Avoiding Communication Breakdown


Please note that this post was written by David Ward and originally posted on ANA.net


Whether it’s a major brand or a small boutique agency, nothing can derail a great marketing message and strategy faster than poor communication among team members and other stakeholders.

But ensuring that regular and honest communication takes place during a fast-moving ad campaign is becoming an increasingly complex challenge, especially when you factor in the various generations now working in advertising.

“The way each generation approaches work, collaboration, and their office culture can be a potential obstacle and CMOs and marketing directors have to be cognizant of that,” explains Rich Kneece, CEO of MTC/Labs, a Boston-based digital agency focused on web and mobile apps, machine learning, big data, and content marketing. “Generally, the best way to overcome this is to let units determine what works for them organically, and to introduce several different tools to teams. Being forced to use this tool over that one often just leads to resentment and lack of adoption.”

What makes marketing somewhat different when it comes to communication is that brands aren’t just relying on an internal team, but instead are partnering with an outside agency of record, as well as specialty firms focused on influencer marketing, experiential programs, shopper marketing, etc.

his means that no matter the communication technology being used, the most important step a CMO can take in this era of 24/7 advertising is to foster a culture where both internal teams and external agencies are encouraged to voice their views on every aspect of a campaign, regardless of whose feathers get ruffled in that process.

“Maximum transparency is key, especially for campaigns that require connecting multiple channels,” says Amy Larson, VP of marketing at Denver-based Cohn Marketing. “For our team, there is no such thing as ‘too much access’ when it comes to better communication. We typically ensure that all internal stakeholders — and a majority of external ones — are given full access to campaign platforms, analytics tools, and performance dashboards from campaign conception through launch.”

Communication transparency ends up being a two-pronged strategy that includes having the right technology in place to encourage collaboration, as well as top-down directives that discourage siloed thinking and strive to keep every stakeholder in a campaign aligned toward a common goal.


Social Media, Group Chat, and the Rise of UCCs

Email, video conferencing, text, instant messaging, phone, and even face-to-face meetings may have been the norm in the past, but modern business, including marketing, is increasingly looking to encourage group comments and collaboration.

The tech industry has responded with a vengeance to this need, and marketing departments can now choose from a host of what are known as unified communication and collaboration (UCC) solutions, including Slack, Yammer, Skype for Business, Teams by Microsoft, Cisco Spark, Google Hangouts, and Workplace by Facebook.

All these platforms have common features, including the ability to share files, text-based messaging among a defined group, and dedicated channels so that conversations about a specific campaign or program aren’t sent department wide.

What these UCC platforms excel at is ensuring that marketing teams, even those scattered in remote locations, have lines of communications that don’t involve having to constantly open and respond to group emails.

Michelle Loughry, director of marketing at Austin, Texas–based branding and digital marketing agency Envision Creative, is a big fan of UCC as collaboration tools, adding, “We like Slack because we have members of our team that work out of state, making it essential to have a chatting tool that enables us to constantly collaborate. Slack also works with so many things, so not only can we share files on it, we can hook it into Asana, which is what we use for tracking and assigning tasks internally, and we can also hook it into Harvest, which is how we track our billable and non-billable hours.”

Kneece points out that UCCs also serve to constantly remind stakeholders of the overall project goals and missions — as well as timetables — so they don’t find themselves distracted by the inconsequential.

But it’s not just UCCs that are improving communications and performance. Realizing that one key to good communication is accountability and feedback, many modern offices are also adding tools to let workers know how they’re doing and how they can get better.

Anna Burke, VP of marketing at HighGround, makers of an employee performance management and engagement platform, says this trend toward near real-time feedback as a component of communications is being driven by the arrival of young workers accustomed to tracking their likes on Instagram, rating Uber and Lyft drivers, and posting instant reviews on Yelp!.

“We’re really not finding employee ages to be a factor when it comes to the tools companies give their employees to both communicate and gather feedback,” Burke says. “But definitely there is a need among millennials to have that continuous feedback.”

Chicago-based HighGround, which was acquired by YouEarnedIt this past summer, can be layered over existing communication systems to include performance feedback within the natural flow of work.

“We actually integrate into the tools employees use every day so it does integrate with Slack and also we integrate with email, so you can get and receive feedback directly within the tools you are using to communicate and get your job done,” Burke says. “Real time communication is critical. Things are moving so much faster and if there isn’t that real-time communication and feedback you’re going to miss opportunities for improvement and you won’t necessarily have alignment.”


Internal Versus External Communications

Tools like Slack and Yammer are great within a single organization, even one with remote offices. But for communications between an internal marketing team and its outside agency partners, it’s probably better to rely on the tried-and-true: email, phone, and regularly scheduled virtual or real-world face-to-face meetings.

Kneece of MTC/Labs notes that even with 24/7 communication tools, scheduled meetings are a great way to keep every stakeholder aligned. “I’d recommend, at a minimum, once a week — likely a call or meeting with the internal team, and then a separate meeting with external vendors,” he says. “But more often you’re seeing even marketing teams taking a lesson from technology teams and moving to an agile approach to project work. [This approach] breaks work up into sprints — generally two weeks in length — and allows flexibility and the ability to react quickly to changes.”

A key component to the agile approach, Kneece explains, is the daily standup, or scrum meeting, to involve all of the key players. “It’s a short 15-minute meeting, but happens daily,” he says.

Vicki Brakl, integrated marketing VP at Stamford, Conn.–headquartered MNI Targeted Media Inc. (MNI), stresses that the world of advertising, the campaign, and its timetable should dictate the meeting schedule.

“The frequency with which a marketing team should meet with their agency during a campaign completely depends on the duration of the campaign, the type of campaign, the media involved, the objective, and what can be gleaned from data points between the meeting periods,” Brakl explains. “If a campaign is digital and a short burst, frequency could be daily. If it’s a multimonth campaign, then bimonthly or weekly should suffice. To make these meetings more productive it’s essential all players make time to verse themselves in the business, and the priorities of its stakeholders, to heighten efficiency and the progressive exchange of ideas.”

Given the logistics, most of these meetings probably can’t be face-to-face. But Loughry of Envision Creative says there should be some way to look clients in the eyes, and that regular video conferencing, whether through Skype, GoToMeeting, or another platform, is a great way to virtually achieve that face-to-face connection.

“With just email or chatting you’re really missing that crucial point of communication and collaboration, which is seeing people’s body language and facial expressions,” Loughry says, adding that video conferencing works especially well when brainstorming with brand clients. “It’s really imperative that brands and their outside agencies see each other and make those connections that increase energy and excitement around a campaign.”


Metrics: The Great Communications Equalizer

Thanks to digital, every aspect of a campaign can be quickly measured and that alone should keep both internal marketing departments and outside agencies aligned on how a particular message or creative is performing.

“In the old world of broadcast TV, for example, brands were satisfied with a Nielsen system that measured activity against ‘sample’ data grouped in age demographic buckets,” says Matt Wasserlauf, CEO and co-founder of Torrential, which distributes premium video content and advertising to mobile phones. “Today, we provide advertisers ‘actualized’ data targeted at individual users. And CMOs are accessing this information in real-time because the metrics are not only incredibly accurate but are also impacting their businesses’ bottom line — and their jobs depend upon it.”

All that data puts added pressure on both external agencies and external marketing departments, but it can also serve as a catalyst for better communications.

“Data and metrics don’t lie and are a good basis for having conversations that focus on the ultimate goals and drivers of success,” Brakl says. “Any strategy that’s going to drive results simply has to be rooted in those quantitative insights.”

Data can also help serve as a bit of a truth serum, ensuring that both agencies and brand managers are realistic when discussing the prospects for a campaign.

“The crucial point is always being honest with your client so that they trust you,” Loughry says. “That also includes managing expectations. We strive to tell clients, ‘Here is the ROI we’re looking to get you, here are the benchmarks for this campaign, and, based on where we’re starting, here is where we think you’ll end up.'”

She adds that nothing upsets a brand manager more than not hearing until it’s too late that the marketing has not performed as expected. “If you have a campaign that you think is going to come out of the gate like gangbusters and it’s not working, you have to immediately communicate to the client, ‘Here’s what we’re seeing and here’s how we plan to pivot,'” Loughry stresses.

Brakl of MNI adds that agencies should also strive not just for open communication with their brand clients, but for clarity in those communications. “Don’t assume anything,” she advises. “Speak it, and be precise — and if you don’t understand, ask. Details, large and small, matter and attention to them conveys why the client should entrust their brand to the agency.”

Establishing strong, reliable channels for communication makes it easy for agencies to stay in contact and relay information consistently to brands, experts say. The next critical component for both agencies and brands is to use them.


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