By Michele Linn published January 12, 2011

Confessions from a Spreadsheet Junkie: Tips on How To Set Marketing Priorities

“Hi, my name is Michele, and I’m a spreadsheet junkie.”

Lately, I have been awash in spreadsheets trying to organize everything I need to do. I live by my editorial calendar. I work with numerous spreadsheets tracking our recent CMI redesign projects and the status of each one.

I know there are other “spreadsheet junkies” out there. So if you’re someone who can relate, here’s something you may like:  some spreadsheet ideas to help you prioritize your long (and growing) to-do list. Prioritizing activities helps me decide what tasks can wait and what tasks I need to focus on now.

So how do I use spreadsheets to prioritize?

First, I lay out all of the activities the team has brainstormed — everything from big-picture items to tactical ideas.  After that, I track the following information for each.

UPDATE: Some readers asked for the template. You can see a sample below or download the blank Excel spreadsheet. I can’t always complete all cells initially, but this helps me figure out what I need. I also find it helpful to sort on columns such as goal, priority and budget.

What goal does it support?

Seems basic that every activity should support a business goal, but I bet you’ll be surprised at how many “nice to have” or “seems cool to do” activities may be on your list. By focusing first on the activities that directly relate to your business goals, priorities emerge.

Anything we need to do first?

Here’s a good example.  You may have a goal to convert visitors when they get to your website, however if you don’t have the content in place to entice someone, you need to start there.

What is the estimated time?

If something is quick and simple to do, I’m more likely to tackle it early to get it off the list.

What is the ongoing time commitment?

A lot of things these days are easy to set up (say a Twitter account or an email program), but they take ongoing feed and care if you want to do them well. Be realistic about how much time the maintenance of any activity you start will take each week or month.

Who is responsible for this?

Of course, it’s always good to assign a lead person to each task so you’re not asking, “Who is doing this again?”

Do we need to get help?

If stretched for time, consider where you can get help. Some things, like strategy, may be best to keep in-house. But there are a lot of activities that you can outsource (I’ll leave this for another post!).

What will this cost?

In addition to people, think of any tools and costs associated with this project. Of course, cost is a very important factor when making priorities.

Assign each priority

After all is said and done, I then assign a priority to something. It can be as simple as high-medium-low or a numerical system. Ideally, I tackle three to five things at a time and do them well. Once they’re up and running, I’ll move on to new tasks. Of course, this isn’t always feasible, but having a visual reminder helps me keep my priorities in order. I can then add new ideas and tasks as they come up to make sure that everything is in one spot.

One final thought: Don’t forget to put  the spreadsheet into Dropbox or another file-sharing system, so the whole team has access to it. This makes the spreadsheet more than a static planning document.

I’d love to get your thoughts: How do you plan and prioritize your marketing?

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • William Xifaras

    Very nice Michele. Thank you for the time saving tips re spreadsheets.

  • Anonymous

    Lots of good stuff there Michele. Thanks.

    I am generally very organised and don’t get stressed. But sometimes I get so busy, chasing my tail, inbox filling up, knocks on the office door etc that I get to a grid lock. Especially when you are trying to keep everyone happy because they all think their item is important.

    I find an outside perspective extremely useful. I will take a list of all the things I need to get done and ask my boss to prioritise it. He doesn’t micro-manage me and we have a good working relationship. It is very therapeutic to watch him put a line through things that “can wait til next month” and then walk away with a list of things that I know he wants made a priority (and it also make my list of things to get done smaller).

    • Michele Linn

      I’d love to say that I don’t get stressed, but I work best when I know exactly what I need to do next. Great idea about getting an outside perspective – it does help things like more objective. And, what a great feeling to cross this off our your list!

  • Anonymous

    Michele, I love the image of you as a spreadsheet junkie! Thanks for sharing these perspectives. Best, CB

  • Anonymous

    You wrote: “Do we need to get help?” and “If stretched for time, consider where you can get help. Some things, like strategy, may be best to keep in-house. But there are a lot of activities that you can outsource (I’ll leave this for another post!).

    I’d love to learn more about the range of activities that can be outsourced. I’ve been independently assisting with content management for years as the link between strategy and those who are stretched for time. I’d like to do more of this work, but it isn’t easy to find articles to point to as examples of outsourcing various tasks. In searching around, I don’t find where you’ve posted more on this. Is it still in the works?

  • Mark

    Shame the spreadsheet appears to have disappeared

  • Kevin Cullis

    Confessions of a spreadsheet junkie. LOL, same here. Do you need a 12 Step Program to Databases? LOL

  • Nate Odell

    Hey Michele,

    Do you have a template of the spreadsheet that you can share? 

    • Saskia Van Nieuwenhuizen

      Hi Nate,
      Did you ever get the template? Would be much easier if you don’t have to start from scratch


      • Nate Odell


        I didn’t get the template. Can you send to me again? nodell25 @ gmail dot com

  • Merlin MacDonald

    How do I plan and prioritize my marketing? Same way as all tasks in my micro-company : with gantt charts in MS Project. My productivity more than doubled when I started using them. Every project becomes a strategy game with a visual component, clearly showing task dependencies, time estimates, deadlines and tactical sequence. All parameters you mentioned about who’s responsible, resources, cost, etc can be entered. Call me crazy but I use 3 nested timescales of charts, Today, This Month and Forever, which interact. They keep me ahead of every curve.

    PS There a number of free Gantt chart apps available, but Project is still the big kid. 

  • Rachelsanchez22

    Where did the template go? 

  • Harry Lew

    I can’t find the template, either. 

  • AdaPia

    Hello Michelle, is it possible to get the spreadsheet please? This is a great article and I’m itching to implement! Please email to adapia (at) me (dot) com.

    Thank you!

  • Tony T

    I’d love if someone could share this template as well.

    Thank you!  tone25x@

  • QamarfarryZaman

    Using select measurement techniques and ROI analyses to drive specific business objectives is faster and requires less effort than establishing standards that work across all forms of marketing. These priorities may be necessary to reach aggressive growth goals, reduce declining performance, or adjust to changing market conditions. Showing improvements in these high priority initiatives also helps demonstrate the benefits of the overall marketing ROI process
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