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Marketing

Published July 3rd 2018

How Adopting Newsrooms Practices Can Make For More Successful Agile Marketing Initiatives

What can marketers learn from teams of journalists that can improve their agile marketing efforts? From team structure to prioritization, here's your guide.

I recently spent some time in the newsroom of one of the biggest online news outlets in the UK and experienced how, arguably, one of the most agile teams in the world operates.

When updates to big stories arrived, every second counted. A quiet, ‘heads-down’ atmosphere immediately became lively and shouty, with reporters, editors and the photo and video team working speedily to get the latest out there accurately before anyone else. As points of a story came to light they were carefully integrated into already existing articles with new pictures given priority and slotted into paragraphs with rigid structures that allowed for readability and ad slots. Multiple people would be working on the main story at once to get it perfect.

Watching this meticulous work at speed made me wonder why marketing teams don’t adopt a similar approach to their own campaigns that in turn often require hard-hitting launches and constant iteration. This sense of drop-everything-urgency is not easily replicable in your traditional marketing team, but the mindset is certainly transferable and there are elements of the structure that can be copied.

Here are a number of practices I’ve observed in the news industry and how marketers can adopt them to improve their agile marketing initiatives.

1. An open, always-on, system for receiving information

Information can come from anywhere – the mail, email, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, phone calls, fax machines (lol) or brown paper envelopes slid surreptitiously across a table.

Regardless of whether you’re a journalist or a marketer, potential opportunities or crises don’t always present themselves in giant boxes filled with balloons. Instead, they can start very, very quietly. It’s your job to make sure you’re always listening.

If you’re a small marketing team, receiving and filtering this information can be pretty easy with the right set up in place. Larger teams who work for brands that generate thousands of online conversations a day will have a harder time making sure everything is heard.

If you’re working with input from social data, categorizing incoming mentions by keywords or sources can help you route that information to the correct person or sub-team so that it can be dealt with in a timely way.

Meanwhile, setting up alert systems to immediately let you know about strong trends in your area of interest can help you respond faster.

2. Prioritizing scoops and sources

Once you have a system for receiving information in an organized way, prioritization systems are the next step. This comes down to identifying golden nuggets and sticks of dynamite within all the time consuming, low-quality information

After years of dealing with flakey sources, journalists will get a sense of who is wasting their time and who could help them move a story along. In the same way community managers will often have a sense of what conversations could help them achieve a quick win and which should be left to fizzle out.

When it comes to potentially brand harming feedback (a number of complaints about a product defect or a negative online story), marketers will want to push these up the priority list.

One great example of this that we’ve seen is how Co-op’s digital team handles conversation that relates to customers in danger. In our recent case study with them, Jordan McDowell shared how the team reacted when a customer tweeted that a store was on fire.

3. Teams built for agility

While I was in the newsroom it was interesting to see how quickly a small, multidisciplinary team formed and got to work as soon as news broke, headed by one of the senior journalists. There was a clear goal – to be the first to get the news out – and there was no hesitation. People just snapped into action, and with all the appropriate stakeholders and experts there in person they were able to quickly turn around the latest news stories for their readers before returning to what they were doing before.

You might not work in an industry where high priority projects suddenly strike where multiple people are needed, but this style of teamwork can be adapted into sprints too. Snapping out of day-to-day routines and working together on fast projects is a great way to get people working together and generating fast results.

In McKinsey’s agile marketing guide, the writers describe the ideal structure for such a team:

“the most important item is the people—bringing together a small team of talented people who can work together at speed. They should possess skills across multiple functions (both internal and external), be released from their “BAU” (business as usual) day jobs to work together full time, and be colocated in a “war room” (exhibit).”

McKinsey: “Agile Marketing: A Step-by-step guide”

 

Here’s an illustration of a “war room team” with easily accessible links to contacts and teams across the business to enable fast action.

 

As the McKinsey model suggests, “war room teams” can operate at speed on key projects but they won’t necessarily work together all of the time.

These kinds of teams could be bought together just for particular events on a brand’s calendar. Although, of course, the more practice people get at working in this particular way, the more success the leader might expect from their work.

Here’s an example of the Jaguar team working in a “war room” during the Super Bowl.

Proactivity, reactivity and the cons of agile marketing

Perhaps the best way to summarize all these points is that in order to be effective at reacting to unforeseeable phenomena, a large amount of proactivity is required.

Part of this proactivity is to work in an awareness of the cons of agile marketing and make sure processes are in place to ensure that the downsides don’t undermine the operation.

In short, team leaders must prioritize team wellbeing and make sure that a fast-moving team is driven by curiosity and not by stress. Given that an agile marketing team is often working on short sprints, an inquisitive attitude towards failure is advised so that consecutive ‘failed’ initiatives are perceived as learning points and not morale vacuums.

Finally, allow time for slowness and normality among the fast-moving projects. Don’t let important day-to-day tasks completely fall by the wayside in favor of constant fast-moving testing and creating.

To improve agility, set up the infrastructure for a successful team by allowing the seamless movement of data and information, integrating sophisticated prioritization processes, building in moments of relief, championing diversity in the team, communicating results and learnings, and ensuring everyone is heard.

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