What makes a successful marketing project manager?

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Marketing teams bring so much to the table within an organization — but they aren’t typically known for their militant scheduling and detailed organizational skills. The same is true for creative agencies, from traditional marketing agencies to full-service digital marketing firms.

On the flip side, project management as a discipline doesn’t have much of a reputation for being creativity-friendly or flexible. (And with only 43% of businesses regularly completing projects within budget, we can’t exactly blame them!)

Somewhere in the middle, marketing project managers are seeing both sides and wishing everybody could just get along.

If you’re a marketing project manager — by title or by accident — this post is for you. We’ll help define this role and show you what attributes and skills go into making a marketing project manager successful.

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The marketing project manager’s role

A marketing project manager oversees and manages projects for a marketing department, team, or marketing agency. This role brings traditional project management practices to the creative and unpredictable field of marketing, requiring some degree of knowledge in both arenas.

On the project management front, a marketing project manager uses established methods to plan, procure for, execute, and complete projects. These are the same tactics project managers use across a wide range of fields.

What sets the marketing project manager apart is that they must use these strategies in a marketing context, which is a complex and varied field on its own. The marketing project manager, therefore, must have some marketing-specific knowledge or training.

Larger organizations may hire one or more marketing project managers internally. Marketing and creative agencies often add this role as they scale. The role works well as a contractor position, too: Smaller organizations without the budget or headcount to create this role internally sometimes bring in a contract marketing project manager to lead larger, one-off marketing initiatives.

These are a few of the key responsibilities most marketing project managers hold. As we discuss their duties in greater detail below, you may notice that some sound just like what general project managers are responsible for, while others are unique to marketing.

Build and manage content calendars

Within the world of marketing, a marketing project manager may be responsible for building and managing a company’s content calendars. (In some larger or more content-forward organizations, this work goes to a more specialized role like a senior content manager.)

Marketing content calendars display a plan for when various forms of content get published, including blog posts, social media posts, video content, and anything else that falls to the teams involved with content production or marketing.

This responsibility is unique to the marketing project manager role. General PMs won’t have experience in this space and will need to learn about a company’s various content types and strategies before taking on this responsibility.

Most of this content falls within content marketing, a specialization now in use by 82% of marketers. Organizations investing heavily here may dedicate personnel or even a sub-department to it, taking the content calendar management off the marketing PM’s plate.

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Help structure marketing strategies

A marketing director or CMO is usually responsible for creating organizations marketing growth strategy, but executing those strategies is too detailed and granular for a senior executive to manage. Marketing project managers often assist by structuring and planning the work necessary to execute various marketing strategies.

Delegate tasks to their team

There’s a joke in traditional project management environments that project managers never really do anything — they just poke around at schedules and interrupt the team members actually doing the work.

This isn’t really true, of course, but we understand the sentiment: PMs don’t execute very many project tasks alone — and in many cases, they don’t even have the skills to do those tasks. Instead, they delegate them to the department or individual with the requisite skills and specialization.

It’s the same story in marketing. Marketing project managers need to understand the marketing niche, but they likely don’t have many of the skills necessary to succeed as graphic designers, illustrators, copywriters, and so on.

Marketing PMs delegate tasks to those roles instead, taking on the responsibility for worrying about the details and the priorities and providing a clear plan to the team that shows who does what and when.

This is vitally important because it frees up the designers, illustrators, and copywriters to focus on what they do well — rather than worrying about schedules, milestones, and order of priority.

Assist with establishing deadlines and milestones

Another task that all types of project managers share is setting deadlines and milestones in conjunction with stakeholders and project leaders. Most PM roles don’t stop with those broad strokes, though. They continue building out the detailed schedules of how teams will reach those markers.

They also take the lead on various other supporting documents, from project charters and statements of work to marketing project plans and more.

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Key skills to develop if you’re a marketing project manager

Some people seem like they were simply born to be a marketing project manager. They have the right background, job experience, certifications, and personality, and it all comes easy to them.

But that’s not the way it goes for most of us.

You may have stumbled into a marketing project manager role because you had a bachelor’s degree in marketing and you’re better organized than the average person. Maybe you’re the most creative employee with PMP certification, so you got dropped in marketing without any experience there.

Or you might not even have the job title — you just know you’re taking on a whole bunch of project management tasks within your marketing role, and you want to excel at them.

No matter how you got to the role you’re in, these are the skills to focus on if you’re looking to grow as a marketing project manager.

(Looking to go deeper into the role, not just the skills that will help you perform? Check out the ultimate guide to marketing project management.)

Strong leadership

Strip away the marketing campaigns, the digital marketing channels, and the project timelines: At the core of any project management role is the need to influence and lead people.

You may or may not have positional authority, but either way, the ability to influence project team members and lead them to do what’s necessary to meet project timelines is an essential part of the role.

Open and honest communication

This role requires strong communication skills as you’ll frequently need to have open, honest, and sometimes frank discussions with members of the marketing team.

When individuals aren’t completing tasks on time, the entire workflow suffers and your team starts falling short of its goal KPIs and metrics. It’s up to you to talk to underperforming or off-task employees, help them with prioritization, and win them over to the methodologies and schedules you’ve established.

Managing schedules and time management

Speaking of schedules, those are a part of your job description, too. You’re tasked with building and managing project schedules that are both aggressive and realistic. Project management software can show you (to a degree) how much each employee can handle and whether tasks overlap in ways that aren’t feasible.

Time management is a factor, too — both your own time management and that of your team. Whatever steps you can take to cut down distractions or unnecessary repetitive work will move you closer toward goal completion.

Managing schedules is exponentially easier when you’re using the right project management tools and templates to cut down on repetitive tasks. Teamwork is a fantastic platform for marketing and creative agencies — find out more about what Teamwork can do for marketing teams here.

Problem-solving skills

We hate to dwell on the negative, but here’s the truth: Projects can be chock full of problems.

Software problems, interpersonal problems, workflow problems, staffing problems, “this thing we built should be fine but it’s not working / the client hates it” problems — you get the idea.

In traditional workplace hierarchies, some problems fall to the employee’s manager to solve. But not all of them do — and what do you do with a problem that spans multiple people or departments?

Frequently, solving these problems starts with you, the project manager. The better your problem-solving skills, the more of these you’ll clean up on your own without escalations or delays.

Marketing analytics

These days, data is everything — even in creative fields like marketing.

Generally, you can get metrics and analytics on anything you can send electronically. That’s why marketing teams A/B test elements like email subjects, and why you monitor email performance metrics.

This work rarely falls to the marketing project manager alone. But you’ll be better at your job if you invest in understanding how to interpret and use analytics data. With skills in marketing analytics, you’ll be able to more quickly determine when projects or campaigns are (or aren’t) working. You’ll be in a better position to advocate for change when needed, and you’ll have data to back up your recommendations.

Resource allocation

Resource allocation — assigning people (or portions of people’s time) to projects — is a crucial skill that’s difficult to master. In creative fields, even managers with years of experience often struggle to understand their employees’ capacity and allocate their resources properly.

As a marketing project manager, you have the 10,000-foot view of projects in a way that others might not. Leveraging this level of insight (along with data-driven analysis) gives you a unique opportunity to see where the pinch points and overloads are. As your resource allocation skills improve, you’ll see project outcomes improve.

You’ll probably notice improvements in employee morale, too — and maybe even in your team’s physical health! An MIT Sloan Management Review study finds that more than 40% of professionals at one Fortune 500 company felt overallocated. The study finds that these feelings led to burnout and other concrete medical outcomes in alarming numbers. Better resource allocation is one solution to this type of overload, and you can have a hand in that within your marketing team.

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Become a better marketing project manager with Teamwork

Marketing project managers play a crucial role within marketing agencies and marketing departments, bridging the gap between creative teams and more data-driven project management and planning structures. No matter how you got to your current position, you can grow as a marketing project manager by investing in the skills we’ve discussed above.

Another way to supercharge your work as a marketing project manager is to step up to a better project management software solution. Teamwork is the project management platform built for agencies and creatives. It has everything you need to manage projects, within a friendly and easy-to-use interface that won’t scare off your best creatives.

See what Teamwork can do for you — sign up for free today!

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