You might think the purpose of a high-end campaign manager is to run high-end marketing campaigns. While that's what it does, it's not the reason people buy it. A high-end campaign manager's purpose is to make marketers' jobs easier and give better results. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for campaign management software to include supporting and administrative functions that are important to marketers, even if tangential to the campaigns themselves.

Project management capabilities may be the best example. Defining, scheduling and tracking the tasks required to execute a campaign is an administrative function quite separate from performing the tasks themselves. However, the most brilliant campaign design is worthless if it isn't executed because someone forgets to write the copy or print the brochures. Effective marketers, therefore, pay close attention to project management details. Because most of these details are determined by the features of the campaign, integrating project management with campaign management saves the effort of synchronizing two separate systems. (However, the correspondence is not exact. While every campaign may spawn a related project, there also can be projects unrelated to a specific campaign.)

The heart of any project manager is the task list. Tasks have a few fundamental characteristics: type, due date, status and person responsible. These are often supplemented with other attributes such as expected and actual labor, duration, costs, associated documents, approvals and logs of changes over time. In addition to tasks, most project managers maintain lists of resources, including individuals, departments, vendors and even equipment. Some will track the capacity and availability of each resource by time period. This lets them compare capacity to workload and issue warnings if a resource is overextended. For individual resources, systems often maintain contact information such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, as well as skills and department or workgroup memberships.

Many systems let users create templates with predefined task lists for different types of projects. The tasks may be linked to predefined task types, which provide default values for cost, labor and duration. Task types may also constrain the resources that can be assigned (e.g., requiring that the task of creating a Web page be assigned to a Web developer). Often, tasks are initially assigned to a department and then reassigned to individuals by the department head.

Templates often specify the time between each task and the campaign execution date. When a template is associated with a specific campaign, the system converts the intervals into specific dates. Automating the date assignment process is one of the key benefits of integrating campaign planning with project management.

Advanced project management systems often let users specify relationships among tasks, such as requiring one task to be completed before another can begin. This supports sophisticated functions such as automated rescheduling and critical path analysis, which determines the minimum time required to complete the entire project. However, few marketers need this much power in their project management systems; therefore, the project management functions within campaign management software rarely include such features.

On the other hand, nearly all project managers provide an online interface that lets users view and update their assigned tasks. This provides an important communication channel that can extend beyond tasks to distribute any project-related information. Clicking on a task usually lets the user see more information about the task or the related project, providing an efficient way to access project information. The more powerful systems also store organizational relationships among users so a manager can see all the work assigned to her staff.

The online interface also lets users update the status of each task, capturing completion date, cost, labor time and comments. Some systems can generate automated communications to notify other users when a task is complete. Most will generate reports or messages to warn managers when tasks are not completed on time. Messages are usually delivered by e-mail, but some systems allow the user to choose among other channels as well.

Project management greatly expands the number of people involved with a campaign management system. Instead of a handful of power users in marketing and perhaps the IT department, the system now touches anyone with a campaign-related task. Organizationally, this implies a greater need for training and management support. Technically, it has led nearly all systems to simplify deployment by providing a browser-based interface to view and update task information. This is true even when other functions, such as campaign definition, require installing software on the user's workstation. Licensing fees similarly tend to differentiate between primary users and those who work only with tasks.

My next column will look at workflow and content management capabilities of a high-end campaign manager.

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