5 Approaches to Structuring a Digital Marketing Team

 
Blog Posts, Digital Strategy/ Entrepreneurship

Digital marketing is such a fresh, fluid and ill-defined field that organising a full team of digital marketers can be a real headache. How do the quite distinct fields of PR, SEO, PPC, creative, development, UX and data analysis fit together, and should there be a hierarchy or chain of command to link the roles?

Frustratingly, there’s no firm answer to these questions, as every business and every digital marketer is different. Most companies try out a number of team structures before they find one that sticks – and some find that it serves them well to keep changing things up. Here are 5 approaches you can try within your own team:

Please note: the structures described in this article refer primarily to relationships between staff below director level.

The project manager route

You may call them a project manager, a growth manager, an orchestrator… you get the idea. One of the simplest, most widely used approaches to team structure within digital marketing is what we’ll call the ‘project manager route’.

In this easy-to-implement structure, the project manager allocates tasks to all relevant team members, who report back in turn. The project manager has complete oversight of the project at all times, and will be prepared to resolve ‘snags’ flagged up by team members, or address delays. ‘Agile’ project management tools such as JIRA are widely used by teams operating on this basis.

Pros

  • Definitive leadership from a single point
  • Clear requirements for each team member
  • Easy to monitor

Cons

  • Makes clear career progression for workers difficult
  • Likely to place experienced staff on a par with newer staff
  • Project manager is unlikely to fully understand all processes involved

Focus on value

Digital marketing is essentially scientific in nature – its best practitioners tend to test hypotheses in a live production environment, and continually optimise their methods based on the results. These experiments could range in scale from trying out a new channel on a new demographic (say, email marketing used with over 50s), right down to tracking movement in a page’s Google search rankings, based on minor content changes such as the addition of internal links or an extra paragraph of copy.

All digital marketing activities should be measurable in terms of their effect and value added. How many leads or conversions do they generate, how much do they cost to enact, and how much value do they generate per conversion?

When you have access to these figures, you’ll better understand which activities – and which team members – add the most value. The best performing departments can be expanded accordingly, or under-performing departments can be shored up with new talent.

Pros

  • Can create focus on the most suitable digital marketing activities
  • Identifies best performing team members
  • Direct route to good ROI

Cons

  • High-potential activities may be overlooked due to underperformance of individual team members
  • Accurately assessing lifetime value of a marketing activity is extremely difficult

Skeleton Teams

Some digital marketing operations rely on ‘skeleton’ teams of full-timers, supplemented as required by freelance specialists – in diagram form the setup might look much akin to an atom with its nucleus and electron shell.

Freelancers can be engaged on a project-by-project basis, which means they can provide a neat solution for firms whose digital marketing activities are especially varied. Typically, the full-time employees within this system would perform project management, analytical and brand management-related roles, whilst freelancers would assist with content and production-based tasks like web design and copywriting.

Pros

  • Access to expertise without long-term contractual commitment
  • Wide talent pool
  • Use highly qualified specialists for each task

Cons

  • Higher level freelancers can be expensive to hire
  • Potential for extra costs associated with follow-up tasks
  • Less ideas ‘in the office’

Creating silos

Certain digital marketing activities can fit neatly under parent digital marketing or traditional marketing fields, in a hierarchical, silo-style structure.

One prime parent category example is PR, which can quite comfortably sit above outreach, influencer marketing, social and to some extent search marketing in a silo structure.

In terms of team structure, this approach would likely see a PR Manager at the top of the line, with junior PRs, outreach, influencer and social marketers reporting directly or indirectly to them.

There’s much to be said for this particular example of a traditional departmental chain of command within digital marketing. PR is far more than simply writing press releases and reaching out to media contacts who can provide publicity for the brand – it’s also about ensuring that every communication the brand and its representatives make is carefully considered and in tune with its established or planned identity.

The same scrutiny should always be applied to new-fangled digital marketing activities, but sometimes this doesn’t happen in practice. Managing digital marketing activities under the PR umbrella alongside traditional marketing departments is a highly effective means of removing the risk of gaffes and digressions.

Pros

  • Maintains uniformity of standards
  • Enforces authority and accountability

Cons

  • At odds with the fluidity of digital marketing
  • May discourage creativity in some team members

Democracy of ideas

Most businesses agree on the need for a certain degree of authority within the workplace – but many within the digital sector are now opening up to a more democratic approach to the ideas that fuel the day-to-day life of a team.

Opening up the floor to staff can empower and inspire team members, providing new levels of opportunity and emotional investment.

In our experience, it works best like this:

Team members freely contribute ideas covering various aspects of the company (e.g. Marketing, Operational, Client-specific) over a period of time; team members vote in favour of the ideas they like the most from their peers; the highest voted ideas are discussed in a team meeting; the best ideas are scheduled for implementation.

This democratic approach can work as an overall team structure, or simply as an element of work processes within a team.

Pros

  • Empowers all team members
  • Potential to stimulate revolutionary ideas

Cons

  • Possibility of conflict between management and team members
  • Potentially time-consuming
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