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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.

Step 2: Respect your process

Process is a marketing organization's "big differentiator." It's what we promote to clients and prospects to build credibility for the work we do. Whether you are rebranding yourself top to bottom, refreshing your logo, or developing a direct-mail campaign, follow the same process you employ for your clients—no shortcuts:

  • Assign a project lead who is well versed in managing client projects (and preferably the type you're about to embark on). If you have an account team, don't assign a creative person to lead the project. Treat it like you would any other job.
  • Don't skimp on background information. The only way to achieve true insight is to pretend you know little to nothing about your company. Perform a competitive overview. Talk to internal stakeholders and clients. Dig up relevant industry research. Put together a brief based on facts, not assumptions.
  • Use your management tools. Presentations, timelines, budget sheets, rationales, feedback capture forms, job folders, and other tools you depend on to work in a timely, efficient, and organized fashion should not be neglected just because there is no "external client."

A project that is not treated like a client job does not become a priority and may lose credibility. It risks falling prey to second-guessing and senior management quashing.

Step 3: Improve your depth of field

Even the greatest idea can fall victim to shortsightedness. Once a project is launched, moving on to more novel endeavors is tempting. When we see our clients do this, we can't help but feel a bit betrayed. Sloppy execution or nonexistent follow-through does a disservice to the hard work that came before and jeopardizes any chance of good results. And if the right groundwork is laid, with proper attention paid to objectives and process, chances are that the results will be pretty solid.

Consider the following to ensure your organization develops the vision needed to see a project through to the best possible finish:

  • While still in concept stage, anticipate steps to launch. Secure budget, develop contact lists, and research potential partners—whatever is necessary to ensure that production won't be compromised.
  • Tactics beget tactics. Why publish a whitepaper, let alone a website, if no one is going to see it? Ensure there's a plan in place to engage your audience. That usually means you'll have an additional set of tactics to manage, including email blasts, social media posts, and sales follow-up calls. Plan early and confirm that funds and resources are available for these components and they will be ready to be deployed when you need them.
  • Don't succumb to tunnel vision. Connect early with sales, PR, and your account team. Ensure they are aware of the project and how they might use it to support their own activities. Although a whitepaper may have been developed as a lead-gen piece for sales, the account team can use it as a nurturing touch point with clients. PR can use it as a lead piece to garner wider coverage or secure an interview. And those responsible for social media will want to post.

Because we share our staff and resources with clients,our resources are limited. But that doesn't mean that our internal project vision should be limited too. Safeguard the success of internal activities by taking the time to think them through. When you know where you're headed, you can build a better blueprint.

Step 4: Measure against your objectives, and beyond

That metrics, measurement, and campaign optimization are important is a universal marketing concept. They are crucial with internal projects, too. Accomplish your objectives, and you demonstrate your plan has value and viability. And that is the key to gaining permission to scale up and increase internal programs.

Metrics can come in all shapes and sizes; they don't necessarily need to be hard dollars. Beyond analytics, click-throughs, likes, downloads, and sales calls (all of which should be monitored and reported), consider the ability of your efforts to integrate with and support other organizational initiatives. Ask yourself: Is this reinforcing our brand? Is it helping to position ourselves as a partner or just adding to existing vendor clutter? Is it multitasking well? Are we maximizing its use?

The harder you can make your internal marketing efforts work, the more worthwhile the effort and dollars invested. It's icing on the cake to the primary objective you set out to accomplish.

The beat goes on

The "cobbler's shoeless children" syndrome can't be reversed overnight. Self-marketing takes time and you need elbow grease to get the wheels turning smoothly. The good news is that once the wheels are in motion, they tend to stay in motion.

Balancing internal marketing efforts with the high-priority demands of client projects will eventually seem second nature. Habits form, processes streamline, and speed to market quickens. The rewards are quicker too: It's a self-fulfilling cycle. As one of our team members said recently, "It's great to be our own client! We appreciate our own smart thinking, and it's really gratifying to execute a program that directly benefits everyone at the agency."

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Girl with heel)

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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 tomjac@jacobsagency.com.