The Secret Marketer: 12-month plans change, but that shouldn’t include doubling the number of campaigns

We have a robust marketing plan and a system that rechecks decisions across the business during the year, but this just encourages people to add and add new campaigns, leaving the marketing team and budget struggling under their weight.

One of the most stressful parts of my role as a marketing director is coping with the many and varied changing priorities of the business that I work with. We are reasonably organised in that we have a robust annual marketing plan that is signed off by all parts of the business. We then have a governance process that ensures each activity we commence through the year is signed off by the business as still being relevant, and that the respective teams commit to playing their part — providing content, following up leads, etc.

The problem is something quite different. It is when one (or usually multiple) parts of the business change their mind — or more likely, they don’t actually ‘change’ their mind, they just come up with half a dozen new initiatives in addition to the carefully thought-through, costed and resourced plan that we have been working to.

Clearly, I am not so naive as to think that one can predict a year’s activities 12 months in advance but, very much as I tell my wife when she buys another little black dress to add to her wardrobe, we need to work on a principle of ‘one in, one out’.

Alas, my colleagues are just as deaf to my pleas as my nearest and dearest, and before long we have campaigns butting up against one another, budget challenges from seeking to do twice as much work for the same investment, and a marketing team who are breaking their backs with the competing pressures.

The author Jim Collins in his book Good to Great noted that great companies had disciplined people, who engaged in disciplined thought and took disciplined action. He stated that it is no more hard work to be a great company rather than a good company, but the difference lies in the former being much more disciplined. I have to agree.

But does discipline constrain creativity and agility? Kevin Murray, chairman of The Good Relations Group and author of The Language of Leaders, states “give me the freedom of a tight brief”, and I am sure there are many agency folk reading this who couldn’t agree more. A tight brief focuses people on an outcome and generates more ideas, not fewer.

Alas, this demand for discipline usually falls on deaf ears, and an incredulity that the marketing team have dared to say “no” to the business. Oh well, let’s see whether I am any more successful in persuading my wife to be more disciplined with her black dresses purchases.

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