So, you’re an awesome digital marketing professional, eh? This probably means that you effortlessly combine the mathematical rigor of a statistician, the QA skills of an engineer, and the relationship-management chops of a salesperson. Inevitably, the next challenge you’ll be given is to manage some other digital marketing people. It’s a whole additional skill set that can knock you right out of your sweet spot.
In my time at 3Q, I had up to 12 direct reports at times and, with multiple iterations of the company and org structure, managed something like 30 different employees there in 2.5 years in one way or another. As a remote employee, I was not physically with my team on a daily basis (though I traveled frequently to do so), and the team members themselves were spread across multiple offices. In that time, I learned quite a bit about managing a top-notch digital marketing team. Here are my top 5 tips to help you do the same:
Do the work
Empathy is a critical component of good management, and to truly stay empathetic to the work that your team is doing, it’s important to do the work yourself. This may mean that you directly manage an account. Or, you could be the rotating vacation fill-in for your whole team. In any case, keeping a true pulse on the rigors of the job is critical to managing a team that is expected to perform. The reality is that it can be brutal to be on the hook for multiple deliverables, to carefully navigate the nuances of multiple organizational structures and personalities, to effectively project-manage internal and external stakeholders who are stretched in many directions, and to keep up with the daily-changing industry we are in.
In order to support your team well within these challenges, you need to have a deep and real sense of them yourself – it’s surprisingly easy to “forget” just how tough it is if you remove yourself too many degrees from the daily work.
Put on Your Bad Cop Hat
As an account manager, you frequently get the pressure and anxiety your day-to-day client stakeholder feels pushed over to you from their boss. This can create dysfunctional relationships, unreasonable requests, and immense pressures to fulfill demands. As a manger, it’s your job to recognize when clients are crossing the line and protect your team. This usually involves playing bad cop.
If you take responsibility at delivering the “bad news” – “we do not pull reports on weekends,” “our scope does not include this kind of analysis,” “there are fees associated with these services,” “we do not give clients our employees’ personal cell phone numbers” – you protect your team members from souring the day-to-day relationship that they need to maintain with the client AND protect them from being pressured to execute unreasonable requests.
Spoil Your Team
Moving daily from maintaining relationships, to analyzing data, to coming up with innovative creative and targeting strategies is mentally exhausting. If your team members can maintain a good work-life balance, stay happy and focused, and use their time and brain wisely, they build better relationships, they come up with bigger better growth strategies, and they engender true client trust in ways that make more money. This is why spoiling your team, when you can, has immense ROI associated with it.
If you are scared of a team member leaving, make sure their salary makes them very comfortable staying. Take your team out for nice dinner or drinks. Go on a coffee run before that long afternoon meeting. If a team member has an intense travel schedule, spring for upgraded flights and hotel rooms or a massage. The costs are nominal and happy account managers literally make the company more money. We all get the concept of ROI, so make sure you are applying it to investing in your team’s happiness when you’ve got room in your margins to do so.
The truth is that there is a shortage of good digital marketing account managers. So, to attract and retain them, you need to be flexible. This may mean considering remote people, being open to atypical working hours, or having really flexible work-from-home policies. Here’s the thing: in this industry, your team members are going to have some weeks where they work 60 or 70 hours to fulfill the minimum requirements of doing their job, So, when the opportunity comes up for them to leave at noon on a Friday or spend the morning at their kid’s school event and come in a noon or take a client call while attending a destination wedding in Maui – let them.
If you don’t hear complaints from the other team members or clients, then there is no reason to limit your team from flexible options. You entrust your account managers with holding the reins on the relationships that make you money. Your clients trust them to spend millions on their behalf. So, let’s all admit that they are responsible grown-ups and treat them as such.
If you’ve worked with me, then you know when I say “team building” that means work drinks, not trust falls. You don’t have to ascribe to my particular brand of team-building, but I do suggest that you make a point to spend somewhat unstructured, non-mandatory, non-work time with your team and encourage them to do the same with each other.
Our industry is stressful, demanding, and 24/7. The intangible benefits of having a team that knows each other, at least a bit, beyond job titles are immense. It gives people a safe environment for much-needed venting, creates a culture that values work-life balance and personal relationships and makes colleagues more accountable to one another. It also makes work simply…more fun.
If you are managing great digital marketing professionals, then you probably have a team of very smart, highly dedicated people who are perfectly comfortable with always balancing on the cutting edge of the “next big thing”. That can make for a lot of big personalities and strong differing opinions. If you dedicate yourself as a manager to empathy, protection, recognition, flexibility, and camaraderie, you will have a team that thrives and provides you with amazing ROI from the work you put in on their behalf.