Project Marketing – Do good and talk about it
What do the Stuttgart 21 rail project, BER Airport or the new Berlin City Palace have in common? All projects cost more than originally estimated, last longer than planned and have a rather bad image in large parts of the population. But let’s be honest: even in our organizations not everything goes as planned. We develop great products that nobody wants. We design prototypes that don’t even begin to meet the customer’s needs. We work in many parallel projects and lose sight of the project goals. In this article, I would like to focus my attention on something that could make the parties involved in the projects mentioned and perhaps also their organization a little better: project marketing.
Project marketing – a definition
Project marketing is often described as the presentation and promotional representation of a project between the involved parties and the stakeholders.
In an important part I agree with this description: Stakeholders are at the centre of project marketing. Stakeholders are persons, groups and organisations who are directly or indirectly affected by the activities of a company or who have a concrete interest in these activities. In the three examples from above there are several companies and acting parties, and the list of stakeholders is very comprehensive: taxpayers, rail customers and air travellers, commuters and tourists, Berliners and Stuttgarters, Brandenburgers and Baden Württembergers, environmentalists and citizens’ initiatives, publishing houses and media institutions, political parties and business competitors. Very important and unfortunately often overlooked are the employees of the companies and those involved in the projects.
There is another point on which I would contradict the definition: It is not a question of advertising. It is true that advertising as an instrument of marketing unfortunately often tries not only to present things positively, but also to sell products and services with all kinds of tricks – with cute animals, pretty children or attractive people. In contrast to product marketing, however, the focus is on the project as such and not on the expected result. It is not about an airport, a train station or a city castle, but about controlling the project environment. It is about common goals and the avoidance and moderation of conflicts. It is about information at the right time and to the right extent. It is about working together in the project, about used processes and a positive mindset. It is about the working atmosphere, trust and accountability. Those who use project marketing to sell only positive news to the company management or to customers, although in reality there is no positive news, negate the actual intention of project marketing. Of course, in practice this can be a fine line to which I would like to return later.
Goals in project marketing
There are some goals that are often attributed to project marketing. In addition to the aforementioned communication and the active shaping of the relationship with the stakeholders, the acceptance of the project is an important goal. On closer inspection, it should already come into focus before the start of the project – during the development of the project idea. Ideas often compete with each other and not every idea leads to a project and is thus given the chance to be implemented. So anyone who has an idea for a project can, should or must promote it. Advertise, not lie. Ideally, the benefits of the idea are emphasized, possible short, medium or long-term advantages are highlighted and advocates are sought. In practice, there are numerous options as to when and how this can work:
- with an elevator pitch or when exchanging in the cafeteria
- with a storytelling or the production of short videos
- the design of presentations, the writing of a management summary or the formulation of a business case
- with the execution of a pretotyping
If a project is subsequently set up, further promotion of the idea makes little sense. Now it is a matter of winning over those involved, developing a common vision and arousing enthusiasm. In the course of time, new tasks regularly come into focus and this is the reason why organizations should understand project marketing as a process that runs parallel to the project.
Communication with stakeholders
Communicating with all persons and organisations interested in a project such as Stuttgart 21, the BER or the Berlin City Palace is anything but easy. Especially in projects with an increased public interest, it is difficult to communicate continuously, transparently and openly. From my own experience I know that more than 10 years before the referendum on the reconstruction of the railway station and a large part of the city centre, the city of Stuttgart had done a lot to involve the population in the project and to ensure a positive opinion. There were architectural competitions and very different designs were presented publicly and free of charge in the town hall. There were discussion evenings and innumerable interviews of the politically acting persons in all local media. Those who wanted to actively form an opinion or get involved could easily do so. Nevertheless, a referendum was held and allegations were made that Stuttgart as a city, Baden-Württemberg as a federal state, the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Deutsche Bahn had regulated everything behind closed doors. The larger and more extensive a project is, the greater will be the corresponding challenge for project marketing. And the more important it becomes to identify, analyse and communicate with stakeholders, or in simple terms: stakeholder management.
The organization of stakeholder management is an exciting question – naturally for the acceptance and success of the project, but also in terms of project marketing: Who takes over which activities? Is it up to the experts from Requirements Engineering to identify the stakeholders and communicate with them after an analysis? Does sales or key account management take on the task of maintaining contacts and exchanging information as the primary contact? Is it part of the activities of the project manager to understand the stakeholders and to eliminate dissonances between their goals and the project goals? There are very many different settings and company situations, so I can’t say what the blueprint for successful stakeholder management in the course of project marketing looks like. Nevertheless, this leads me to the next question:
Who does project marketing?
You! You do project marketing. As soon as you are active in a project, you do project marketing. That is the short answer. Of course you can choose a person, a role, a team or an agency in your projects who becomes responsible for communication. You can define scenarios in which the product owner communicates with the stakeholders of a development according to his role, or the Scrum Master clarifies possible impediments with the management of the organization. You can oblige public relations to communicate continuously with the press and to convey positive news. Or you can commission an agency to transport benefits through advertising. If your organisation has already gained experience in similar projects, this should usually work well or at least improve with increasing experience.
In addition to the formal form of communication, there is also an individual form for which you are responsible. As a participant of a project you are always an ambassador of the project. In the context of products and brands one likes to speak of brand ambassadors, in the context of projects it would be the same as the project ambassador. If you communicate positive news, goals and advantages to your circle of work and acquaintances, this actively contributes to the formation of opinion and the acceptance of the project increases almost immediately. I have a short story to tell: I recently sat in a café while having breakfast at a table with some people I didn’t know. Two people talked, one told the other that he works as an architect at the new government terminal of the BER. The terminal would cost 100 million Euros more than originally estimated. With a laugh, he said he – together with his colleagues – was to blame. But nobody would really mind. But he was wrong: it bothers me! Even BIG TIME. I cannot judge how good he works as an architect, but as a project ambassador he is a disaster.
The fine line to advertising
Is project marketing perhaps only advertising after all? Basically, project marketing follows the principle “Do good and talk about it”. So it’s about “doing” and communicating. Advertising is a part of marketing, no more, no less. In many projects, great products, systems or services are created. But it’s not about the results, it’s about how to get there. Depending on how you look at it, this can even go beyond the actual end of the project, as for example Solution Evaluation in Business Analysis or in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge – BABOK for short – or the so-called Benefits Management propagate. These disciplines try, among other things, to determine whether the advantages addressed by the project or the product to be created also occur in reality.
Project marketing does not try to make bad things appear good. It doesn’t try to present a failure as a success. It doesn’t try to silence dissatisfied employees or to lull stakeholders into a false sense of security. Yes, project marketing sees things positively, sees opportunities rather than risks. It tries to moderate problems, not to conceal them. It tries to communicate technical challenges or coordination problems openly in order to find solutions. This requires a positive mindset, which is an important building block for increasing the acceptance of a project.
Project marketing is a process that runs parallel to the project. Depending on the respective project phase, the objectives and thus also the tasks vary. The focus of attention is on the stakeholders and the associated goal of maintaining or increasing acceptance of the project. Of course, this is not always easy and there is no general blueprint.
My recommendation is: always keep an eye on the acceptance of the project. Recognize opportunities and see things positively. But communicate only “truthfully” – the stakeholders will thank you for it. Use project marketing as a driver for a successful project. And: Do good and talk about it.