Effective marketing project management can transform your agency’s productivity and effectiveness. This article shares 7 tips to better management for your marketing projects.

I’m not going to lie to you: running a marketing agency is hard.

You’ve been there before. The chaos at the start of a project, the disarray of missing deliverables, the anxiety of a looming deadline. It’s stressful, hectic, and complex.

But what if I told you that things don’t have to be this way?

What if there was a way to bring order to the chaos of marketing?

That’s exactly what marketing project management promises. By bringing project management rigor to marketing, it promises to transform the way you run your projects.

I’ll share 7 tips to help you achieve marketing project management excellence below.

1. Assess your current project management maturity

Every organization uses project management (PM) in some form – even if they don’t know it.

Maybe you have a spreadsheet to track all your projects. Maybe you have clear KPIs for every undertaking. Or maybe you have a process to assess the performance of every project at close.

All of these are steps in the project management process. They might not be best practices, but they still fall within the PM domain.

So step one in marketing project management is to assess where you currently stand.

Do you have trained project managers on your team? Do you use recognized project management methodologies? Or are you mostly winging it with borrowed project management templates?

You can score your existing PM maturity on your answers to these questions.

  • Level 4: You have a full-fledged PMO (Project Management Office) that handles PM duties in your agency.
  • Level 3: You have well-defined project management methodologies such as Agile, IPM, CPM, etc. You might also have a dedicated PM role within your organization.
  • Level 2: You don’t use any fixed PM methodologies, but have clear processes to handle incoming marketing projects.
  • Level 1: You don’t have well-established PM processes, but you use one of several project management best practices such as these.
  • Level 0: You don’t use any formal processes or PM best practices. Instead, you rely on ad-hoc processes and inconsistent practices.

Most larger agencies or internal marketing teams will likely have some project management rigor. Smaller agencies typically have some well-defined processes, if not a full-fledged PM office.

If you’ve scored yourself on the lower end of this scale, you have your work cut out for you.

2. Understand your strategy

For an internal marketing team, the primary goal is to deliver projects fast and under budget.

But as an agency, it’s not enough to deliver projects quickly; you also have to bring scale and repeatability to your operations. After all, you have to sell the same solution to countless clients.

This impacts the strategy you’ll use to develop your marketing project management practices.

So before you start developing your project management approach, outline your key immediate objectives vis-à-vis the following:

  • Scalability, i.e. whether you need to apply the same process to projects varying in size and scope.
  • Repeatability, i.e. whether you need to use the same PM process across several projects.
  • Flexibility, i.e. whether the process can be used across industries and clients.

Developing a process that checks all the above three boxes takes both time and resources.

Thus, your goal should be to prioritize.

Ask yourself: what do you want most in your marketing project management processes – scalability, repeatability, or flexibility?

For instance, a marketing agency that works with clients from a specific industry and of the same size can sacrifice scale and flexibility in favor of repeatability. In such a case, you want a process that can be repeated across several similar-looking clients.

Condense your objective into a single statement using the following template:

I want to deliver (your target solution or service) to (your target market or audience) with a focus on (your primary objectives)

Here’s an example:

I want to deliver social media marketing solutions to B2B fintech startups with a focus on custom creative solutions.

This statement would guide your entire marketing project management approach. It tells you what your approach should focus on, who it should target, and what you should optimize for.

A marketing agency that prioritizes rapid delivery would have a fundamentally different PM approach than one that prioritizes custom solutions.

It’s also okay to have multiple objective statements for different services and verticals. You might prioritize rapid delivery and repeatability for your low-value clients, and focus on custom solutions for bigger customers.

3. Develop a project charter

A new client comes in seeking help in increasing his search engine traffic. You pitch him a combined content + SEO package. You shake hands, close the deal, and walk away with a plum new contract.

But how exactly do you go about delivering results for this project?

Your first step should be to develop a project charter.

In a conventional PM process, the project charter is the key deliverable in the project initiation stage.

Since this is a client project and not an internal one, you can skip the business case and feasibility study (your sales team would have ideally known if the project is feasible or not).

Instead, focus your attention on the project charter.

This document should list the following:

  • The project’s goals, vision, and objectives
  • The project’s scope
  • Key deliverables along with their deadlines
  • Key stakeholders (on both client and agency sides)
  • Key people involved and their responsibilities (such as marketing manager, creative team, dev team, etc.)
  • Organizational structure for the project, i.e. who reports to whom
  • A brief implementation plan including any risks and possible issues

The two most important things here are the vision and the objective.

The vision defines the broad goals of the project. The objective defines the specific things you can do to achieve the goals.

For example, your vision might be to “Make Acme Inc. the best resource for project management knowledge”.

Your objective, on the other hand, would be “Create 4 project management articles every day”.

Keep this charter handy; it will guide every aspect of the project execution.

4. Create an ‘internal’ creative brief

As you might know, the creative brief is a document detailing the overall strategy for the project. It is created by the account manager in close consultation with the client.

To that effect, it is an interpretation of the client’s ideas about the brand and the project.

Here’s an example of a creative brief:

Marketing agencies don’t interact with the brand as closely as a creative agency. This is why plenty of agencies skip creating this brief altogether.

I feel that’s a missed opportunity.

An internal creative brief for each project can give your team much-needed brand information when making decisions. It complements the project charter and gives you “soft” data about the project.

So along with the project charter, create an internal creative brief as well.

Since this is meant exclusively for internal consumption, you can include anything that’s necessary in it. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • A client/brand statement summarizing the brand’s product offerings, target market, and key values.
  • A brief background of the project and its context.
  • The project’s target audience, including their demographic data as well as the benefits they’re seeking.
  • The brand’s overall tone and orientation (“young and modern”, “trustworthy and classic”, etc.)
  • The brand’s key competitors
  • The key deliverables at the end of the project and how they tie into the project and brand objectives

Share both the project charter and creative brief with your team. Ask them for feedback. Should there be any doubts or concerns about an objective, deadline, or deliverable, it is better to sort it out before you start executing.

5. Define and manage your requirements

A new content marketing project requires that you produce four new pieces of content every month.

But how exactly do you define whether a piece of content is good enough, and that it meets the project’s goals and brand guidelines?

This is where your requirements document comes into play.

The requirements document defines the criteria every deliverable must meet to be acceptable. This includes both ‘hard’ metrics (such as “word count over 1,000”) and ‘soft’ metrics (“professional tone”).

Your requirements will vary from project to project and deliverable to deliverable. To organize them better, create three requirement levels, i.e.:

  1. Universal requirements, that apply to every project across the agency
  2. Project-wide requirements, that apply to every deliverable in the project
  3. Deliverable-focused requirements, that apply to individual deliverables in the project

Each subsequent level should inherit the requirements from the preceding one.

For example, you might have the following requirements for a content marketing project:

  • All deliverables must go through 1 round of revisions and approvals (universal)
  • All project deliverables should include client branding (project-wide)
  • All blog posts should be minimum 1,000 words (project-wide)
  • All accompanying social media imagery should include the client’s Twitter handle (deliverable-focused).

This should be organized as a checklist so that everything you create meets your own as well as the brand and project guidelines.

When you’re listing your requirements, also ask whether you can automate or simplify the evaluation process.

For instance, if your requirements call for you to tweet links to finished blog posts at least thrice, you can use a social media tool like Buffer or CoSchedule to automate it.

The more you can automate, eliminate, and simplify, the easier it will be to execute the project.

6. Break down the project

One of the first things any experienced project manager will do is decompose a project into its constituent parts.

The result of this activity is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

As we wrote earlier, a WBS:

“…defines all the things a project needs to accomplish, organized into multiple levels, and displayed graphically.”

For instance, here’s the WBS for a bicycle:

Keep in mind that a WBS only defines the deliverables, not any activities. Thus, “bicycle seat” is a part of WBS, but “stitching leather around foam” isn’t.

Creating a WBS can be slightly tricky (especially once you get into “work packages”). Unless you’re dealing with complicated projects, you don’t have to create a full-fledged WBS.

Instead, simply break down each project into its constituent deliverables. Organize this decomposition graphically and it will give you much-needed insight into the project’s requirements.

For example, here’s a broad breakdown of a content marketing project:

If you can connect each deliverable to its associated requirements, you’ll have a complete view of the project in a single document.

7. Map your workflows for each deliverable

One of the best things you can do to improve your marketing project management is to outline your workflow for each deliverable.

For example, to create a blog post, your team has to take the following steps (in order):

  • Brainstorm blog post idea in accordance with the creative brief
  • Create a title that meets stated requirements
  • Research topic and create an outline
  • Create 1st draft
  • Edit draft and make sure that it meets blog post requirements
  • Final proofreading
  • Add final draft to WordPress
  • Share published post link on Twitter

This defines the “workflow” for creating a blog post.

The workflow is inherently tied to the requirements document. You don’t just have to create a blog title; you also have to ensure that it follows the structure and tone set by the requirements.

Some to-dos in your workflow will be specific to the project (such as “adding draft to WordPress”). Others will be common to all similar deliverable across projects (such as “edit and proofread draft”).

You can streamline your projects by listing the project-specific as well as inherited “universal” to-dos for each deliverable.

Every blog post you create must pass through this checklist.

You can add further detail by identifying which team is responsible for which to-dos. In the above case, the content team will create the blog post, the designer will create the header graphics, and the marketing team will add it to the social promotion queue.

You can do this for every deliverable in a project. You can then port workflows from project to project, changing individual steps if necessary. This will not only make project delivery easier, it will also ensure that your solutions are scalable.

Bringing it all together

Marketing project management is all about documenting workflows and protocols. If you can systemize the delivery of a solution, you can also scale it while ensuring successful delivery.

Start each project by creating a project charter. This will give your team an understanding of each project’s goals, vision, and requirements.

Complement the project charter with a creative brief. This mostly identifies the subjective data about the project – brand, values, and vision.

Armed with the project charter, you can start breaking down the project into its constituent deliverables. And once you have the deliverables, identify their:

  • Requirements, i.e. the conditions they must meet to be acceptable, and
  • Workflow, i.e. the list of to-dos that have to be completed to create them successfully

Do all this and you’ll find that managing marketing projects is easier than you thought.