It's a common syndrome: Companies often don't practice what they preach (or sell)—a classic case of "the cobbler's children have no shoes."

Agencies and marketing departments are not exempt. We know how to help our clients be successful. We're terrific at providing strategic marketing communication. We execute tactical initiatives with efficiency. Program measurement and optimization are second nature. So, why, when have to apply those skills to ourselves, do we flounder?

Internal marketing initiatives are fraught with pitfalls, and they're nearly identical to the ones we help our clients negotiate: lack of directional consensus; month-long lulls between steps in the development process; lack of budget to execute properly; inability to follow through once a program launches; and, not least, the fluctuations in market direction, company leadership, and workflow that may conspire against us.

We all want to become our own best case study. Here's our guide to making that possible, including the missteps to avoid and how to measure—and build on—postlaunch achievements.

Step 1: Define your objectives

You can easily falling into the trap of trying to accomplish too much with one project. At my company, what began as a website refresh quickly snowballed into a brand-refinement project. We knew that the website—and our brand—would be a muddled mess if we conflated the two.

After taking a step back to examine our needs and prioritize our goals, we created a list of objectives and tactics that best supported each objective. The result was the progressive rollout of our new brand, new website, revised business development approach, public relations (PR) strategy, and social media plan. Although our three-month project turned into an 18-month endeavor, we were eventually rewarded with measurable, scalable success because we minded our objectives.

Luckily, not every marketing effort turns into a brand refinement or yearlong marketing effort, but you can watch for red flags. For example, if a direct mail piece designed to generate leads suddenly needs to nurture prospects and maintain awareness among current clients, that's a problem, because a single mailer can't achieve so many objectives. It won't be effective.

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Tom Jacobs is founder and president of Chicago-based Jacobs Agency, which helps companies untangle their business problems through marketing communications. Tom can be reached at