If you’re in the line of work that involves putting out literal fires, you’re no doubt well aware of the inherent risks and unpredictable nature of the job. And unfortunately, without catastrophe, you’d be out of work. While you aren’t hoping these events happen, you know that they are inevitable and will keep on happening and it’s your job to make sure there’s as little damage as possible. Sleepless nights, stress, and adrenaline rushes become the norm. In the downtime, you’re able to enjoy the quiet moments, good times with family and friends but whether or not you’re on the clock, in the back of your mind you are waiting for the siren to sound and knowing that when it does there’s no secret formula for guaranteed success. It’s all about being as prepared as possible in advance, having trust in your process and your team. The confidence in both is what allows you and others to sleep peacefully at night.
In the marketing world, project managers, sales reps and various management roles are all too familiar with putting out proverbial fires. While it’s nowhere near as serious as life and death, some of the same principles still apply (and maybe the sleepless nights). And though it’s not as serious as the aforementioned profession, it can slowly creep into our personal life. Do you long for the weekend but dread Sunday evenings knowing Monday morning is coming all too soon? It’s easy to feel over-worked and get burnt out. While I have not even come close to perfecting it, here are three things in 3-years that I’ve learned about marketing project management when it comes to putting out fires successfully.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all… you haven’t. I’ve experienced cargo ships going missing (I blame the Bermuda Triangle) along with every other shipping delay imaginable, mechanical failures, billing errors, power outages, literal fires, the list goes on. Understanding it’s inevitable that something can go wrong but not letting that dissuade you is a great strength.
In marketing, we are fundamentally problem solvers. It’s a math equation, just with more exciting variables. “We want to send a literal oven with frozen food to the top food blogs in the country overnight.” — Fantastic. “We want to send 125,000 physical video mailers to top stakeholders that will drastically change the future of the company and we only have a few weeks.” — Great. “I spent a ridiculous amount of money filming an elaborate Backstreet Boy cover and need a video deliverable to send it to my best friends inviting them be groomsman at my wedding.” — Wait what?… oh sure we can do that.
Those are all real examples. And despite all having unique hurdles, were a success.
In an ideal world, if we put into practice all the things we’ve learned, nothing will go wrong…unfortunately, that’s not how life works. The more variables involved, the higher the chance something will go wrong. Human error, mechanical failure or maybe just an act of god affects the shipping schedule… Murphy’s Law will inevitably rear its head. Knowing this though prepares you to overcome what could happen. When “stuff” happens it may be our tendency to want to save face, hide things, not take the blame. While we think this might help us, in the end it doesn’t. People value and respect honesty. This obviously doesn’t make exempt you from guilt for blatant neglect or poor choices, but if legitimate problems come up, being up-front is typically the best policy.
In addition to honesty, accountability is also key because you want someone to be forthright and then fix it. If you’ve ever experienced calling customer support at a large corporation, you’re probably familiar with the endless supply of people who have no actual accountability leading you to get passed around like a beach ball at a 90’s concert until the situation escalates to the person who has the authority to help. Imagine your flight was canceled and you need to get home for your parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Would you rather someone acknowledge the inconvenience, or fix it? In our personal life, when a personal problem occurs or something difficult happens, we don’t always want someone to try to fix it, you want someone to just listen. When it comes to our professional life though it’s the opposite.
As mentioned at the outset, things will inevitably go wrong at times. It’s how you choose to deal with it when it happens that counts. Often it becomes an opportunity to not only learn but strengthen the business relationship by showing our dedication to making it right. Whether that means we’re able to fix it or fess up and be accountable for it. While we intend that every project goes smoothly to enjoy the proverbial pat on the back, fires do happen. It’s the ability to overcome the fire which measures our worth…and sometimes even defines us as a true marketing project management artist.