A couple of years ago (would rather not start contemplating the fact that it has most likely been over ten!), my first ever mentor in digital marketing told me something that has stuck with me to this day. In fact, it is such a pure gem of wisdom, and so rarely uttered, that I today try to hand it down to all those brave souls who work with me in our content marketing department.
Curious, aren’t you?
What he said was this:
Digital marketing is all about project management.
Admittedly, I didn’t get the point for quite a while, but the more I worked in the industry, the clearer it became that not only was he right, no one else seemed to be aware of the fact.
I’ve sadly since stopped working as closely with my former mentor, and have taken on a very active and complex, often drives-me-up-the-wall stressful and intense role of digital content manager. And every time our general manager walks in with a brief for that new client who has just come on board, I remember my maxim and hold on to it like a drowning man to his last tiny piece of hull.
Over the years, I have worked with managers of all shapes and sizes. People who run teams of two and teams of fifty. And though it may sound odd, I often found myself at an advantage, better equipped to handle the large chunks of work being throw around.
Because, when you think about it: content managers need to be much more than grammar Nazis and subject matter experts. They need a whole other set of skills that, in fact, most managers could benefit from.
Because, let’s face it: managing projects is all about managing people, and managing content is about managing people with insane amounts of talent, that often comes with a fair share of insecurity and easily bruised egos.
So without any further ado, and an apology for having had to go on and on about it for so long, here are the five things I feel you as a project manager can learn from us content managers:
The first thing I tell anyone who is about to work with my writers for any prolonged space of time is don’t say anything you wouldn’t like to hear. While the second one is usually “this is a bad piece of writing cannot be considered constructive criticism”.
As managers, we should know how to execute our team’s tasks ourselves. And we should be able to offer advice on how to improve their work, not only how to manage time and resources better.
Yet even though we know how to make something better, we at times forget to offer specific pointers, and simply ask someone to redo what they have come up with. Make it better. Improve on the original idea.
That’s frankly the worst thing you can tell someone. Unless they have been very short on time and are not particularly interested in the outcome, chances are that your team members don’t submit anything unless they think they have done a decent job. In their minds, what they have come up with is good. Hearing it is not will not help them one bit.
Without offering clear instructions on how to improve something, you are simply being a bully.
When you return a piece of work for redrafting, when you want someone to change something, when you have feedback to give: always do it kindly, in gentle tones, without stressing the other party out. You may be under stress, they may be anxious, the project might be running behind schedule, but always remember that these are human beings you are working with, and they need to be treated with respect.
This does not mean you need to mollycoddle anyone – but make sure what you provide is actionable, useful, and honest.
Create bite-sized tasks
As a project manager, you most likely don’t need to be told what I am about to say, but bear with me anyway.
Every gigantic project can and must be broken down into manageable and sensible tasks.
This is actually something blogger outreach has taught me. When you look at a huge list of thousands of emails to be sent, replies to be handled, topics to come up with, questions to answer, it can seem daunting to say the least.
This is why creating to do lists helps and making each task as small as it can be is also very important.
If you need to write an article, you can section it off into: do keyword research, do reference research, do influencer research, find promotion options, write an outline, etc.
The same goes for any other task you have to delegate.
Having smaller tasks not only helps you keep track of how the project is going, but it also helps everyone involved feel more accomplished. When you have a “write article A by Friday” task on Monday, you will feel like a failure until Friday does arrive, and you hand your work in, even though you have just spent five days working on it flat out.
Let people do what they want to do
I used to work at a company that got this completely wrong. They had this “work is not supposed to be fun” philosophy and kept hiring people to do the things they needed to be done at that point, never bothering to reorganize the staff they already had.
I am not saying that work should be all about fun. But what I am saying is that people who do what they are interested in, what they are good at, what they have experience in, will do a better job.
When delegating tasks, try to take into account the personal preferences of every team member involved.
Of course, this will mean getting to know your team very well beforehand.
Let me give you an example. At a previous position, we hired people to be VAs. This meant doing a lot of research, sending out emails, handling email correspondence, working with a fair amount of tools.
At one point, we had three of them, and all three of them were trained to do the same stuff and would spend their days sharing the same tasks.
Two months in, it became very clear that one of them was great at research, highly analytical, could handle every tool well and did not mind the boring aspects of the job. Another VA was creative, could write emails faster than the other two, and had no problem in handling hundreds of them a day. The third VA was actually a content creator in disguise.
Needless to say, once we had everyone do what they were best at, and what they themselves wanted to do, our success rates tripled.
If you can, try to let people do what they enjoy, without feeling absurdly guilty that you are making their job easier.
Unofficially, if I need to send an article to a client by Thursday, I will have the writer write it by Monday. That gives the editor enough time to go through it, edit out anything that needs to be fixed, and even allows for an emergency rewrite, in case something is very very wrong. And of course, it means we don’t have to scramble if the writer hands it in late.
This is a principle you can use for any set of tasks. Don’t let your team know when the actual deadline is, and don’t talk about this principle with them. If asked, let them know the delivery deadline is a day after they complete their task.
Admittedly, this tactic can also backfire. I’ve had writers apply the same principle after me, so they would cut off an additional two days themselves, which did not leave them enough time to do the work properly. Not something that happens often, but bear in mind that it might.
When shortening deadlines, make sure that you do leave enough time for your team to do their work right. Having a contingency backup timeframe will always be useful, but don’t sacrifice actual work time for its sake.
Have a backup
Or: don’t place all of your eggs in the same basket.
In my version of this analogy, you are the egg.
Ideally, when a member of your team is out sick or on leave, there is someone to jump in and take on some of their tasks that need to be taken on.
What happens when you are out sick?
Relying too much on yourself can be the easiest thing to do, until you are unable to perform, for whatever reason.
Make sure that someone at the company knows what to do when you are gone. It does not have to be one person, in fact, it shouldn’t be one person, because that would defeat the purpose.
Leave readable and to the point notes about every ongoing project, that will be enough for someone else to slide into your slot while you are away. Don’t spend hours on end on creating this plan, though. Take the time to create one major plan: let everyone know where the emails are, where the passwords are, what the deadlines are before an emergency arises. Have a plan in place for when you are unable to come into work, and make sure your team knows what to do. Create such a plan for every member of staff, just like you would create an evacuation plan.
Teams which rely on the project manager to come into work and delegate tasks are not functional. Don’t allow yourself to become the cog that stops the wheels from turning.
Hopefully, this brief insight into the mind of a content manager will have helped you rethink some of the things you as a project manager do on the daily, and help you become even better at what you do best!
This article was written by Josip Mlinarić.
Josip Mlinaric is e-mail marketing and outreach specialist at Point Visible, a marketing agency providing custom outreach and link building service. He likes to say he has a simple and calm mindset in his approach towards life in general and likes to relax with experimenting in the kitchen or just chilling listening to music.