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The Pitfalls of Seeing Marketing Operations as an Emergency Response Team

Posted March 30, 2022
Amanda Giacobassi

Topics Covered:

  • What Is a True Marketing Operations Emergency?
  • With Quicker Turnaround   Comes Greater Risk
  • Marketing Operations Emergency Planning
  • What Agile Marketing Ops Is (And Isn’t)
  • When To Involve Marketing Ops (HINT: Earlier Is Better)
  • ​​The Biggest Cause of the “Emergency”? Stalled Marketing Projects

Camela: Hello, and welcome to season two of The Revenue Marketing Report powered by CaliberMind. I’m thrilled to introduce Amanda Giacobassi. Amanda, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Amanda: I’m the director of solutions architecture at Perkuto. Perkuto is an agency, now a part of an agency merger, that helps businesses expand marketing capacity, develop new enterprise-ready integrations, and strategically build and scale marketing operations within Marketo. 

My background is primarily in marketing and demand generation, but I’ve really come to love working in the often nebulous space of using tools and processes to solve business challenges.

Camela: Well, I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to do a little bit of a trigger warning because we’re going to get on our marketing operations soap boxes a little bit. We are talking about how to avoid everything being an emergency in marketing operations.

Amanda: A very triggering subject for some who live in a very reactive space and environment most of their work day. It can be a big topic to pull apart.

Camela: Yes. And we were talking about how I’ve even seen fiscal planning be an emergency, and you mentioned companies inventing Q1 OKR goals in March. That really hits me in the feels. 

So, where should we even start?

What Is a True Marketing Ops Emergency?

Amanda: I think a good place to start is defining what an emergency is, which is something that was unforeseen and very serious. Something that truly needs immediate action.

Camela: Yes.

Amanda: There are a lot of urgent marketing operations requests that are foreseeable and get conflated with an emergency. 

For example, an edit request for an e-book title when you’re about to publish the e-book. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that in the demand generation world of publishing content. I’ve seen CEOs come in and say, “Oh, we, we just need to relabel the title.” It’s not just relabeling an ebook. It’s relabeling the PDF file, the PDF URL, the email language, the landing page, the ads… It’s all of these different elements that need to change–and you need to not miss any of them.

marketing operations emergency

Camela: If there’s one word I could remove from the leadership lexicon, it’s “JUST.” That word minimizes the effort the other person needs to go through and displays a lack of knowledge, hopefully about the effort it does take to fix everything. 

I hope leaders are a little bit more mindful about throwing that word around because it can really impact someone’s emotions.

With Quicker Turnaround Comes Greater Risk

Amanda: We all have a method to how we work. Some roles and teams are more process-oriented with formalized SLAs. Others aren’t. I think it’s more difficult to work without a formalized process because then others don’t necessarily know what your process is. 

The word “just” conveys that you may be skipping a bunch of steps in the process. Someone is unaware of what’s involved.

When you try to accommodate changes–be a team player– and to make sure the campaigns can still be launched on time, the risk that there’s a mistake goes way up. There needs to be acceptance by the entire team involved in the campaign that making those last minute marketing operations requests means that mistakes are acceptable.

Camela: Yes. But that’s rarely the expectation. 

I’m having flashbacks. 

We had this big announcement at a company I was at, and we made a ton of last minute changes. I cloned the Marketo process and forgot to change the audience. I felt terrible even though the impact was benign. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have somebody standing over my desks staring at what I was doing.

Amanda: Right. 

It’s not to say that last minute requests or change orders for something that’s going out the door can always be avoided. As the marketing ops systems person, you’re the last person to touch the project. The person who feels the pain of a mistake will be the marketing systems operations person. 

It’s not to say that these requests should always be denied. But I think it’s really important to think through scenarios, form SLAs or formalize that process so that you turn a last minute request into a known quantity.

For example, if you want me to change things within a given window, I still need to go through these steps. These steps take me X amount of time. So, I need this much time to do it. If I don’t have my one day or my one hour, depending on what we’re talking about, I do not feel comfortable accommodating the request. The trade off is that there will be errors.

That puts the risk up front. When marketers understand the kind of mistakes that can happen, oftentimes they back off and accept the delay. They don’t want errors.

Camela: Before we dig into how we can kind of operationalize our interactions with a non-operational team, I’d love to kind of talk about what is an emergency–and the Marketing operations people listening are going to already know this. To me, a true emergency is a system outage or some kind of major process issue in the system that’s identified and needs to be resolved immediately. That totally makes sense to me. If we have something running in the background all the time that is running incorrectly, we need to jump on it immediately. 

I think of anything that has to do with a campaign as not an emergency,

Amanda: Right. There can be messaging corrections that you want to put out there as fast as possible. But they should be very rare. I have not seen a change in messaging that was a do-or-die moment for a company–unless it was a correction of a previous error that was released because of this type of urgency-driven work.

3 Tactics That Position MOPs as a Strategic Partner 

Marketing Ops Emergency Planning

Camela: So a few ways I’ve seen this kind of emergency behavior mitigated or corrected–in smaller organizations in particular–is planning for scenarios we know will happen.

For example, sometimes marketing operations is responsible for product system outage notifications via email because we don’t have in-app messaging yet. The way we can reduce the risk of errors with a short turnaround is to meet as a group and workflow what kind of outages or situations impact which audiences. Very clearly define those audiences and create a few templates ahead of time. 

When the request comes in from the customer success team or the product team, they know to tell you which audience is impacted and which other details you need to know to communicate effectively.

Amanda: I think it really comes down to planning. Ultimately, the way you avoid the chaos that often comes with an emergency drill is through planning and anticipating different scenarios. 

And that can be in the scenario of an outage–like you mentioned–who do you contact? What do you do during a live event–now so many of them are virtual–if the sound cuts out or a camera shuts down? 

The events space has really moved into the marketing operations world, and that’s a world where you need scenario planning.

For example, if you’re doing a virtual trade show with 10,000 people watching a keynote speech, a lot of them are recorded in advance, but not all of them. You’ll often have some sessions that are truly live and there’s a lot of backup planning that needs to be done. 

marketing emergency plan

The same strategies used in emergency planning can be applied to marketing operations globally. You predefine the appropriate reaction for different types of requests in various circumstances. It takes the stress off. 

Everyone thinks better when they’re in a low stress situation. You don’t forget steps. You can kind of think with a clear, level head.

Camela: You know, the phrase that’s repeating in my head is, “We make time for the things we care about.” 

I’ve been in situations where a very creative person comes up with an idea and wants to implement it immediately and gets frustrated when marketing operations slows them down. In those moments, it’s important to keep a cool head and to communicate. You need to explain that defining success is necessary. Having measurements in place to prove that there is a positive ROI is essential if you want a chance of repeating the campaign in the future. 

There’s value in slowing down and making sure you nail the basics.

What Agile Is (And Isn’t) in Marketing Ops

Amanda: Yes. And I think what you bring up touches on agile team structure. I think that’s a word that gets used a lot in marketing operations–the Genesis being software development. Now it’s being co-opted by marketing groups. 

Everyone wants to be agile. 

I think it’s important to clarify that the agile methodology is about short release cycles. It’s not about constantly changing requirements. Pivoting and being agile are actually quite different. Once you’re in a release cycle, and maybe that’s two weeks for your team depending on the type of project or group. Once you’ve started a sprint, it doesn’t change and you go all the way through that release cycle.

Agile is not going from defining a campaign as two emails and a landing page and then changing it to three emails and multiple landing pages for different types of segments. Changing requirements makes it very hard to do high-quality execution work. It’s incompatible with the agile methodology. 

Agile marketing operations means you break up a project into the smallest units possible in order to go through very quick release cycles.

Camela: I totally agree. And I’m wondering if adding a project manager to the team as soon as possible doesn’t make sense. Or at least looping in marketing operations at the start of an initiative to be a fly on the wall and set proper expectations just seems to me like the right way to go. 

When we’re talking about key objectives and how we’re going to meet them, I don’t know why marketing operations is not at the table. That seems like a really big miss to me in some organizations.

When To Involve Marketing Operations (HINT: Earlier Is Better)

Amanda: When you have a group of people planning a campaign, audiences, messaging, campaign delivery vehicles, emails, ads, and so on… Then they bring it to the marketing operations group when they are ready to go live, it really puts the marketing operations group (which often, by the way, in these types of organizations is not a built out team) they don’t have a chance to provide input into how the systems best support the type of campaign that the creative group or the product marketing group wants to launch. 

It creates a complicated scenario of needing to say no to someone. And it’s very challenging to say no. That’s where having that middle man of that project manager, or maybe a manager, could really help to buffer the individual contributors.

Camela: That’s a great point. And I was just thinking that some of the things you lose out on by not including marketing operations early. 

We need a range of personalities and I’m not making judgments about the super creative personalities. We need them in marketing. 

But I’ve seen somebody really gung ho about an idea and they think it’s to make a big splash and they want to mail this item to everyone in the database. But they’re sending a piece of swag that costs the company $350 a pop. It’s beneficial to have the marketing ops person in there to hit the brakes a little bit and say, “You know, this is a pretty expensive initiative. Do we want to start with a very targeted segment of our audience? Do we want to pilot this as an ABM multi-channel approach? What are the other things we should be thinking about here?” 

I think marketing operations brings to the table a combination of strategic and tactical considerations that sometimes is missing.

Amanda: Absolutely. The operations group has visibility into everything that’s happening for the team. All of the campaigns that are being launched in digital channels go through the ops group. 

Marketing operations can help manage the email calendar, for example, to avoid overlapping communications. Hopefully, as a team matures, operations does play a larger role in expectation setting and in guiding the campaign execution style. Marketing operations should have shared ownership over the various campaigns that are happening and thinking through coordinated communication–not just one one marketer’s communication initiatives, but initiatives across all of the marketers on the team.

Camela: You bring up a good point that, even in small organizations, one hand doesn’t always know what the other is doing. Have you seen some kind of meeting cadence work really well to get people coordinated across the department?

Amanda: I’ve seen tools work really well here. Like an Asana email marketing calendar, or another tool that can be shared publicly across the team. Sometimes it’s a spreadsheet, which takes a lot of manual intervention. Marketers should be pointed to that all the time.  

Camela: What I’ve seen a lot is establishing SLAs (Service-Level Agreements). It outlines what is needed to do a task and how much time that task will take. I have also seen success be completely dependent on management reinforcing it. And when management does not reinforce it, it doesn’t work. 

Amanda: Two things contribute to SLA success. One is having a really good line of communication with management. The ideal manager is someone who understands what their reports are doing and how they work. That manager can be the gatekeeper for requests and understand in order for an email to go out, it takes X amount of time and we don’t accept change requests within a certain window of something going live. Unless there is a true emergency, which should be extremely rare.

Camela: And if there are change requests, they should go back to the front of the line.

Amanda: Yeah. The other piece to having successful SLAs is that the manager is not passing on the urgency of the request to the employee. I think the worst case scenario that I’ve seen and experienced is a manager saying to me, “Do you think you can do this request? What should I tell them?”

The manager should take ownership over making the ask. It takes a manager with the ability to say no to others, as well. It should be done nicely, but they should actually be the gatekeeper instead of just being a middleman for every urgent request.

How Marketing Ops Can (and Should) Be Seen as a Strategic Partner 

The Art of Saying “No”

Camela: I was taught very early on not to say no. That’s not always the right approach. Sometimes it’s okay to say, “Not right now. We have three key initiatives. We need to hit them before the end of the quarter, and this doesn’t fall into that bucket.” 

Of course, that last bit needs to be put a bit more tactfully.

However, it’s important to ask why something is urgent before you say, “No.” 

Amanda: What I’ve seen work really well is falling back on the marketing operations process. I will say it does take agency to stand up for yourself, stand up for your process. It can be difficult for people who are newer in their roles or newer in their careers and feel like they haven’t proven themselves to an organization.That’s a whole other challenge–when you’re new in a marketing ops role. But once you’re there, you can say this is what it takes for me to do this work.

When you’re sitting in a pool of top priority, urgent requests, it’s impossible to prioritize. It’s very demoralizing.

A little bit of process gives you two things: 1) It gives you the ability to prioritize your work and 2) it gives you the ability to say, “Not right now,” when there’s an issue. 

Process really empowers people. It empowers individual contributors to execute at a very high level.

Camela: Yes. And it’s hard not to look at the pile of things in the to-do list and get overwhelmed. But I think we need to take ownership where we can. I think that a lot of marketing operations people are people pleasers, and we tend to say yes to a lot of things, but it’s critical to have a realistic outlook on what we can achieve in any given amount of time and stick to our own processes. If you make an exception, more than often than not, it will haunt you.

Amanda: And that’s where project managers are so effective.They can really say this role–not that even this person–but this role is available for six hours of work a day and two hours of meetings. Then you can start to break down requests into smaller pieces. Once you have a process and you understand how long requests realistically take, project managers help coordinate when work can be slotted into somebody’s schedule. 

This kind of organization removes the need to evaluate whether someone needs to miss  their dinner with family or work over the weekend. People will leave if they’re compromising time devoted to their personal lives on a regular basis. 

Camela: We’ve talked many times on this podcast about boundaries and their role in burnout. And this squarely falls into the realm of boundary setting. Having said that, I’m thinking through the emotional components of these scenarios.

It’s easy to get very frustrated when you’re being pushed to work more. I think it’s critical to assume good intentions from the other party. The word “just” offers an opportunity for education. I think it’s okay to say, “Here are all the things I have to do. When you put it like that, and I know you don’t mean it this way, it makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. And I physically can’t take on any more work. So is there somewhere we can meet in the middle? Can we add some more buffer time to your requests? That would really help me feel like I’m doing my job well.”

Amanda: Transparency is a big part of this. People should see each other’s workloads and understand what goes into a request. Very rarely, if ever, do requesters have malicious intent. They maybe aren’t that organized or they don’t know what’s needed from their counterpart. When they come to the marketing operations team member with the request, they are usually unaware of how much time is needed to get an asset ready to be published.

Camela: I’ve been guilty of it. I think we all have. When we’re judging sales people, we forget the pressure they’re under to make their number and bring in an income for their family. 

I know that when I was in sales operations, I would sometimes get very frustrated with marketing operations when the numbers would change or something would blow up the CRM. And then I went into marketing operations.It was so much harder than I thought. 

Walking a mile in someone’s shoes–and barring that–being transparent and communicating the steps in the process can be extremely helpful.

Amanda: It clarifies what’s involved for the person doing the work as well. Because I know earlier in my career, when I was sitting in-house in demand generation roles, and someone would say, “I need an ebook title change,” I would say, “Okay, yeah, I can do that in five minutes.” 

I meant it. But that’s because I hadn’t thought it through fully. I wasn’t thinking about all of the steps that I needed to go through in order to accommodate that change. 

The Biggest Cause of the “Emergency”? Stalled Marketing Projects

Amanda: We’ve spent time talking about the kind of change order scenario. But I do think that there’s another scenario that leads to urgent marketing requests that’s equally common if not more common. That is multi-team initiatives that aren’t progressing. 

You have a six week multi-team initiative or a six month initiative. And all of a sudden the go live date is upon you and the project is behind. Now everyone needs to be working nights and weekends in order to hit the go-live date that the executive team signed off on.

Camela: Marketers are so good at external communication, but we are not the best at internal communication. Telling the team members that certain milestones aren’t hit can be really awkward. 

gdpr best practice

Amanda: And it takes a lot of ownership to do that. I’ve been in many cross team meetings where people give their updates in the flavor of, “I’ve made progress in these areas, but I don’t have these things done.” What that means is that they’re behind, but they don’t say that. Then everybody else says, “Okay,” and then you go onto the next person.

Camela: Nope. Sorry. You have to be able to speak up and say, “Okay, I understand things happen. However, we have these dependencies that are reliant on that task, and now we’re behind.”

Amanda: It takes a lot of organization to keep top of mind what the dependencies are. You really have to be on the ball to remember what all of the dependencies are.

Camela: That’s where a marketing project planning tool is an invaluable resource. At the beginning of the project, you work with the team to walk backwards from the deliverable and understand what every team needs to get the project done. Once you have that list, you can create a timeline. 

Very often, we’re given a deadline that we have to meet, but that’s not always set in stone. If we can outline everything that needs to be done and communicate that back to the exec team in the first week of the project, they’re typically agreeable to amending the go live date.

A week before the go-live date? Not so much.

Amanda: I think so too. I think the timeline and a list of everything that you have to do is one of the most powerful things that something in marketing operations can do. It forces you to think through all of the work that you need to do. And it’s something that you can take back to others. 

Camela: What’s occurring to me as we’re having this conversation is that more organizations that have large projects crop up consistently should really consider hiring a project manager on their marketing operations team. That frees up the person who’s maintaining the marketing systems and actually putting things in place to do the job they do well. 

Amanda: I don’t ever want to work without a project manager again.

For the rest of the episode, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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