By Michele Linn published November 20, 2015

How to Make Marketing Meetings More Productive and Less Soul-Sucking

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Think fast: How much of your time is spent in meetings? How much of that time is well spent? (And, if you are a manager, how much do these meetings cost when you calculate the participants’ effective hourly rate?)

In this year’s B2C content marketing research, we asked how often content marketing teams meet and how valuable those meetings are. In general, effective content marketers who meet more often get more value from their meetings.

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We then asked our B2C roundtable participants for their meeting insight and tips that will leave you and your content marketing team thinking, “That meeting was a good use of my time, and it all makes sense.” Here’s the lineup:

  • Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping and Town Inc.
  • Julie Fleischer, former senior director, data + content + media, Kraft Foods Group
  • David Rodgers, senior digital marketing manager, ShurTech Brands
  • Buddy Scalera, senior director, content strategy, The Medicines Company
  • Allen Gannett, CEO, TrackMaven (moderator)

Watch the video below or keep reading to discover easy-to-implement solutions to overcome your common meeting challenges – and learn how to manage meetings your content marketing team actually wants to attend.

Our content marketing team meetings seem to lack structure and action.

Solution: Have an agenda or establish routine meetings with a focused purpose.

Regular, short status meetings in which you cover the same types of information each time work well because people know what to expect and can be prepared. For example:

  • The top three things you want your team to know
  • An update on your meaningful and useful metrics
  • A review of top content pieces, from you as well as your competition
    • Consider content from last month + last quarter + last year (don’t only focus on recent content).
    • Use social metrics to show what should be shared on specific platforms.
    • Use conversion metrics for what should generally be shared as well as added to high-traffic pages.
  • Brainstorms of how  to best tell stories around key topics
  • An opportunity to discuss any new roadblocks

As Andrew explains:

So, even without an agenda, we know where we’re going. We’re usually just following up on what we did last week. Did it work? What should we change this week and what’s the plan to move forward effectively?

Another potential challenge is that your content marketing meeting may be too focused on internal politics and issues – not on your content marketing work. While happy teams are super important, it’s a good idea to keep your organization’s audience front and center. If the things you are discussing won’t ultimately help you deliver better content to your audience or inspire the team to be more effective, don’t bring those topics into your content marketing meeting and save them for a separate discussion.

Buddy reminds everyone that your audience always needs to be the focus at your meetings.

You know I’ve also found that asking, ‘Why are we doing this and how does it help the customer?’ is really an important aspect, (it’s) not, ‘What do we want to say at people today.’

Bonus idea: I like this idea from Andy Crestodina on how to create an agenda (with a sample version) in Google Docs that anyone on the team can edit. It encourages collaboration while setting structure for your meetings.

We question if we even need to have a meeting.

Solution: If you can address agenda items by email or instant messaging, don’t have a meeting.

I have been questioning the purpose of my own meetings. Sometimes they occur because they are on the calendar. Does this really make the most sense? It usually does if the purpose is a short status meeting where everybody can touch base and connect. However, if you can’t craft a valuable agenda or explain its unique purpose, don’t be afraid to cancel a regularly scheduled meeting.

Julie said that her rule of thumb is that it’s good to have a meeting when “we couldn’t cover (the topic) in just a few emails.”

Bonus idea: If your meetings feel unproductive, ask participants what they want to get out of the 30 minutes (or whatever time frame) they spend in the meeting. Use that information to help you focus the next meeting so it truly benefits your team.

The agenda makes us wonder, “How in the world will we ever get to all of this?”

Solution: Have shorter, more frequent meetings.

Consider this: B2C marketers who meet daily or weekly are more likely to consider meetings valuable (70%) than those who meet biweekly or monthly.

70% of B2C marketers who meet daily or weekly are more likely to consider meetings valuable via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

And, effective marketers find meetings more valuable (77%) than average marketers (59%). Dave talked about how the ShurTech Brands team increased the number of meetings but made each one shorter:

We’ve found that if you give a meeting an hour, people will take an hour. If you shorten it to a half an hour, you can usually get through what you need to in a half an hour. It just speeds people up and makes everything a little more sharp and there’s less offline conversation that’s happening in your meeting.

Effective marketers find meetings more valuable (77%) than average marketers (59%) via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

He elaborates:

We used to have a one-hour meeting each week and we’ve broken it into two half-hour meetings. We’ve found that it’s way more productive. We can focus on an editorial calendar and what we’re going to say, seasonality, product launches, go through all the layers of the content calendar to make sure we’re hitting our mark. And then separately, we talk about how we’re creating the content, who’s doing what, and reviewing the content to make sure it fits our goals.

We need to spend post-meeting time talking with people who have a role in something discussed at the meeting.

Solution: Involve the right people from the start.

If you have to have a meeting to fill in people on the original meeting, you likely didn’t plan properly or think through the process sufficiently. Content marketing often involves players from across the organization who may not be official members of the team. With a set agenda, you can better identify early on all the parties who should attend based on the topics being discussed. These previously uninvited participants also may have great insights that would help the entire project.

Dave explains what happened when his team followed this advice:

We used to keep out the designers, the photographers. We used to talk to them after the meetings and give them the results of the meetings. But when we started incorporating them, made sure they knew the objectives and understood the goals, especially in copywriting, we found that the meetings are much more effective and there’s a lot less carryover after the meetings with emails where the message might get a little tangled up.

While it is often a good idea to limit meetings to essential people so as not to waste people’s time, consider whose time would be valuable to the meeting’s effectiveness from the start.

Bonus idea: Don’t let things get lost in translation. If you find yourself discussing an uninvited participant’s project, team, or ideas – beyond sharing a simple update or to-do task – reach out and ask that person to join the meeting in progress (by phone, video chat, or in person). If that is not possible, either document the details and/or have the right people in the next meeting for the more complex conversation.

Our meetings frequently go beyond the scheduled time.

Solution: Meet in a conference room available to other employees who have the room scheduled immediately after yours. Or use a conference call number that is available for other groups who may follow yours.

This solution relates to logistics, inspired by something Julie shares:

I think one of the things that has helped us be effective is we don’t have enough meeting rooms. So, we always have to stay exactly on schedule because someone is going to kick us out at that top of the hour when it’s their turn.

Bonus idea: I use this approach on an individual level. I book my meetings back-to-back whenever possible. I let everybody know that I need to leave promptly at the scheduled time because I have another obligation.

We can have great meetings but little happens with the ideas shared and things discussed.

Solution: Assign someone to track – and share – all of the to-do items from the meeting. (You also can use your project management tools to accomplish this.) Or if you are following the earlier advice to have a collaborative, accessible agenda, consider including the to-do list there and ask all responsible parties to update appropriately.

To make the tracking easier to follow and understand, I like to prioritize the items into three categories:

  • Immediate to-dos: Recap the immediate tasks – along with who owns each task – at the end of the meeting.
  • Long-term to-dos: Add the things that need to get done, but not today or this week. Consider incorporating deadlines or status update dates.
  • It-may-be-nice-to-dos: When conversations in the meeting get off topic or touch on visionary ideas or really long-term tasks, put them in this category. After the meeting, you can prioritize how these issues will (or will not be) addressed.

Bonus idea: In addition to tracking to-dos for the entire team, consider what you personally can get out of each meeting you attend. Robyn Scott shared this idea that I keep front and center in her article, The 30 second habit with a lifelong impact:

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points.

Where to go from here

Based on the feedback of this panel, I am changing the way I handle meetings with our content team. I am moving toward two monthly meetings for the larger editorial team, each with a distinct purpose:

  • Metrics and processes: This meeting will be an update on all of the metrics we track that are useful to the editorial team. We’ll discuss how things are trending, and what we are learning. The other aspect of this meeting will be to tackle one process issue per month. For instance, we recently had a call to focus on how we wanted to update our blog guidelines. By putting aside time to tackle one issue per month, we will be able to get through our list instead of never making time for these important, but not urgent, ideas.
  • Topic and editorial brainstorming: The second monthly meeting will look more specifically at what topics we want to cover and, much more importantly, how we can publish something that is as useful as possible to our audience.

We then have one-on-one conversations as needed (either scheduled or impromptu) to focus on everyone’s specific questions and priorities.

I’d love to hear from you: What are your frustrations with meetings? Or where have you found success?

View the other B2C and B2B research videos in these roundtable discussions:

Want to learn more about what B2B, B2C, and nonprofit marketers are doing now and planning for 2016? Download the latest from CMI’s research center.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • Eileen Doyon

    great information….thank you!

  • Rita Romero

    Nice post, Michele. I think everyone—regardless of industry—can agree that pointless, unstructured meetings are the worst. It’s just one reason why LivePerson compiled a guide to hosting meetings that matter. There are a few more ideas and tactics that I thought you might be interested in checking out. Would love to hear your feedback. http://info.liveperson.com/savethemeeting.html Thanks again for writing this!

  • Sam Silberberg

    @disqus_g8jffzUsUq:disqus I completely agree with both you and Michelle that regardless of industry these tips are extremely valuable. As a former Programme Manager I’ve found its more valuable to have shorter more frequent meetings with a clear agenda and assigned follow up tasks. Atlassian has a great interactive infographic which you can locate in bullet 5 http://bit.ly/1Nuwu0K.