The Value of Program Management for Interactive Marketing

When most people hear "program management" they think "<yawn>."  It's not a sexy skill set, like User Experience Design, Web Strategy or Flash Development.  I've heard program managers jokingly referred to as "overhead."  They have been confused with Project Managers and can be accused of knowing a little about a lot of topics but being an expert in none.  I had a conversation with a good friend last week about whether program management skills could even add value in an advertising agency environment, whose halls are filled with right-brained creative wizards.  For crying out loud, the main homepage of a primary industry nonprofit for program managers, the International Association of Project and Program Management, has a voice welcome on it's homepage that could be the same guy who does the radio sponsor spots on NPR.  

In the words of Mitch McDeere, "It may not be sexy, but it's got teeth."

What is program management?

Wikipedia calls it "the process of managing multiple inter-dependent ongoing projects."  This could apply to several dozen or even thousands of projects.  Program management is a discipline that requires leadership, vision, creativity, organizational and political savvy, and communication.  The large IT consulting firms have figured out that program management is critical to the success of client initiatives.  My old firm Accenture actually created their own training class called Value Driven Program Management, emphasizing the focus on measuring outcomes and return on investment vs. the business case for an initiative.  I always thought that internally at the firm, this skill set was valued more than in the marketplace.

How does it apply to interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing, according to Wikipedia, is the "ability to address the customer, remember what the customer says and address the customer again in a way that illustrates that we remember what the customer has told us."  The online channel is a primary vehicle for interactive marketers who use search engines, email, web analytics, display advertising, optimized websites and (increasingly) social media to engage customers and drive their businesses.  Interactive marketing departments are typically full of deeply skilled SEO and SEM specialists, visual designers, marketing veterans and technologists.  

These marketing departments need the same leadership, coordination, and strategy to drive multiple disciplines, projects and campaigns to achieve goals for the company.  Good program managers in this space are influencing the outcome; they are navigating the marketing, sales and product development organizations in a company to align executive sponsors, building a roadmap and budget, energizing resources to execute on the vision, and measuring the results.  Retailers that do this well have campaigns online that match other channels, exploring multi-channel campaigns.  Who is behind making all of these marketing pieces come together, execute on plan and achieve the value for the company?  Program management.

What about agencies?

In the agency environment the program management domain is just as critical, with the added pressures and challenges of navigating both the internal and client organizations.  Traditional media and new media agencies need this skill set to execute and deliver – otherwise the creative talent will generate a lot of good work but may be disillusioned, unfocused and be at risk for not meeting the client's objectives or expectations.  This video is a parody of the client/agency relationship gone wrong (thanks to Kate Brodock):

How do you see the program management function in your organization?  Is the program management discipline at your company effective?  Why or why not?

photo credit: stephendann via flickr  … and no, that book was not written by yours truly but I'll have to check it out.