I’ll be honest. My first experience with Scrum for marketing was not a good one. The fact that I was a bit of a skeptic notwithstanding, something about it just didn’t feel right from day one. And, it went downhill from there.
That being said, I should point out that my marketing colleagues, Jen and Markie, for whom I have the utmost respect, have employed Scrum for marketing with outstanding results. Please be sure to check out their side of the story: Scrum for Marketing Rocks!>
I’ve been doing field marketing and event marketing my entire career. Some people may think I’m a dinosaur, but there are a few field marketing rules of thumb that you just can’t ignore:
My field marketing team’s typical day consists of one of the five following activities:
Schmoozing and more schmoozing being the two most important of the five, because the better your relationships, the better the field marketing: happier customers, higher quality speakers, more press coverage, better booth locations, higher discounts on freight. You get the picture.
So when Jen and Markie proposed to the rest of the team that we go all out agile marketing and adopt Scrum for marketing in the field, I was skeptical, but game. While the field marketing team is all about agile and marketing, we’re not so sure about Scrum for marketing. The last event had been a disaster. Collateral hadn’t shown up until day three of the show. Our keynote speaker came down with the measles after taking his kid to Disneyland. And, the sales team was more interested in drinking with their favorite clients than working the booth (OK, that’s every show). I wasn’t quite sure how Scrum for marketing was going to help with any of this, but they assured me that it would. It didn’t.
It started off just fine. We were kicking off the planning for our annual customer love-in, shin-dig where we bring in three hundred execs from our best customers and show them a good time with a choice combination of education and entertainment. The first step in the planning process is always THE BIG IDEA, because it sets the theme for the entire event. Generally, its best to lock down THE BIG IDEA as early as possible, because everything from the speaker tracks to the tchotchkes depend on it. If you can’t lock down THE BIG IDEA, then you have to juggle things around to focus on what you can get done until it is locked down. And, you usually end up with a fair amount of rework. One year we had to throw away 500 plastic water bottles, because two months after locking down THE BIG IDEA, our CEO decided to unlock it.
Anyway, back to why Scrum for marketing sucks. As I said, it started off just fine. We made our usual list for the event, only this time we called it a ‘backlog.’ Then we started working down the list in the usual fashion. First sprint, first item on the list: make the list. Done! Second sprint, second item on the list: have a BIG IDEA. Not done. Two weeks. Ten people. Five meetings. Nada. All we had were a bunch of little ideas and anything approaching a BIG IDEA was either too expensive or too risky to pull off with any degree of certainty.
Markie suggested that maybe we could break the BIG IDEA up into several little ideas that we could tackle separately. And I was like: Markie with all due respect, its called THE BIG IDEA, because it is BIG. We don’t call it the ‘bunch of little small ideas.’ So, for the third sprint we decided to table the BIG IDEA for a while and focus on getting some things done that didn’t depend on it. And I have to admit that at this point I was hard pressed to tell the difference between Scrum for marketing and my trusty old process of simply checking stuff off the list. But, we stuck with it.
Sprint three actually went OK. We focused on basic logistics that we knew we would need regardless of THE BIG IDEA, like booking the venue, getting a freight carrier, planning lunch menus and the like. And strangely enough, we also came up with THE BIG IDEA on the side. I say ‘on the side’ because it is my understanding that it technically was not on the sprint, but we checked it off anyway. Now that we had THE BIG IDEA, we could move on to the important stuff like securing relevant speakers.
The first couple of days of sprint 4 were spent drawing up our speaker dream team and putting together a call plan. The second half of the sprint we started calling and by the end of the sprint we had…nothing of value. Sprint 5, a couple of maybes. And this is when I started wondering if Scrum for marketing in the field was even possible. You see, its like I said in the beginning: there are a few rules to field marketing that you just can’t ignore. Unfortunately, the basic rules of Scrum for marketing ignore at least three out of four.
When applying Scrum for marketing in the field, it comes up particularly short in the area of schmoozing. You see, most people are not aware of the delicate interplay between project management and schmoozing that occurs in field marketing. The right relationship can reduce a seemingly impossible task from months to minutes. The best field marketing risk management plan isn’t a project plan at all; it’s a strong network of customers, suppliers and industry influencers. I still haven’t figured out how to account for this in a sprint.
So, after a solid try, I’m still not convinced that Scrum for marketing works in the field. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally bought into the basic principles of agile marketing. And I love’s me to be checking things off my list. But, I don’t see any reason to overlay some fancy new process on top of my checklist. My checklist has always worked for me, and I think I’ll stick with it.