Fortifying Marketing Projects Against Cost Overruns

By Warren Lutz – Contributing Writer

Plan ahead for marketing projects

No matter how small the project, if the basic details aren’t ironed out from the get-go, anything can happen. Image: iStockphoto

Most of us have experienced it at some point. The marketing project might have been a small one – say, a two-sided brochure for a new product. But before you knew it, two weeks went by and all you had to show was somebody’s three-page spreadsheet of possible stock photography – consisting entirely of monkeys.

Your budget? Kaplooey.

So how do you keep cost overruns at bay and your marketing budget intact? Here’s a few defenses:

Have a plan. No matter how small the project, if the basic details aren’t ironed out from the get-go, anything can happen.

Says Jennifer Barrier, ETMG Project Manager: “To get a clean handoff, it’s important to identify the following things to your vendor: Who is the audience?  What is the messaging? And most important, what is the ultimate goal? Whether the goal is ”X’ amount of leads or achieving a certain ROI, this information is key.”

When goals and details are misunderstood –or just plain missing– you could be looking at early project death. You prevent this by setting aside time to plan.

Give your vendor accurate, complete details. Projects will incur extra costs if your vendor is given outdated source material or is told, “I want it to look like X” one hour before a key deliverable is due. Oops.

The better option is to provide everything the vendor needs to use as soon as possible after kickoff.

Establish reasonable timelines. It’s one thing to let your vendor know that your campaign needs to launch on such-and-such date. But making it happen depends on setting realistic deadlines, getting everyone’s buy-in, and then establishing benchmarks for measuring progress.

A quality marketing partner can help create detailed project schedules, no matter a project’s size. A side benefit of this process is that it often reveals steps that weren’t obvious during the conception phase.

When in doubt, communicate. A good project manager keeps clients abreast of project costs, but they aren’t mind readers. If you’re unsure of your project’s status, or if you’re not sure how long a particular deliverable will take, that’s the time to reach out.

“It’s up to the project manager at your agency to stay on top of the project budget,” Barrier says. “If you’re unclear, ask your manager: How much time will this take?”

Most importantly, if your budget is fixed or limited, say so. A trusted, experienced vendor can usually detail more cost-effective options.

Of course, no one wants to be so preoccupied with cost that creativity suffers. But when a project is completed on time and on budget –in addition to being effective– life is pretty sweet. Sales go up, you look good… everybody wins.

And yet, such outcomes don’t happen by accident. Preventing cost overruns from taking place – or at least keeping them to a minimum – takes extra work. But it’s usually worth it.


Jennifer Barrier, ETMG Project Manager

CIO magazine: Project Management: 4 Ways to Manage Your Budget

SAS Institute: Seven Marketing Operations Best Practices

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