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The words "the paper trail" might evoke thoughts of modern white-collar crime thrillers in which investigators follow the money and the receipts, looking through ledgers to uncover how the criminals cooked the books and to identify who's to blame for the crime.

Well, paper is a crime. In today's marketing departments, using paper is a criminal offense. If you're relying on paper to track and manage the day-to-day operations of your marketing department, consider yourself on notice.

Is Your Organization Efficient?

We've made great strides in automating the delivery of our campaigns, but too many companies have yet to embrace marketing resource management (MRM) technology in their strategic and tactical activities. The fact is... people still use Microsoft Excel to manage complex marketing projects. But contrary to popular belief, opening another tab in a workbook doesn't bring greater efficiency to a department that's working on a deadline and on a budget, and creating material that needs to be critiqued, edited, and approved before going into production.

What every good marketing foot soldier, and general for that matter, needs is transparency and accountability in the department. The problem with a spreadsheet is that it's subject to "versionitis," the phenomenon of every person having a different version of the official document.

There's no accountability in saving a document to a local or network drive if your colleagues are working off another version. There's no transparency if deadlines are not met and no one knows that balls are falling and cracks are swallowing the whole of a program or campaign.

A Common Problem

Before centralizing and automating its marketing program, Laerdal, a leading global provider of healthcare solutions, would rely on "the pink sheet" or the document that contained the approvals for a given project.

According to Laerdal's senior marketing coordinator, Yvette Muccini, "it was literally a pink piece of paper with signatures on it, and without it we couldn't move a project into production." As the interface between the printers, marketers, and designers, Yvette spent the better part of her week hunting down the pink sheet and the people who needed to sign it, instead of strategically coordinating the marketing program.

Laerdal's problem isn't unique. Marketing departments are schedule-driven entities that plan campaigns, create or outsource collateral, and require approvals to go to market. In an ideal environment, a hosted master calendar would track all project work; it would link to a budget, and it would be accessible by a global workforce.

Embrace Technology

Sounds like pie-in-the-sky, doesn't it? It isn't, I assure you. Such tools do exist... at various levels of sophistication. From simple time-tracking mechanisms to complex budgeting and document-editing and markup capabilities, the MRM system can become the "brain" of a savvy organization.

Technology has made it possible for even the most-distributed workforce to act and collaborate as if all its members are in the same conference (and they have all dropped their smartphones in a bucket on the way in).

MRM is more than oversight and accountability; it speeds to market the tactical while creating the room and necessary bandwidth for decision-makers to focus on strategy, not on fighting fires.

Similarly, MRM solutions can empower outside agencies to deliver material more efficiently. A well-designed solution will allow for varying levels of access, connecting marketers to their creative, PR, and other key areas.

Choosing the Right Solution

Solutions come in all shapes and sizes but you should consider some fundamental features when you're done with the paper trail and you're ready to get serious about your own productivity.

  • Use a hosted solution. What good is a technological solution if you have to be in the office to use it? A good MRM solution will allow access around the clock... and around the globe.
  • Use a solution that meets current processes. Although we all have bad habits that need to be broken, a good MRM solution will be configurable enough to encompass your good in-house processes and eliminate the bad ones.
  • Calendaring is key. Think about all the time you spent creating timelines, gantt charts, and project plans. At the heart of MRM is the ability to project-manage complicated multivendor campaigns and marketing initiatives, so your MRM solution better have a good calendar from which you can easily report without straining your eyes.
  • Let's not forget the budget. Marketing departments do not have limitless funds. Well, some do. But let's assume you have a ceiling. Make sure your MRM solution can directly link your projects to your budget, alert you of cost overruns, and give you a means to approve monetary spend when necessary.
  • Collaboration tools are a must. If you're serious about getting away from spreadsheets and versioning control, you need your MRM solution to do those things for you. Look for a solution with a robust media library that allows for multiple users to edit the same document, a system for tracking changes, and real-time collaboration tools that'll bring everyone to the editing table at the same time.
  • Resistance is futile. Still, your coworkers will resist because, after all, we're all creatures of habit. Your MRM solution will be the toast of the town in 2-3 months, after you've trained everyone, ironed out the bugs, and demonstrated how you all have more time for beer on Fridays because you're no longer chasing one another. But anticipate pain initially, as your organization amends its wicked ways and embraces a new tomorrow.

Continue reading "MRM Technology: Why You Need It, and How to Choose the Right Solution" ... Read the full article

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image of Len Shneyder

Len Shneyder is director of industry relations at Message Systems. He has 10+ years of experience in email and digital messaging.

Twitter: @LenShneyder

LinkedIn: Len Shneyder