Marketing Through the Pandemic? 6 Ways to Help Your Agency Work Faster

“How long will this take?” It’s a fair question that we expect all our clients to ask – especially now, as so many businesses are marketing at light speed through the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, we design integrated marketing strategies and project timelines with interconnected components that must work in the context of multiple scheduled industry events, corporate meetings, planned product releases, programs and promotions. Many such plans are being delayed or canceled – but until those changes are confirmed, our clients must be prepared to go on as planned and to be ready to respond to shifts with alternative communications. Likewise, many businesses must suddenly adapt strategic communications programs to online only and virtual meeting formats – which means altering existing communications tactics and stepping up creative workflow.

In short: coronavirus crisis or no, project delays can throw your entire marketing plan off schedule.

Here at Relish Marketing, we aim to pre-empt the “How long will this take?” question by building marketing schedules and communicating timelines based on:

  • Known corporate and industry goals, plans, trends and events
  • Our experiences working on similar programs and projects
  • Our knowledge of the client’s teams and work processes

It’s an approach that should enable any marketing team to balance its workload and workflow with the critical needs of multiple clients – even in stressful times. Even so, some circumstances can jeopardize the schedules of even the most organized, well-planned projects.

What Slows Projects Down?

Successful agencies know how to work rapidly and efficiently enough to stay ahead of deadlines. But project bottlenecks still can develop when a project hits a milestone requiring feedback. You send in your comments and corrections on time. But if you’re not the only person involved in providing that feedback, one of these scenarios might happen:

  • You forward each stakeholder’s feedback individually, as it comes in, which requires the agency to compare similar revisions and make changes multiple times.
  • Most of your reviewers know how to use the build-in revision tools in Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat – but others mimic those changes by using strikethrough, underline and text-color formatting. Or, they write in changes by hand and send them as a scan or fax.
  • You consolidate all edits in one PDF or Word file without resolving contradictory feedback. Unless the agency is privy to your company’s internal politics, they won’t know how to determine whose comments and revisions carry the most weight.
  • Some reviewers reach out directly to the agency with feedback that you may never see.
  • Midway through the overall project, new people need to join the review team – and bring totally new perspectives to the table.
  • Someone – maybe a senior executive conducting “final” review – re-opens issues that were previously resolved or even forced a complete change in project scope.

Sound familiar? If so, we understand. It can happen anywhere, even with highly productive teams and talented leadership. But – good news – there are ways to limit unnecessary delays and keep your marketing programs and projects on schedule.

You Can Drive Your Agency’s Productivity Higher. Here’s How.

We know that internal dynamics and politics happen. And there will always be some people who won’t get their feedback in on time. Those are things you probably can’t change. But here are six things you can do – which will go a long way toward keeping your agency projects on track:

  1. Define one point of contact. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s someone else on your team, but that person should be responsible for requesting, collecting, consolidating and providing clear feedback to your agency. Make all your stakeholders know that this is your role. And empower your agency to keep you in the loop when anyone else goes around you to contact them directly with feedback.
  2. Manage your busiest stakeholders. If a project matters to one or more high-level executives, you have to perform a delicate balancing act. They don’t have the bandwidth to review every little content point or design decision as it comes up – and you shouldn’t expect them to do so. At the same time, if the project goes too far without their review and input, they may be surprised by wording, images or even due dates that don’t match their expectations. And that can derail a project. Define the critical junctures when their input will be necessary, and keep them informed, even as you help to protect their time.
  3. Set internal deadlines in advance of the ones you establish with your agency. Remind internal stakeholders when those deadlines are coming up. And don’t be afraid to communicate how late feedback may have financial repercussions (in the form of out-of-scope revision rounds or rush charges).
  4. Use Microsoft’s and Adobe Acrobat’s review tools. Microsoft’s commenting and track-changes tools and Adobe Acrobat’s annotation tools offer a great way to clearly show recommended changes and share questions, observations and explanations. It’s worth taking the time to provide a “lunch and learn” or quick review session to make sure everyone knows when and how to use these tools as fully as possible.
  5. Use the “Compare” tools in both Adobe Acrobat and the Microsoft suite to combine recommendations and comments from multiple stakeholders, when they don’t work on one common file together.
  6. Avoid holdups due to conflicting feedback. Review all the comments before sharing them with your agency. Work with your stakeholders to resolve conflicts and help your agency understand which revisions take precedence over others. And, if you can’t do that – maybe multiple points are valid, or the weaker idea comes from someone too high in your organization to ignore – ask your agency for help. They may recognize opportunities to craft a creative solution that makes everyone happy.

Of course, sometimes, the problem is within the agency. It could be a matter of productivity (someone isn’t doing timely, quality work). Or maybe it’s a project management issue (agreeing to do work within an unrealistic timeframe). There could be a communications problem (in which they fail to tell you about issues that may impact deadlines promptly). If any of those are the case, you might need a new agency.

Generally speaking, however, the six recommendations above will help you deliver better, clearer feedback and direction to your marketing partners. You’ll go a long way toward keeping projects on schedule. Oh – and side benefit – your agency will love you for it.