- Knowledge Centre

Why do digital marketing agency projects fail?

There are clear penalties for delivering a project late: clients understandably lose confidence in an organisation if outputs are not delivered when they are promised, and the use of further resources (whether it be time, personnel, or something else) on a project without additional payment shrinks the profit margin your company is receiving from it.

Furthermore, this loss of profit means there is less to spend on the marketing you need to attract the clients you want for the future. The aim of any project should be to agree a mutually beneficial deal and then deliver a project that satisfies the client and maximises profitability for your organisation. If you want to achieve this, watch out for the following eight problems and make sure they don’t damage your project’s prospects.

Boundaries not established at the outset. (1)

It’s hard to set boundaries part way through a relationship. Starting the discussion can be awkward, and the client may feel like they are being told their behaviour thus far has been unacceptable, leading to unnecessary friction. It only becomes worse if the lack of boundary-setting in the initial phases of the project led to you or your team doing more work than was contracted, and now you need to ask for more money.

To avoid these problems, you need to establish right at the beginning of the relationship what services are included and which are not, alongside the financial compensation. This should be clearly set out in a contract – and you must stick to it. This boundary-setting process should also include setting out what each party is responsible for, as an interdependent working relationship requires consistent and timely input from both sides.

Ensure there is clarity around who precisely on each side is responsible for what tasks, to what time scale, and what risks may arise if deadlines are not met. This creates personal responsibility as well as minimising the risk of a client delegating (or abdicating) the project or part/s of it, to someone who is unaware of the boundaries you have set for the project.

Not holding the client accountable. (2)

If both parties have agreed a timescale for the delivery of information, content, etc. and the client is not meeting it, it is imperative that you communicate to them that you cannot progress the project further until they deliver what was promised. Keep them updated on how the overall project deadline will have to change as a result of their late delivery.

They may very well have other projects that need their time, but this is not an acceptable reason for delaying progress on the project they appointed your company to deliver on its behalf – after all, ensuring deadlines work around other organisational priorities is precisely why timescales are agreed mutually in advance.

Overly optimistic timescales (3)

Delivering an output for a client should not be seen as an exhilarating challenge, but as an important way to build trust and fulfil a mutually beneficial deal for both parties. Too often, ‘challenge’ is used as an overly optimistic euphemism for saying that the goal is unachievable. If a client is to trust you to deliver the project on time and to the required standard, they need to know that you can be relied upon to create the conditions that you need for the project to be a success, not to just hope that things will fall into place with the right amount of dedication, positive thinking and hope.

It’s easy to get excited by winning new contracts and securing new projects, but you must not let this get in the way of prudent and effective planning. Without upfront investment in prudent planning, planning which includes exploring interdependencies in terms of project delivery, there is no clarity, no ownership, and progress is limited. 

In order to ensure your deadlines are achievable, agree timescales not just for the completion of the overall project, but for each aspect of it. This will make it clear how much time has been allocated for each task, and make it easy to measure actual progress against expected progress throughout the project.

Agree deadlines throughout the process to review progress, with colleagues as well as the client, plan next steps together, and reduce or completely remove risks; and include a cushion before your final deadline to allow for any unforeseen issues that may arise along the way to be resolved.

Parkinson’s Law (4)

‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ While it is important to give yourself and your team enough time to complete a task or project to the necessary standard without excess stress, be aware of Parkinson’s law: the longer you have to complete a task, the longer it will take you to complete it. If a certain amount of time has been allocated to completing a task, often the person responsible for will not be looking to deliver the outcome faster than that, even though doing so would be more efficient, profitable, and build trust with colleagues.

Filling time just for the sake of it is inefficient, unproductive, and unprofitable. Hold yourself and every team member accountable for how their time is invested or wasted. Delegating responsibility rather than simply individual tasks means that an individual is made to focus on delivering value for the team and organisation rather than simply completing tasks. Remember, for delegation to work effectively, set a clear timescale for delivering outputs and arrange regular progress catch-ups (though be careful not to go overboard). 

Lack of control over online calendar (5)

Jumping from one task to another, each day, every day, will likely create stress, but it won’t necessarily create value. When you allow colleagues to add tasks to your diary without consulting you first, you risk wasting time on tasks you are not properly equipped to deal with at that moment. You also risk being the victim of a colleagues’ overly optimistic thinking about how much (or how little) time you require to firstly understand the task to be undertaken, and time to actually complete it to the client’s brief.

 A colleague working in a different area of the business may not know how long is an appropriate amount of time for you to complete a task in your area or speciality. Or they may want you to spend time on a project that you don’t yet have the resources to progress effectively.

Restrict access to your online calendar so that other people are not able to schedule tasks without first agreeing with you important aspects such as timescale, brief, necessary resources, as well as how they are going to effectively manage the communication with the stakeholder/s or client.

Project Creep (6)

Sometimes, as the project progresses, the client’s needs change. This can be unavoidable, but becomes a problem when any and all adjustments are accepted, free of charge, in a misguided effort to demonstrate client focus. This leads to your organisation doing extra work, spending extra time on a project, without extra income. Thus, the profit margin on the project begins to decrease.

To avoid this happening, be strict on reviewing a project’s profitability alongside its progress. If a client wants to make an adjustment to the project, adjust the contract accordingly to ensure the parameters of any and all changes are mutually understood and agreed by both parties, as is any increase in fee necessitated by these changes. 

If you give time, expertise and value away for free, how awkward might it be for you to initiate a candid dialogue with your client requesting payment when requests have become excessive?  

People Pleasing (7)

Often, a client will not think adjustments to the contract are necessary if they only ask for ‘one small change,’ with a misguided view that ‘It will only take you five minutes to do it’ but being unaware of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes in to making that change, they are not in the position to determine the size of the task they are asking for. Nevertheless, many people will be tempted to take this on without contractual changes or an extra fee to show that they are a good person, that their organisation is easy to work with, and hope that additional projects can be secured in future.

However, if you are under the impression that giving away your employees’ work for free is a necessary part of being a good person or company, might you be doing your organisation a disservice? Remember that you can be pleasant and client-focused while also valuing your own and your employee’s work enough to require appropriate renumeration for their time and effort. 

To accommodate a client’s changing needs, agree a timescale at the beginning of the project for any changes to the project or its scope to be introduced. Ask the client what their expected priorities are in the next 10 – 15 days, so you can anticipate where changes may be needed. Both of these planning adjustments will allow you to plan time into the project schedule to deal with changes that may be requested during the project.

No personal responsibility (8)

In a team project, it is essential that there is a shared responsibility among all members for delivering outputs on time and to standard. However, personal responsibility is also needed, as for a team to collaborate effectively, every member must fulfil their role correctly.

If one member of staff is not delivering their outputs on time, it can prevent others from moving on with their next task and hold up progress for everyone. This is a financial cost.  It is important, therefore, that everyone is held accountable for their own responsibilities and any failures are addressed adequately at progress review meetings. Here, you can ask them why their output has not been completed, when will it be completed, and what that person needs from you or other members of the team in order to get it done.

Make progress reviews easier by keeping track of each aspect of a project as it progresses, noting who is responsible for that area, how close (%) it is to completion, and what date it is to be finished by.  If an agreed timescale is not achieved, don’t look for who to blame; instead look for who is responsible. 

Communicating to a team member the financial cost to your organisation of their failure to deliver what was required by the agreed timescale, and their part in this failure, can bring the commercial aspects of late delivery very much to mind.

In Closing

While implementing many of these tips will require a change in organisational processes, particularly where planning is concerned, it is important to note that this is not about having so many processes that creativity, flexibility, and motivation are stifled. The goal is to have processes in place that are practical for employees, beneficial to the organisation, and that everyone is aware of and expected to work within.

Some may initially find these processes constricting, but in the long-term they will help ensure your organisation is reliably producing outputs that are on time, profitable, and maintain the high standards that brought the client to you in the first place.

The specific outcomes I set for the project were delivered much more quickly than I anticipated.
P Gilroy
 - Head of Community Support Services, Denbighshire County Council