Agile Marketing Makeover


For years, The Extended Campuses of Northern Arizona University used a traditional marketing model. The four-person marketing team would create an annual budget and tie its goals and specific projects to it. Freelancers and local advertising agencies provided support for the 50 or so marketing pieces produced throughout the year.

That model worked fine until around 2010, says Ann Marie deWees, director of strategic marketing. “Then things began to change with increasing digital expectations.”

The department reorganized a number of times—grouped by clients supported, by types of products created, and by technology—but struggled to find a structure that would enable greater productivity with fewer resources. In 2011, new Extended Campuses leadership infused new thinking and tactics, including shared services and the lean approach.

Then deWees discovered and implemented “agile marketing,” where annual plans are replaced by shorter-term bursts of focus. “We look one to two months ahead, not a whole year,” she says. “It makes it easier for us to be responsive to client needs because we can move faster when things come up.”

Under the traditional approach, projects were assigned to a single individual, who then turned to freelance graphic designers who took weeks or even months to complete the work.

“Now we can break down a big project and assign pieces to individuals within the department and get the whole thing done in two weeks,” says Tara Cobourn, marketing manager, adding that staff are chosen based on skills and availability. These crunch periods are called “sprints.”

Reducing the amount of outsourced work has impacted the department positively in a number of ways, some unexpected. “The more we do in-house, the more money we have available to spend on marketing,” says deWees.

Using a shared services model with the technology team, the marketing and IT departments now rely on a single in-house design group for support.

“The cost of outsourcing design wasn’t huge, but the time savings was when we brought it in-house,” deWees says. It helped not having to bring outside consultants up-to-speed at the start of marketing projects.

The team has, instead, been able to hire more full-time writers and part-time designers, further increasing its agility and effectiveness.

In 2013, the marketing department created more than 200 collateral pieces— four times what it produced the previous year. Yet the department is less stressed. “We have our lives back,” says Cobourn.

Instead of trying to manage countless projects all at once, she says, “Now it’s about constant prioritization.”

It’s also about fewer meetings. The marketing team limits itself to one hour of meetings a week, with twice-weekly 15-minute “scrum” meetings a big contributor to improved efficiency. The scrums help people stay accountable and share information without wasting time.

“We still have plenty of room for improvement,” says deWees. But the results from the switch are impressive. Outside agencies and freelancers have been all but eliminated from daily functions, cost savings of 20 percent of the budget were realized, productivity is up 400 percent, and sprint tasks have a nearly 95 percent completion rate.

Most important, however, is the department’s client satisfaction rating, which increased by more than 30 percent in six months.


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