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Agency project management: How to manage those ‘one more thing’ tasks

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 28 Dec, 2020
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Before you try to whisk away your problems with software, try these agency project management methods to maximize productivity and improve client relationships

If you’re an agency professional and you feel like you’re constantly scrambling, you’re not alone. Once upon a time, clients would request changes to a campaign or initiative on a weekly or monthly basis. Now, they can ping you for changes via instant message and expect you to jump on it “instantly.” More than ever, you need an established agency project management strategy to prioritize and track each relationship - and that's just basic hygiene in today's digital landscape.

Whether it’s a Friday evening when you’re on your way out the door or a busy Monday morning when every second has been carefully allocated, there's endless potential for “just one more thing.” But, how do you cope when "one" thing becomes ten - each of the utmost importance to your client, naturally. Yes, there are software solutions, but even before taking that step, there are approaches that need to be put in place, as we'll outline in the blog below.

Certainly, in a year of rapid digital adoption, changes in ways of working, workforces, and endless adaption of plans and strategies, the expectations placed on marketers are higher than ever. Smart Insights helps marketers plan smarter and more efficiently to get the job done fast, and maximize your results!

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Still, no matter how busy you are or how many clients you have, you don’t want to give a brand a reason to consider moving your functionality in-house. Think it couldn’t happen to you? Barely five years ago, Verizon had a flock of more than 46 agency partners, but it has since changed tactics and brought much of its creative and brand narrative needs in-house. The reason for that decision lack of agency project management.

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Agency time and project management 101

For too many agency professionals, giving clients that feeling of control means operating at their beck and call. You can tell yourself that you’re providing excellent customer service, that you're offering an incredible response time, or that you’re proud to work at the most accessible agency in the industry. But in reality, you’re burning yourself out.

Agency staffers are working too hard and feeling the pressure from tightening markets and the migration of work back to the brands. As a result, turnover is high and work-life balance is practically non-existent. You're not alone, research by the National Alliance on Mental Health, shows mental illnesses can cost the U.S. economy $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually. Clearly, proper agency project management can benefit both agency and client side.

There are so many negative consequences for time-strapped teams. From a training point of view, employee's professional development time get be overlooked when resource is low. While this isn't a disaster on a one-off busy week, if this becomes the norm, you will miss out on the long-term benefits of professional development:

  • Performance - highly engaged employees can improve business performance by up to 30% and are more likely to exceed performance expectations
  • Retention - higher engagement reduces the temptation for staff to leave
  • Revenue - employee engagement improves advocacy, increasing opportunities to bring in revenue while raising and maintaining the brand profile

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Marketing as it should be

Marketing is simultaneously creative and analytical. It requires incredible focus and the ability to switch quickly and efficiently between a variety of tasks. Adding “one more thing” to a marketer’s plate sounds innocuous enough from the client’s limited perspective, but the reality is that it can hinder the execution of campaigns or derail the testing process.

Testing is so important in marketing because that’s how you optimize. You can’t have constant improvement unless you have the ability to A/B test, hypothesize, and experiment in a way that resembles (if not mirrors) the scientific method. If you’re constantly adding in new variables, you can never produce reliable results that inform future campaigns and further your project management.

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As an agency professional, you will always be juggling the demands of multiple clients and simultaneous projects, but it’s vital that you learn to shut out the noise and focus on accomplishing one task at a time. By removing a source of constant interruptions and saying no to “one more thing,” you’re actually doing a better job of serving all of your clients in the role they’ve hired you to perform.

How to improve your project management

When focus and upfront conversations don’t come easily, agencies inevitably reach for software to solve their problems. Some of these tools can be effective, but it’s important to recognize that software is never the sole answer. The goal of a project management tool is to cut down on variability and streamline workflows, but the wrong tool can create work instead of removing it.

Before you start considering a software solution, here are five ways you can improve your marketing agency project management practices and maximize productivity:

Agency project management of time and money

1. Cut down on meetings

Meetings are incredibly expensive, and they burn tons of valuable employee time. A face-to-face meeting with a co-worker is great, but getting 15 people in the room to meet for a few hours can add up fast. When you're planning something like an in-depth marketing campaign, you don’t need everyone to meet at once. Have the social media guru meet with your content strategist one-on-one to devise a social strategy, and then go down the line of key personnel who are contributing to the campaign. This approach is far more efficient than having the entire group build out the initiative at the same time and in the same room.

Hive project managenet

2. Utilize an automatic daily hot sheet

If you and your colleagues are spending the beginning of every day planning what you need to accomplish, you’re losing valuable time that adds up quickly over weeks and months. Automatic daily hot sheets show what’s on the docket for each member of your team, and this collective view reduces the potential for duplicate work and keeps the channels of communication open.

3. Implement automatic campaign progress reporting

It’s vital to track campaign tasks and milestones to get an accurate measure of the progress of an initiative. Coupling campaign progress reports with daily hot sheets allows for complete transparency, both within the agency and for curious clients wanting an overview. Regular progress reports also give you the ability to react quickly when an initiative takes off — or falls flat.

4. Rely on an inbound system for client requests

Stuck in the dark ages with a shared email account? Ditching an inefficient method for a standardized system that’s purpose-built for inbound client requests will save you serious time. No matter what you decide to use, make sure everyone in your agency receives adequate training to put the new solution in place. If a few outliers continue to rely on the old system, it will undermine any progress you were hoping to accomplish.

5. Cut costs that don’t contribute to high-quality work

Marketing and agency work often involves collaboration across campaigns and initiatives, and it’s easy to forget the high value of agency time. It’s often far cheaper to utilize a freelancer through a network like Upwork for simple tasks that don’t require in-depth knowledge of the client. For example, if you need a graphic touched up or copy proofread, consider venturing outside of the organization to allow your colleagues to use their time for more difficult and specialized client work.

The state of agency project management and planning in 2021

With so many clients and campaigns competing for their time and attention, agency professionals and marketers like you are reaching for any project management lifeline they can get their hands on. Before you try and whisk away your problems with software, try these agency project management methods to maximize productivity and improve client relationships.

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