Marketing has substantial ebb and flow within the business cycle. You might be drowning under deadlines trying to launch a new product or promotion, consistently and methodically producing monthly deliverables, or engaging in slower, more thoughtful long-term planning. Whether you’re experiencing acute slowdowns in your normal marketing efforts because of COVID-19, or if it’s your normal seasonality curve that predictably delivers some breathing room in your schedule, you can use this available time to shift focus internally for the benefit of your team and your organization. Here are three places to start:
Your “Someday” List
We all have one, a list of projects we’re going to get to someday when we have time. In the normal course of business, there is a never-ending stream of new priorities, fires that need to be put out, emergencies that pop up. We’re hard-wired to focus on the loudest, most demanding tasks. That is until, like the smog magically clearing above L.A., we suddenly have a break in the routine. Now is the time to itemize all the tasks you’ve always wished you could do—reorganize your electronic filing system, review your backlog of data, refresh your branding, reinvigorate your creative process.
For every agency who has ever said, “we’re too busy to do our own marketing because we’re so busy doing great work for clients,”—the time has come. Update the website, update the case studies, update your pitch deck. For every in-house team who has ever said, “there’s no time to analyze a year’s worth of data or reorganize our reporting structure,” your someday has arrived. You’ve been given the gift of time and space and opportunity to focus on what you and your team need without feeling selfish.
Your Operational Processes
If you find yourself describing an operational process as “we’ve always done it that way,” now is a great time to understand if that process is working for you, or against you. For marketing teams especially, both agency and in-house, organization and communication are vital to operate at a high level. Start by examining your intake processes from project stakeholders—are you always collecting the same information, are you always presenting it to the team the same way, are the assets consistently in the same place? This is just one example of one process. As a general rule for teams I have led, the less variability you have in your process the more time your team can spend focused on the work.
An equally impactful exercise as examining processes that could work better, is reviewing processes you might not actually need. Just like scope creep sneaks in until a project has changed completely, some seemingly innocuous processes can quickly get out of control. Challenge yourself to identify areas where there are frequently bottlenecks, or where there’s a simpler way to get to the same (or better) end result. Just like we’re learning about meetings that could have been emails, there are Rube Goldberg machines within our organization that can be retired.
Your Team Development
Keeping your team engaged and their skills sharp during slow periods is a challenge. Designers, developers, copywriters, all creative professionals want to put their talent toward meaningful projects and can sniff out busy-work a mile away. A great way to avoid team slump is to encourage your team to take time to learn new skills or brush up on rusty skills. There are plenty of free tutorials and training opportunities online, and a shared slack channel is a great way to share team favorites internally. Leveraging internal talent to lead lunch and learn sessions is an especially empowering way for your team to create connections and learn more about each other in addition to the topic at hand. For both in-house teams and agencies, consider inviting other departments or account managers who want to know “what marketing does.” Improving peer-to-peer relationships across teams is a great long-term investment.
Don’t neglect yourself. While all managers and leaders are first and foremost concerned about their teams, it’s important to take time for your ongoing development as well. Catching up on your reading list, watching a leadership webinar, or consuming content on trends and tactics will all pay dividends in the long run for you (and your team).
For Now and In the Future
If you’ve never read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I highly recommend it. He breaks down what it takes to create a new habit and get it to stick—basically it comes down to time and repetition. Suddenly we have the time, so now we can focus on the repetition. For myself and for our team, we’re learning how to focus on our needs as a company. We’re developing processes that support this work, we’re tackling projects that will support our business in the future, we’re investing in strengthening our personal foundations. We don’t know what shape the future will take, but we will be well positioned to meet whatever challenges it brings.
There seem to be two competing schools of thought in the current Coronavirus environment— that the sudden increase in available time should be used productively, and that it’s okay to not be productive in a highly uncertain and emotional time. As with all things in marketing and design, balance is key. We are experiencing a once in a generation event that will have a long- lasting impact on our work and personal lives, but we’ve also been given a rare opportunity to find more hours in a day—how will you choose to use this time?