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The Five W’s on How to Build a Successful Marketing Calendar

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Why create a marketing calendar? What should be on it? What is the EA’s role? Essential marketing calendar questions answered.

It’s easy to have a great idea. It’s a lot harder to execute. That’s the challenge with most organizations: smart people have great ideas, but get pulled in seven different directions and something has to give. Or they forget about an opportunity until it’s too late, and miss out. Or others on the team could have given terrific input and ancillary ideas, if only they knew what was going on. For many companies, something as simple as a marketing calendar can make the difference between thinking and doing. If your company needs help bringing ideas to life, follow along to learn how to build a successful marketing calendar.

What is a marketing calendar?

A marketing calendar is a timeline-based repository for all marketing-related activities, projects, and events. It is the master list that everyone in the company can refer to for insight into what is planned, when it will happen, and who is managing it. When done right, it also can be a gathering spot for ideas as well as a historical review of prior performance. In short, it is a roadmap for any company’s plan to communicate and influence, and the touchstone upon which everyone on the team can rely.

Why do you need a marketing calendar?

There are three main reasons to build a marketing calendar:

  1. Get Organized. The primary reason to build a marketing calendar is to keep track of projects. It is a visual list, organized by date and category, of everything planned and considered. Has your company ever decided to launch an ad campaign only to find that the whole sales team would be at an event during the peak lead-generation time? When campaigns, events, email newsletters, and other activities are planned out, it’s easy to see overlaps, gaps, and resource-intensive time spans. It’s much easier to reconfigure projects before they become problems than to muddle through a tangled up mess of activities.

    Keeping track of projects also helps ensure that you don’t miss out on opportunities. Ever see your competitor’s CEO quoted in an industry article? That’s because someone took the time to research the editorial calendar opportunities of trade publications and plug them into a calendar. No one needs to magically remember the deadline; the calendar outlines when to make the pitch to the editor.

    Organizing projects also ensures that things get done. If your content marketing plan includes a weekly blog post, a bimonthly email newsletter, and a monthly podcast, put them on the calendar. The time between projects flies by; it’s all too easy to think, “I just did a blog post!”. Look at the calendar and realize, yup, it’s due again. Get writing!

  2. Intramural Communication. The second reason is to have a single version of the truth for team collaboration. People no longer have to ask when the next email newsletter goes out, which events the company plans to exhibit at, or who’s the next podcast guest. It’s all right there on the calendar. Everyone who is involved should be able to collaborate, or at least view the full calendar. Keeping everyone on the same page is just good management; when you ID projects by team member, the calendar can help ensure accountability, too.

  3. Find Successes, Ditch Poor Performers. The third reason to create a marketing calendar is to have a historical record of past activities. What blog posts did you run last year, and which ones got the best traffic? Did we generate enough leads from that trade show to do it again? Did that massive e-book project get traction, or should we earmark the budget toward something else? Tracking analytics in your marketing calendar can help you refine and improve upcoming activities and make better investments.

Who should manage your marketing calendar?

The best person to manage the marketing calendar is someone who will actually do it. Someone has to be responsible and accountable; it helps if that person has access to calendars of company executives and marketing team members to transfer key dates.

In many ways, executive assistants are an ideal marketing calendar manager. EAs tend to be organized and well versed in managing a lot of moving pieces. They also do a great job of keeping track of what can seem like random comments. Someone needs authorization for upcoming travel expenses? If they’re heading to a show, the EA can make sure that show is on the calendar. The EA also knows what activities executives plan that might not be on the schedule, and can call out potential conflicts before they become problems.

Bottom line, the best person is someone who will take the responsibility for fielding incoming information, transferring it onto the calendar, and following up for missing pieces.

Who should access your marketing calendar?

Easy answer: anyone who performs any sales or marketing-related activity, or anyone who supports them. That means content creators, sales reps, event planners, the executive team, and their admins.

When in doubt, give someone access to collaborate. Marketing is a team sport - giving everyone access to the group calendar can spur new ideas, avoid overlaps, and improve accountability.

When should you build your marketing calendar?

If you don’t have a marketing calendar, the best day to start is today. Seriously. Your company performs marketing projects all year; there’s no reason to wait until January 1 or the start of your fiscal year. The sooner you start, the more information you’ll have to help you plan for the future. No excuses!

What should be on your marketing calendar?

The goal for your marketing calendar is to create a repository of all content, events, and activities, so when in doubt, add it. It can help to think about things in terms of categories:

  • Email newsletters.
  • Podcasts and videos.
  • Blog posts and other web copy.
  • Events your team plans to attend or exhibit at.
  • Events your executives would like to speak at.
  • Company events such as appreciation parties and ribbon cuttings.
  • Advertising campaigns.
  • Opportunities to contribute to publications, gleaned from their editorial calendars.
  • Any other activities you’d like to track, including grant deadlines, collateral production, customer success stories, or trade show deadlines.

Start by recording projects with known dates, such as events and byline opportunities. Many marketing efforts are organized around these dates, so plugging them in first gives you a framework. For example, if you plan to exhibit at a trade show, you likely want to send an email newsletter to customers and prospects leading up to the event to urge them to come to your booth or see if you can meet up in person.

Next, record ongoing activities - if you have a content plan for a weekly blog post, enter them in. Time absolutely flies between content cycles, and just seeing the dates on the calendar helps keep everyone on track.

Add a category for big projects such as e-books or webinars. These time-consuming activities can sneak up on you (or can slip away from you) unless you plan a release date.

Think about creating multiple side-by-side categories to help with decision making. For example, create a category of industry events, and another for events where the company is attending or exhibiting. Drag projects from one category to the next as needed. A lot of companies go on autopilot thinking, “We’ll have a presence at the Big Show and the Super Show, and exhibit at the Awesome Show.” No one looks at the calendar to see that they are on top of each other until it’s too late to make good decisions. It’s much easier to plan travel and choose activities when you know where your resources can and should be.

Add anything else that will help you stay organized, that answers common “what are we doing/where are we going” type questions, or that is something the company needs to execute upon in order to succeed. It is your calendar - you should tailor it to work for you.

Like most good habits, creating and maintaining a marketing calendar is an exercise that delivers benefits over time and that helps you continually improve. When used by your whole group, it improves teamwork and enables accountability. With the EA at the helm, this useful tool transforms from something good to something indispensable. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!


crop.Alison_Harris_Harris_Marketing_0519.jpg.thumbnail.150x150.jpegAbout the Author: Alison Harris is the Founder and CEO of Harris Marketing Services. She has almost two decades as a virtual CMO working with companies on developing and executing marketing plans and content marketing programs. She also is the founder of PlanITPDQ, an online marketing calendar platform. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonHMS or @PlanITPDQ, or send email to [email protected]

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