Whether with their team, partner agencies or higher-ups, meetings are an inevitable part of every marketer’s workweek. But, too often those meetings feel redundant and unproductive, like they’re taking time away from your marketing efforts instead of propelling your strategy forward.
That’s because most meetings default to being more about project management than strategic planning.
Project Management vs. Strategic Planning
“Project management denotes either a meeting or a system for ensuring that identified work gets completed and the timeline for that completion,” says Senior Inbound Strategist Mike Garris.
Project management tasks include assigning responsibilities, assessing team capacity, determining next steps and setting expectations for timeline.
“Strategic planning, comparatively, is how we identify what work needs to get done based on our business priorities,” Mike says. “So, if we think about any individual business tactic — a blog, an email nurture — they’re all related to funnel gaps that we have. Maybe we’ve identified that we’re slipping in terms of organic traffic this quarter or that we’re not seeing the momentum from leads to MQLs that we want to see. That identification needs to ultimately come from a bigger conversation: What are our business goals? Are we on pace to hit them? What are our gaps? What are our big priorities?”
Strategic planning requires discussion and input from people across your team and organization, whereas project management can often be completed via written communication. So, when you’re taking time out of multiple people’s days to meet, strategic planning is a better use of everyone’s time.
“In my opinion, 90% of the time, project management shouldn’t be the core focus of a meeting or take up more than five minutes at the beginning,” Mike says. “Project management is almost always managed via a system. Any time you’re spending in a meeting to talk about project management, you’re duplicating the effort that you already have put into those systems. That doesn’t mean you’re never going to want to clarify deadlines, like ‘Hey just wanted to make sure you saw that this is set to be completed by Thursday. Does that work for you?’ Quick check-ins like that are expected and normal, but when you’re spending all of a 30- or 45-minute meeting talking about when tasks are going to happen and you already spent 45 minutes building all of that out in your project management system, you’re duplicating work and making it impossible to have those conversations about planning that really need to happen.”
How to Reduce the Amount of Meeting Time Spent on Project Management
Just as you don’t want to spend the majority of your meeting time going over what tasks are upcoming, you also don’t want to take up a significant amount of time recapping what’s been completed. But, when meeting with executives or co-workers who are less involved in your day-to-day marketing efforts, it can be difficult to avoid those conversations.
In situations like that, you might not be able to eliminate project management from your meetings entirely, but with the right preparation, you can reduce how much time you spend on it.
“Send information like that that you think they’re going to want to know about in advance — ideally a full day before,” Mike says. “Send along the schedule of expected timelines, when things are coming out, etc. so they have that document in hand. Nine times out of 10, they’re probably not going to read it, but having that document on hand can be really handy because it can turn a 15-minute discussion into a 5-minute quick document review.”
Start your meeting with a quick rundown of project management questions. Then use your current marketing efforts as a jumping-off point to discuss where you can take your strategy next.
“The easiest way to create that transition in my mind is to remember that the tactics we are deploying are tied to a business need,” Mike says. “For example, you might do your overall project rundown and say ‘Actually, I wanted to talk to you about overall organic traffic for this quarter and how it’s progressing to get into that strategic discussion. Or, let’s say you want to get into something new that you haven’t developed a tactic for that isn’t in project management yet: You might say ‘Here’s that blog rundown you asked for. Actually, I noticed that we’re starting to trend upward in organic growth, but we have a gap in our funnel of moving visitors down toward sales quickly and efficiently. So, I was thinking about this email nurture idea. I’d love to get your thoughts.’”
You should aim to spend the majority of your meeting time on strategic planning. Set a limit for how long you’re willing to spend discussing project management, like 10 minutes out of an hour-long meeting, then do some prep work in advance to enable your team to accomplish that.
“Your meetings should always be looking forward and minimizing the time spent looking back because ultimately tomorrow is what’s going to matter to your business’s success more so than yesterday,” Mike says.
The goal of strategic planning is to ensure your marketing strategy isn’t siloed from your greater organization’s goals. While project management can be effectively accomplished through other systems, like email, project management software and spreadsheets, strategic planning requires discussion. That’s why it’s more valuable to spend your meeting time on strategy.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.