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The weight of politics… If one person can rock the boat, what happens when everyone stands up at the same time? How do you keep a successful marketing process on an even keel when internal struggles threaten to shut it down altogether?

Thanks again, SWOT Team members, for sharing your perspectives and reactions to this marketing dilemma: How do you sift through politics to get the job done? While politics can be a sticky wicket, your suggestions are quite valuable and provide a clear guideline for simplifying the newsletter publishing process. Read below for your peers' best advice.

Frustrated with your own marketing problem? Ask our SWOT Team for help. Join us. We promise you won't be disappointed. When we tap into our collective experience, strength and hope—everyone benefits. And you could win a copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Can you help with this issue's marketing dilemma? It begs the question, Which is more important: branding or sales?

This Issue's Dilemma

Branding or sales: which comes first?

We are a profitable B2B product and services company with a strong cash reserve and would like to invest a portion of it in our future growth. Building an exceptional team of 88 professionals who work well together and provide value to our customers has brought us a great deal of joy. We now face one of the most important decisions we will make since I started our company nine years ago. I am apprehensive about a dilemma, which may be our undoing, if we are not careful. My VP of Sales and Marketing and our Marketing Consultant, who has been an integral part of our team for 5 years, are squared off in a debate about how to invest our sales and marketing budget for next year. My Sales VP wants to create new position and hire a Director of Sales and 5 additional sales people. We currently have 2 sales managers and 11 salespeople. My Marketing consultant wants us to invest in a marketing and advertising campaign to make our B2B brand stronger. Our budget will allow us to do one or the other, but not both. I am not sure of the right decision to make. I feel like I am in a “chicken or egg” scenario: which comes first—sales or branding? This whole dilemma is new to me. I'm not even sure where to start.

 Would you ask your readers how I can make the right decision? What questions should I ask?

—Jeffrey C., CEO

Previous Dilemma

Swot Category: External Opportunity and Internal Weakness

How do you sift through politics enough to get the job done?

We have published our e-newsletter for 14 months, and by all accounts it is successful. Our sales team is happy with the leads it generates, product development stays informed with the “electronic focus group” capabilities, and MARCOM likes to embed surveys to take our customers' pulse (external opportunity).

We also have a companion print newsletter, which has been part of our branding strategies for years. It is sent out every quarter and includes longer versions of stories and additional articles.

So what's the problem? It's getting harder and harder to get each issue out the door. We try to coordinate the information from the e-version with the print version, but the more successful our newsletters become, the more they become political hot beds.

Somehow, everyone has his or her own agenda for the newsletters. It's getting ugly as one VP wrestles with the production manager and our copywriters are given inconsistent directions for content (internal weakness).

Would you ask your readers if they have any tips on how to smooth out some of these politics?

— Sharon T., VP of Marketing

Summary of Advice Received

Sharon, the answers we received to your dilemma leaned toward logic: organizing a clear newsletter creative process, with a good dose of relationship do's and don'ts thrown in. While individual personalities have individual ways of dealing with political breeding grounds, three main themes emerged. You will probably find the most valuable advice in a combination of the responses we received, which fell into these three categories:

  1. Establish a clear process with authority and set goals.
  2. Set themes and use reader preferences to do so.
  3. Clearly define print versus e-newsletter purposes.

1. Establish a clear process with authority and set goals

The majority of the SWOT team members who responded recommended determining a set approach with a designated leader and then standing by it, no matter what. This leader needs to set boundaries and communicate them to everyone involved. One reader told the story of how her company established review teams and deadlines for each reviewer of specific articles (in order of review). Because of this approach, her story ended happily, “No one could deviate from the team's process by adding members or requesting additional time or iterations, and if deadlines were not met they were forfeited. No exceptions were made. It caused some grumbling, but eventually people seemed to respect the endeavor more, and more thought went into articles and marketing.”

Having clear guidelines and a strong leader at the helm was also recommended by Garith Hosking, Strategist at King's Trust Marketing:

Lobby with the CEO to have the newsletter remain within your scope. Then make the ultimate decisions about what is in and what is out. Have a brainstorming session with the politicians involved. Let them know you value their input, but they should not take it personally if all of their input is not used; there is only so much space available. Set parameters in one of these sessions. Copywriters should not have the responsibility of discussing content; instead, their responsibilities are to collect information and write copy according to a predetermined schedule of content. Ensure content suggestions or changes come through you, or the designated person responsible. This will ease the burden on the copywriters and sort out inconsistent messages. Try to keep your structure simple: have a strong person head up the function; let this leader take charge in a tactful and resourceful manner.

Alasdair Billingham, Product Manager, Tasmanian Perpetual Trustees, advocates strong leadership and tells a great tale of a Publisher who “appeared from above.”

Our production lead times were long, and energy levels difficult to manage. About a year ago, it was chaos: too many fingers and not enough pie. The newsletter had to be fast, slow, punchy yet with long copy, brand-driven, sales-driven, educational, action-oriented—all things to all people. It could only end in tears.

So I let it fail. It didn't go out. Nil. Zip. In the wash up, after all eligible responsible parties were reminded of the importance of ongoing customer care from the Gods-on-high, a sole Publisher was nominated whose word was Law. The next issue was fantastic and went out smoothly. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring things to a halt, especially where egos are involved.

Another way to designate this leader is to choose a publisher and editor for each newsletter. Jolene Vanthuyne, VP Marketing for Itracks, gives this sage advice:

It sounds to me like you need to clarify each newsletter's purpose and clearly designate a publisher (which department “owns” it) and an editor. The publisher and editor make decisions about content and should closely follow your newsletter mission statement. When someone from another department comes to you pushing for different content or direction, slide the mission statement under his or her nose. Hope this helps.

Along with a mission statement, your newsletters' goals are also important to define and communicate to all people involved. Stephen Felts, President of Relational Dynamics, says:

It's been said, “If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.” Competing agendas for the newsletter indicate there is no clear vision for the newsletter itself. It's an identity and boundaries issue. Clarify what your newsletter is intended to accomplish (and therefore what it is NOT intended to accomplish).

2. Set themes and use reader preferences to do so

If you identify what content is appropriate for each area of the newsletter (and what is not) in an ongoing basis, and clearly communicate these details, you can help prevent territorial battles.

One SWOT Team member has this philosophy about contributors' biases: Tom Barnes, founder of Mediathink, says, “Success has many fathers—the battle is really over relevancy. You and your team are disagreeing over what content is most relevant, when little more than anecdotal evidence exists to support any argument around the merits of a given piece of content or aesthetic.”

A way to replace anecdotal evidence with solid facts is by tracking reader likes and dislikes. In an e-newsletter, you can track every story read in each issue, and determine which stories were most popular and which were least popular. For a print newsletter, while you will not get immediate results, you can provide evaluation forms for reader input. You can also base popularity on how many people contact your customer service team due to the newsletter.

Determining what your readers like and dislike, and what they truly value, is very important. Jasal Shah, Senior Researcher for Cross-Tab, India, recommends this:

There are many ways to decide what content goes out every month. First, ask your regular readers what they would like to read in the next issue. In addition, create regular features where everybody (i.e., from all departments) contributes to these columns. Base these columns on reader and customer needs. I hope that would solve the problem—though in time, this may increase the size of the newsletter, which is fine, in response to customer/reader demands.

Dividing your newsletter into various areas of concentration is highly recommended and can simplify politics by catering to different organizations within your company. David Locke says:

If you organize your newsletter into departments or themes, you avoid the politics issue altogether. Development gets to tell the customers what development needs to say. Marketing and Sales—likewise. Shipping, Billing, Professional Services, Training, etc., all have something to tell customers. The people involved in every element of your offer have something to say.

3. Clearly define print versus e-newsletter purposes

References to “family” were frequent in our responses about the differences between print and electronic newsletters. To have each one be effective and complement the other, it is necessary to clearly define each newsletter's distinct purpose or strategy within or outside your organization. One reader suggested, “The thing that springs to mind for me is strategic consistency. You call the print newsletter ‘a companion,' but politically it appears to be the ‘parent.' And it looks like the parents don't like how the kid is turning out! Perhaps it's time to revisit the strategic intent of each publication.”

Mr. Spickens, in Brand Development at D4Demand, says:

Someone thinks that the e-newsletter and the print newsletter serve the same purpose. They don't. The e-newsletter is meant to be interactive; the print piece is an advertorial. While both may generate leads, they should be treated like separate children born at different times and definitely not twins.

Also, where are the vision and focus of the company? When there are internal struggles like this, folks are on different pages as to where the company is going. It's time for a serious review to see if the company is reacting to the market, rather than focusing on their core competencies and the values it seeks to deliver. Happy trails!

Peter Cohen, Director of Marketing at Sonexis, Inc., reinforced the idea of clarifying each newsletter's purpose:

Be grateful that folks within your organization are so passionate about your publication. Irreverence would be much worse than your current problem. Remind the warring contributors of the newsletter's purpose: to generate leads and get customer feedback. If others wish to use the newsletter for another purpose (e.g., to tout achievements in their particular part of the organization), perhaps you should consider publishing a second newsletter exclusively for internal publication to satisfy this other objective. You can also consider publishing your newsletter more frequently, but beware of tiring out your readers. The unsubscribe rate should give you a clue as to whether this is a problem.

Many Heads Better Than Two

Once again, we did our best to provide a thorough overview of your thoughtful responses. If you would like the complete text of all responses for your own analysis, please click here.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Tamara is a writer at InternetVIZ and is available for freelance work.