By Maria Geokezas, VP of Client Services at Heinz Marketing

Managing a marketing team can be difficult.  It can also be the most rewarding aspect of your job.  When you search for marketing management you get all sorts of information about what marketers do – the theories, tools, and frameworks used that make up the field of marketing.  It’s a lot more difficult to find information about leading a marketing team.

Case in point from Learn.org:

What Does a Marketing Manager Do?

As a marketing manager, you would supervise the promotion and sales of products, services, or ideas offered by a business. It would be your job to increase the profits of your business by analyzing marketing data and using your findings to decide on optimal prices for your product. Working with sales, public relations, and product development staff, you would strive to create the most appealing campaigns possible for your product or service based on trends in the marketplace.

Not once do they mention the people that marketing managers need to corral to get this work done.  Even the Hubspot blog, which is widely considered to be one of the best resources for marketers of all levels and skill sets, doesn’t have much to say about leading and managing the people who do the marketing.

So much emphasis is on the “what” of marketing and not the “who” – the people who make marketing happen.  Why is this?  Maybe it’s hard to feel like you are managing “right”, or to point to specific metrics of success.  Unlike conversion rates and sales pipeline velocity, metrics on managing people are kind of fluffy.  There are satisfaction scores and turnover stats — but these don’t tie to specific management actions.

There’s no one way to go about managing people who do marketing.  And it gets more complicated when you think about the different types of managers: People Managers and Project Managers.

2 Types of Marketing Team Leaders

Broadly speaking, there are two types of leaders or managers in the marketing profession.  Both work with people to make things happen.  The biggest difference is that a ‘people’ manager has direct reports.  Besides being responsible for the work and results that their direct reports contribute, they are also responsible for a variety of HR responsibilities like conducting a regular review process, assessing performance and pay increases and promotions.  Because of that direct reporting relationship, employees (generally) must follow what their boss asks of them.

The other type of manager, known as a ‘project’ manager, works with people who do not report directly to them.  Instead, there is a dotted-line reporting relationship where they are responsible for what a team member produces with no HR responsibilities.  A common complaint by project managers is that their requests do not carry the same weight as a direct reporting relationship might.  Without the “carrot and stick” of pay increases and performance evaluation, the project manager sometimes feels limited in their ability to motivate their team and deliver results.

How to Manage a Marketing Team of Direct Reports

But here are eight management tips that might help new and experienced marketing managers alike.

  1. As a manager of people, you better like working with people. Sounds obvious, but I’ve personally experienced a lot of managers who like the title and the extra pay that comes with management responsibility — they just don’t really like dealing with people.
  2. Recognize your role as a manager of the team, and be comfortable with it. Your role is not to write the best blog posts, come up with the best ideas or create the most successful campaigns.  It’s to enable your people to do these things successfully.
  3. Behave consistently with your organization’s values. Like it or not, as a manager you are a role model.  Your direct reports will follow your lead.  If they see you treat others with patience and respect, they will do the same.  Sadly, the converse it true as well and can create a miserable work environment.
  4. Create an organizational chart and make sure everyone on the team knows where they are on the chart. This sounds like an HR function, but it’s not.  It’s a leadership responsibility.
  5. Be clear about how the team will communicate with each other and with clients. Define which channels are used, who to cc on emails, how you use messaging platforms, who you keep the rest of the team in the loop, etc.
  6. Outline the basic processes that make the work flow. This isn’t about lead flow.  Instead, this is about creating a predictable pattern and common understanding about how to get high-quality work done , so that your people can operate independently and your business can scale.  Because marketing is a dynamic business, your work flow must be flexible enough to withstand changes while maintaining quality.
  7. Recognize the effort your people put into their work. Thank them for it.  Sure, they get a pay check either way.  Recognizing how hard your people had to work to get something done is motivation to improve next time.
  8. Make it safe to fail. Marketing is fraught with risk.  In order to continually drive results and revenue, your marketing efforts have to be fresh and new.  And for some people, this isn’t a comfortable space in which to operate.  Give your people some guardrails, check in with them often, praise publicly and critique privately.  At the end of a new task or project, conduct a private post-mortem to discuss what went well and what could have worked better.  Together, develop some specific actions your team member can take next time to improve.

As a people manager, if you are doing things right, you are also making your job harder.  Success for a people manager ranges from watching a junior team member nail a client presentation or master a new task, to promoting them to a new role, or even, saying good-bye and wishing them well as they embark on a new job somewhere else.  In any case, you are continually teaching new skills, coaching and role-modeling new behaviors so that your people and your company succeeds.

How to Manage a Marketing Team of Indirect Reports

Here are tips to help new and experienced marketing managers who do not have a direct reporting relationship with their team members.

  1. As a project manager, you better enjoy the details. Successful project managers need to be able to keep all the details straight while never losing sight of the goal.
  2. Talk to the team before assigning work. Even if responsibilities seem clear to you, be sure to discuss your vision with each team member individually.  Provide your vision of how the role operates in the project, the key deliverables, and the type of impact you expect that person to contribute.
  3. Do your homework. Yes, you are relying on the team members to know their part but, as the project lead, you need to understand the data and interdependencies between tasks.
  4. Take on some of the work yourself. The best way to gain respect is to join in the heavy lifting.  As a project manager, show your team members that you support them by taking on some of the work yourself.
  5. Keep everyone informed. There’s an old advertising adage that goes something like, “when you are sick of saying something, that’s when your audience is just beginning to hear it”.  Even if you think everyone is on the same page, don’t hesitate to repeat yourself.  Use different means of communication, continue to provide context to ensure the whole team is informed.  Nothing creates team dysfunction like erratic information sharing.
  6. Give prompt feedback. As the project lead, you need to follow the schedule that you laid out.  This is more about being courteous and respectful to your teammates.
  7. Publicly praise, privately coach. When praising your team’s accomplishments, give credit to everyone within the team and do so publicly.  Inevitably, something will go wrong.  This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your leadership by honestly and directly sharing feedback in a way that will help your team member learn from their mistakes.

As a project manager, you have the opportunity to build relationships across the organization.  Immediate success may include the successful launch of a new product or campaign.  But there are longer terms impacts of managing a cross-functional team including visibility and support throughout the organization that reach far beyond the initial deliverables.

Do you manage marketers?  Do you lead projects and cross-functional team members?  If so, what have you found to be effective?