Marketing Mistakes is a recurring series from Campaign Monitor about the biggest email or digital marketing goofs made by various thought leaders across the industry.
As these leaders share some hard-won wisdom from earlier in their careers, the rest of us have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without the accompanying costly consequences.
In this series, we’ll cover the mistakes people have made, how they fixed them, and what they learned in order to make us all better digital marketers.
Marketing Mistakes with Tara Chiarell
Tara Chiarell is the general manager at Allison+Partners, a global communications agency that focuses on launching campaigns that stand out from the competition and get results. With 15 years of experience under her belt, Tara knows a thing or two, including how to create successful strategies across various industries.
Source: Allison + Partners website
But sometimes the lessons she’s learned don’t always jive with clients’ desires or expectations, particularly when clients get swept away in a faster-is-better mentality inherent in some job cultures.
Read on to learn more about a time when Tara should’ve insisted on hitting pause but didn’t and how she made up for it in the end:
Tara’s biggest marketing mistake
Part of growing as a marketer is learning and adapting with the industries of your clients. You have to learn the ins and out, expectations, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for your clients’ industries to understand what they need and how to measure the success of your campaigns.
15 years ago when Tara first started out in public relations, business—and, you know, the world—seemed to move at a snail’s pace compared to what we experience today in the marketing industry.
Agencies would work with clients to develop a communications plan based on business strategies, regardless of whether the program was for a specific product launch or more general annual planning.
The changing landscape
Unlike today, 15 years ago, the process of creating a plan would take days if not weeks, a pace that’s unthinkable to most businesses today. People would painstakingly set out what they wanted from their campaigns and how to measure their progress before taking their initial steps and launching the campaign.
“Those plans were like our Bible.”
Takeaway: Faster hasn’t always meant better.
Setting concrete goals from the very beginning
After the time and energy that went into making them perfect, those plans became the gold standard. According to Tara, “We would reference back to those plans many times throughout a program to ensure we stayed on track to achieving our desired KPIs to meet business goals.”
It wasn’t enough to spend the time and energy crafting these strategic plans; they also needed to make sure that actual daily tasks and outcomes stayed in line with their goals and strategy. As most of us know—in life and in business, especially this time of year—intentions and resolutions are great, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t follow through with them.
Takeaway: If you set a goal, be sure that you regularly check in to make sure you’re on track to actually reach that goal.
Today’s high-speed impulses
Today, the public relations industry moves at the speed of light which cultivates an overwhelming sense of urgency among PR businesses and their clients. Tara tells us “this urgency stems from the race to be first-to-market, first to have a new idea, and first to get news out before it leaks.”
While this is by no means a bad impulse, the need to move quickly and be first can sometimes encourage bad habits. For instance, in the process of creating and launching a campaign, it can be tempting to skip any steps that don’t have an immediate payoff.
And this temptation isn’t just for clients who expect results immediately. “You have to exceed expectations for a client or project from Day One,” Tara says. This need for immediate results, to exceed expectations as Tara explains it, can lead even the most seasoned professionals to rush through important strategic steps.
Takeaway: Don’t let your clients pressure you into forgetting or even foregoing the best practices you know deliver the best results in exchange for quicker ones.
The need for instant gratification
For instance, strategic planning that ensures today’s choices match with long-term business goals might not seem important enough to risk being second to market.
“Often, this fire under our feet leads to us running ahead and ignoring the potential problems with a project when we should take a step back to think strategically.”
Takeaway: The pressure to move quickly can hinder you from ensuring every decision you make is the best one to help your company or clients meet long-term goals.
The mistake: Overlooking the need for strategic planning
When rushing to get to market as soon as possible, you might not take the time to analyze your choices, which can lead to disappointing outcomes for you and your client. Tara experienced this first hand earlier in her career.
New product, new risks
Tara partnered with a startup client who wanted to enter the U.S. market with a new product, though in an already oversaturated industry.
The odds for this launch were stacked against their team from the get-go: They needed to introduce an unknown company to U.S. press and consumers and also unveil a product different from anything in the United States. On top of that, they didn’t have success metrics to help guide them and they only had a limited budget and resources.
They knew the launch would be challenging, “but we believed in the product and the client, so we pulled together a strategic launch plan.”
Takeaway: When facing an especially challenging task, believing in your company and product gives you an advantage.
They developed a plan that incorporated a traditional earned media relations program but also hit a variety of other channels as well, such as paid influencer, social engagement, and others.
All in all, Tara’s team knew their plan could be successful. They believed in the client and their products and brought together a wealth of industry knowledge and experience to create a plan that would help the startup beat the odds and achieve a stellar launch.
However, once the client signed the contract, they decided to only pursue earned channels without the integrated approach Tara and her team initially outlined.
Takeaway: Clients often change their minds at the last second, so you should be prepared to defend your strategies.
Chasing quick wins
Though Tara pushed the client to reconsider, the startup environment doesn’t always lend itself to sticking to a plan. Startups have to be comfortable operating in gray area, which often leads companies to prioritize and trust their gut feelings.
Ultimately, the client sped off to chase quick wins instead of sticking to the strategy Tara and her team had painstakingly created to address the company’s unique industry and product needs.
Takeaway: Quick wins might look good initially, but never sacrifice long-term success for the sake of your—or your client’s—ego.
The consequences: Disappointing results
Ultimately, though Tara secured a number of feature stories in consumer, business, and trade press, including Forbes, they didn’t make the big splash the client hoped for, leaving them disappointed and upset.
Takeaway: Chasing quick wins and ignoring a solid strategy will lead to disappointing results.
In order to get the client back on track, Tara and her team had to hit pause and sit down with the client. If the startup worried about moving too slowly in the beginning, having to stop in the middle of their launch and refresh their strategy definitely went against their instincts and cost their business more time in the long run. In the end, they refreshed the program, adding new marketing elements to bolster the earned media success.
“We had an open and honest conversation with the client to discuss where things broke down on both sides, what could be done, and how best to move forward.”
Takeaway: Chasing quick wins not only leads to subpar results, but often ends up costing you more time, energy, and money when you have to backtrack to fix your mistakes.
The lesson: Strategic counsel
This experience taught Tara that sometimes you have to take a bold stance, even though your client might resist at first, in order to protect their best interests. But your clients hire you because you possess the experience and industry knowledge they need.
“In hindsight, and as an agency hired to always provide strategic counsel to clients, we should have insisted on a pause, raised our hands, and said we wouldn’t hit our goals with the activities planned.”
Takeaway: Tough conversations aren’t appealing, but when you act on your client’s behalf, they might be necessary.
Everything you do is for your clients and to ensure their plans are successful. It might seem counterintuitive, but you might have to disagree with them in order to keep them happy with your services when the results start rolling in.
“But in the thick of it, the inclination is to keep going, to try to be successful with what you’re given and keep clients happy.”
Takeaway: Nothing will make your clients happier than delivering stellar results for their company.
Tara’s advice? “Plans should be living documents that map business goals and strategies,” she says. These plans should be reviewed regularly to ensure programs achieve the objectives set out in the beginning and evaluate where strategies should shift as you go.
Regardless of how well your company does or doesn’t do, you’ll need to adjust your plan accordingly as results come in: When you find something working well, you’ll want to understand why and replicate those results. When a channel doesn’t perform the way you expect it to, you’ll need to compensate.
Never sacrifice strategic, long-term thinking in order to chase quick wins.
Takeaway: Consider your plans as living documents that will change and evolve as your campaigns progress.
Dealing with clients across diverse industries can be challenging. Every industry has its own unique needs and expectations and sometimes these can clash with what you know to be best as a marketer. And while no one wants to disagree with a client, sometimes you have to in order to guarantee their success down the road.
You know what’s best, after all, which is why clients approach—and pay—you in the first place.
With new technology emerging at an unprecedented, rapid-fire pace, our industry—and others as well—shift and change daily. And while this is true on the macro-level, it’s also true on a micro-level: Individual projects also need to shift as you see your results and as external factors affect your plans. That’s why you should always check and double check your progress and your KPIs to ensure you stay on track to your goal.
Strategic thinking takes time, but the results are worth the extra effort. Ensuring you get your plans and strategy right the first time saves you from having to backtrack and dig yourself out of a hole. At the end of the day, planning well and planning early can speed your company and your clients on their way to success.
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