I recently had the pleasure of watching a recording of Elizabeth Harrin’s presentation “10 Ways to Market Your Project” from PMXPO 2015.
If you are familiar with Elizabeth’s work, it will be no surprise to hear that she gave a warm and engaging presentation, laced with some brilliant one-liners and a number of points that are well worth reflecting on.
At the heart of Elizabeth’s message is the notion that marketing our project takes us beyond simple communication planning and is critical for successful stakeholder engagement and support.
Marketing brings our communication plans to life. It helps us connect with our stakeholders on a more personal level, encouraging them to become advocates, while also helping us create authority and momentum through “brand awareness” and visibility.
“Marketing as a planned series of tasks with the objective of promoting the project to a wider audience.” – Elizabeth Harrin
Underpinning Elizabeth’s message is the foundation idea that marketing is an important influence of project success. To that point, Peter Taylor (“Project Branding”, RMC 2014) suggests that more than 80% of Project practitioners see marketing as either “quite important” or “critical” to success.
With those numbers in mind, Elizabeth makes a compelling point – whilst the traditional Status Report remains the project management communication tool of choice and stakeholder management is universally acknowledged as a critical driver of success, we will not gain stakeholder commitment by filling in a power and influence grid.
We need to put into practice strategies that shape our communication and engage people at a personal level. We need to look at our traditional communication practices and ask whether we can do better.
The Importance of Project Marketing
Marketing our projects matters.
Get it right and we can turn our stakeholders into our greatest asset, transforming them from a passive audience into a team of engaged, supportive participants, ready to work with us and willing to embrace our change.
Sadly, all too often old-practice project communication is passive and one-way. We churn out status reports, send documents for review, trudge through interminable team meetings…but we don’t invite our audience to participate. We keep our audience informed but fail to invoke a discussion.
In doing so, we miss a terrific opportunity to reach out into the wider organisation, raise our profile and gain authority through brand awareness.
“Marketing is not a one way street. We need to get our targeted messages out, but we also need to provide ways for our audience to respond back to us in return, to create a conversation.” – Elizabeth Harrin
If we invest the time – early and wisely, we can engage our stakeholders, transforming them from a passive audience into flag waving change champions.
Here’s the thing. Our stakeholders are more than just the people we send reports to or answer questions for. They are our greatest asset and the foundation of our success. When things go well, we want our stakeholders out the front of their teams, waving the flag and embracing our change. When things go bad, we want those same stakeholders on our side. We want their support when we make tough calls. We want their understanding when we respond to crises.
“Satisfied, engaged stakeholders are a huge asset when things go wrong. Spending the time and effort upfront means you have a group of people who understand you when you need to make difficult decisions.” – Elizabeth Harrin
Tell a Good Story
Presenting your project as part of a wider story is one of the most powerful ways to help your stakeholders become committed to the cause. Ensuring the project resonates with our stakeholders is at the heart of great storytelling.
We all know that we relate to a story when we form a personal connection, when the story resonates with us in some way. Our challenge is to present a story that resonates with each of our stakeholders in their own way, so that they can each make those personal connections with what we are trying to achieve.
The story needs to be grounded in YOUR vision. Your vision needs to reflect your personal commitment to the cause.
Forget the corporate-speak. Find your own words. Speak with your own voice. Show your own sense of conviction.
The story also needs to be blended with the corporate strategy. Stakeholders will climb on board when they can see that your story fits within the wider context. They need to see how your change fits within the wider landscape.
Aligned. Relevant. Achievable.
Is your story aligned to the corporate vision? Does it make sense within the wider organisation?
Is your story relevant to the audience? Does the change you are advocating speak to them? Does it help them run their business better or make their job easier?
Is your story achievable? Can the audience see a path forward? Does the change make sense?
Project Marketing is Hard Work
Project marketing is hard work.
We need to reach out to our audience and find ways to connect with them, rather than expect them to come to us. This takes serious, concerted effort and creative thinking at our end.
Sending out a blanket email may get a message out to the team, but if we want the audience to engage with the message and actually remember what we are trying to say, we need to be creative. We need to find ways to distribute messages in a controlled, accessible, imaginative way.
Elizabeth presents a bunch of simple, creative ideas that we can easily embrace with low cost and effort, including a compelling case study in the use of low-tech, high impact video presentations.
Bringing It All Back Home
Regardless of the environment that you are working in – your budget, complexity, stakeholders or timelines – marketing the project to your stakeholders is a critical driver of success.
Whilst there is a place for the traditional status report and team meeting, we can do much better.
Take the time to think through your project marketing strategy at the outset. Use it to bring your communication planning to life and turn your passive stakeholders into engaged, enthusiastic participants.
Elizabeth Harrin’s presentation (“10 Ways To Market Your Project”) was part of PMXPO 2015 and is (in my opinion) well worth watching. Please don’t just watch it so you claim the PDUs. Set aside an hour to listen to Elizabeth’s terrific ideas and think about how you can put them into practice in a way that works for you. Check it out at ProjectManagement.com.
You can find Elizabeth at A Girl’s Guide To Project Management and on all the usual social media platforms.