As I hosed down my muddy boots and shovel then raked the pruned leaves and sticks into the trash, I thought about marketing. Most people would compare marketing to a blooming flower garden, which is true. You prepare the soil (branding and messaging), plant the seeds (content), you water and weed (nurturing campaigns) and finally harvest (convert leads to customers). But I was thinking of something simpler – cleaning up so that you’re prepared for the next project.
Marketing is a series of well-orchestrated projects. I often call it project management with pretty pictures. Marketers get very focused on the immediate project and its pressure-filled deadline. Once we hit that deadline we hand-off the primary deliverables, do a little celebratory jig, then put our heads down and focus on the next project.
But a gardener would never think themselves finished just because the seeds are in the ground and the earth. I consider my gardening project complete only after I have cleared debris from the surrounding area, cleaned my tools, and put them away in an organized manner. Perhaps it is my background in operations that causes me to think this way, but I always schedule time for clean-up when planning my project. I never want to run out of energy and leave my tools out. They could get misplaced, damaged, or even worse injure my children.
I do the same thing when I approach a marketing initiative. I consider the best way to structure the project so that I can:
- store relevant materials
- document my thought processes and revisions
- deliver a high-quality product
- find something later.
At the same time I like to reduce digital clutter – as I often call it, visual pollution. I can't think clearly when there is too much clutter, so I find place for everything digital. It also helps me keep projects moving at a consistent pace because I know where everything is and don’t have to search through the digital clutter to find something. There are three approaches to wrapping up a marketing project:
1. Sweep it under the carpet – In this approach the marketer hands off the deliverable and leaves everything else in one or more digital folders. I've seen people's desktops completely covered in file icons randomly spread across the page.
Benefit – the marketer can quickly move on to the next project.
Downside – it becomes very difficult and time consuming to find and reuse digital materials, especially if they reside on other people's computers.
2. Clean at the end – As it sounds, the marketer waits until the end to organize and file materials used for the project. This is similar to cleaning-up all the pots, pans and dishes after the meal has been eaten.
Benefit – the files are organized and easy to access.
Downside – it takes additional time after the project to collect and organize all the files. And some files may be left behind or forgotten. There is a great deal of pressure to just move on to the next project.
3. Clean as you go – This is my preferred approach. I create a basic set of file folder up-front such a master folder, “WIP” (work in process), “Images”, and “Finished”. Then I clearly label each document and date them for version control. All work in process files have a “WIP” and “date” in their title, while finished projects have an “F” and the “date” in their title. I start with these few folders and add some as I go. I make sure not to have so many folders that I’m micro-managing the organizational process at the expense of the project.
Benefit – I can quickly find files I need when I need them – whether that is during the project or months after the project. It also makes it much easier for new projects because I reuse the same basic file structure and naming convention. Also, I have documentation that shows versions and thought processes. And finally I reduce the amount of digital clutter which allows me to think more clearly.
Downside – it takes up-front time to proactively organize and structure files. Additionally, you can never fully anticipate the twists and turns of any project so you need to have a little flexibility. Also it is tempting to organize for the sake of organizing, and that does nobody any good.
When I’m ready to finish planting my spring bulbs I can easily go to my garage, collect my boots and tools because they are clean, ready and in their spot. I don’t have to waste time looking for my trowel or dumping water out of my boots because they are all ready for use. And if my family wants to do some gardening on their own, I can easily describe where to find the tools rather than showing them.
The same can be said for a well-wrapped-up marketing project. After you send you final project, label your materials clearly, document any key learnings and clear away clutter by filing them appropriately. You will want to use them again so make it easier to find them. And start your next project with a clear head and clutter-free digital space.