Marketing services – always pushing, always slipping

I am one of several product managers at a software company. All of us use our in-house marketing services department. I have a lot of things that need to get done: press releases, ads, brochures and more. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get anything out of marketing services. I am judged by the success of my product, and I can’t market or sell my product without these materials. It’s driving me crazy. I have no authority over marketing services, so all I can do is beg or badger them, which doesn’t work. Meanwhile, my market window is closing. What do you suggest?

A: I agree with you; you don’t have time for your projects to get stalled. Markets are moving so quickly now that market segments, and sometimes entire industries, spring up and die in as little as six months.

Based on my experiences with other companies, you are not alone. Many other product managers have the same problem. Sometimes their situation is so bad it becomes a running inside joke.

Often product managers with this problem just give up because the marketing services manager is one of the CEO’s favorites, or the marketing services department is perpetually understaffed. And many marketing managers refuse to admit that there’s a problem.

Surprisingly, when product managers mention their frustration to the CEO, they seldom communicate the severity of the situation because they don’t want to look like whiners or alarmists. And they don’t want to make the situation worse by getting on the bad side of the marketing person.

The secret to getting your materials produced is to identify the true source of the problem in marketing services. Armed with this information, you can either help the marketing services manager solve the problem directly or you can present your observations and specific suggestions to higher management. Whatever you do, be kind about it. Running marketing services is like being a waitress in a crowded restaurant; each patron only cares about his or her dinner, but the waitress has to serve all of the customers equally well.

We can’t guess what the real problem is in your marketing services department, but we can tell you what we usually find in other cases.

Problem 1: Poor processes

Many who are attracted to the email marketing services field are nice folks who want to help others. They are eager to please. They respond as best they can to the requests that come in, as they come in. But their pile gets bigger and bigger until they are completely overloaded.

They barely have time for a personal life, much less the time to change the way their department operates. All sorts of things are done inefficiently. For example, most companies advertise in a certain group of publications. Every time someone creates an ad for one of these publications, certain production specifications must be met. For some reason, no one ever thinks of storing the specifications, on paper or digitally, where everyone can access them. So each time an ad is created, someone has to go digging, or an incorrectly prepared ad has to be reworked, usually on deadline.

Process problems usually can be solved by setting up knowledge repositories, creating a scheduling and tracking system that works for everyone involved, organizing jobs as they flow through and setting up standard practices that are published and followed. Once the basic problems are addressed, you can begin to streamline the approval process, which can make a great difference in how swiftly a job moves through the organization.

Problem 2: Unclear communications

Product managers typically hand off a job by calling a meeting, describing what is needed, then giving the marketing services person a pile of background material. Relying on another person’s notes taken on your oral directions always results in miscommunication, especially as the job is handed from person to person during production. Take 15 extra minutes to write out what you want. Better yet, help create a standard form for all product managers that answers the important questions. Using this form will save you hours of work and days of delays.

Problem 3: Stalled in the CEO’s office

In some companies, jobs get hung up in the CEO’s office. If this is the case, you need to talk with your CEO. Perfection is becoming a dangerous luxury in today’s fast-moving markets. A picky or uncertain CEO has to understand that an ad that is “80% there” will pull a lot more than an unfinished ad that isn’t there at all.

Problem 4: Denial

People react a variety of ways when they are overwhelmed. Marketing people tend to go into denial. They do the best they can until they can’t take it anymore, and then they quit. Even a small amount of organization and prioritization can make things better.

None of this is easy, and you will surely step on a few toes as you find ways to help. But it’s better to step on a few toes than to have your product fail due to lack of marketing materials.