased on what will bring the most ROI or benefit to your organization is vital. It is also important to track your resources, how long each deliverable takes to be completed, and who did it. This allows you to measure output effectively and increases individual accountability.

Tame the chaos of marketing work with Workfront

Ready to stop pulling your hair out and start getting real work done? The right tool can help you effectively manage work and improve your team’s productivity. A Marketing Work Management solution, like Workfront, can help you:

  • Streamline incoming work requests
  • Improve productivity and efficiency
  • Better manage deadlines
  • Improve communication
  • Gain visibility into workflows and data

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