Supporting the role of Marketing Operations

Supporting Marketing: The Role of Marketing Operations

This blog post was written in partnership with Ian Hoyt, who’s RVshare’s Marketing Project Manager.

While you pass through the growth stages of departments, things start breaking. Teams become less efficient. There is more work and often less accountability. In a small startup, everyone shares the responsibility because there is no one else to blame or lead initiatives. While you grow to a marketing team of 5+, it becomes clear that there are owners for channels (social, SEO, creative, email, to name a few). At 10+, you’ll undoubtedly have the first manager, and you can see how things evolve from there (multiple managers, managers managing team leaders).

At RVshare, I hired a Marketing Project Manager to help manage scale. We had too many ongoing initiatives and team members late last year. Unfortunately, it became too much for one person to manage (welcome to me partially failing as a leader). In many startups/scale-ups, I’ve noticed similar roles, and people show up to help manage the growth and support leaders (often in the form of a Chief of Staff, which we’ll talk about later).

What this role is (for us).

There are plenty of different titles and nuances to the role of a Marketing Project Manager in a marketing operations structure. And it comes down to the lifecycle of your company. The role can wear many different hats, and often, they do. At RVshare, we had a choice to make when we hired for this role. We could either hire a project manager FOR marketing (think SCRUM master, JIRA wizard) or a well-rounded marketer who knows how to manage projects. We chose the latter.

The difference is subtle, but context is key.

As a department going through a growth phase, it isn’t always the prettiest, most neatly tied bow of an existence. You try your best to stay organized, but there is no perfect “hey, we have a campaign idea,” let’s set all the requirements and execute the project at perfect timing (or hand it off to an agency), always. Instead, growth can be messy because better (or bigger) opportunities come up, priorities shift, and then you’re left with a team that needs someone to help fill those gaps and navigate the tides of the unknowns in the project all at the same time. 

Kind of like someone sitting in the haul of a sinking boat with a rag and some wax ready to fill punctured holes as they traverse rough waters, all while screaming up to the captain what the heck their plan is. Except, our marketing project manager has never been in a haul of a boat, and no marketing campaign is ever that life or death. 

What this role is not.

It’s not an executive assistant (EA), period. This person shouldn’t manage the team’s calendar, transport, or travel expenses. You can manage these activities way more efficiently by hiring an EA or putting enough processes/tools in place to manage them.

You’re lazy. You should have just {fill in the blanks}…

  • Hired more interns or more Virtual Assistants
  • Build more technology to avoid overhead
  • Created less bureaucracy and processes, to begin with
  • Hire more agencies or contractors

Your thought process is likely correct, and there is a place and time to think about all these areas, especially before starting the hiring process and figuring out how to avoid needing more headcount. But a VA or intern isn’t usually the right pick to lead strategic initiatives as they lack experience and seniority in an organization. Technology supports initiatives but doesn’t lead them.

Also read: Deciding between who to hire: an Agency versus a Contractor versus Hiring?

Chief of Staff roles?

They have things in common. They’ll often lead strategic initiatives and have the autonomy to operate parallel with the rest of an organization. But this role is usually the right hand of a C-level executive and more often than not focused on cross-organizational initiatives. The role that we’re talking about is more supportive of a team, and its primary goal is to keep the team operating as best as possible.

The role of (Business) Operations in the High Growth Handbook

If you want to read more about the role of business operations, I recommend reading the specific chapters on that in the High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil. It gave me the first glance a few years ago into what a team like that can do and how they can support the overall organization by being a ‘gap-filler’. To a large extent, the role of Marketing Operations fits into that as well.

The background of Operational roles in for example Design & Business

  • Design: In bigger design teams (>15 people), you’ll often find people focused on design ops. They’re helping the overall team design more and be better at their job by creating tools, workflows, and processes that eventually will help the team create more output.
  • Business: Filling gaps, exploring projects, and chasing ideas that could help make an impact on a company. Meanwhile, helping out to operate the business better by leading the way on cross-functional projects. That’s often what the role of business operations is all about.

Working through inefficiencies & why you need this role

As described earlier, nothing is perfect, and things will be inefficient. In a growth marketing organization, you’ll miss certain skill sets once you go through certain levels. With a marketing team of 5 people, you will not have channel specialists or functional leaders for everything. At 20 marketers, you might need more bandwidth temporarily somewhere based on seasonality. With this role, we’re providing a way to work through those inefficiencies, and it’s a reason this role could be helpful.


Want to read more on this topic?


Deciding between who to hire: an Agency versus a Contractor versus Hiring?

While you’re scaling the efforts of your team, you’re running into bottlenecks as you grow. The faster you go, the more often you lack the resources to add new initiatives or improve existing channels & functions. Time after time, you find yourself identifying the gaps in your marketing organization (or others) trying to figure out how to stitch those problems. In the end, it’ll likely come down to the answer: you need more people/skills/experience/knowledge/time to go faster.

A few weeks ago, Rand Fishkin posted a similar blog post on the topic of Why You Should Hire Agencies & Consultants (for everything you can). As you could already read in his blog post, as it mentions the tweet that I replied to, it was a topic that resonated with me. I also had a similar past to Rand in which we both, it seemed, chose the hiring (FTE) route often over finding agencies or contractors.

I’m not going as far as Rand by suggesting that you shouldn’t hire. In many cases, in my opinion, this is the right answer. But there is more out there, like agencies, consultants, interim, crowdsourced tools that could help you fulfill the same needs.

This also came to mind during the process that we went through at RVshare leading up to the investment by KKR (read more about that here) a few months ago. One of their advisors asked this specific question while discussing our marketing strategy:

“To scale this function, would you outsource the execution or hire internally?”

There is no right or wrong answer to any of this, as it all depends on the situation you find yourself in as a manager/executive. What all strategies have in common is that they require more resourcing. You have a need for it that you currently can’t fulfill with the (extended) team that you have.

My experiences

At the past companies that I worked for, there was always a slightly different strategy. At The Next Web, we hired people and filled the execution gaps with interns in certain periods (the system for interns works differently in most of Europe than the US as they can support you throughout the whole year where the majority of internships in the US take place in Summer). At Postmates, at the time, it was different, and the focus was primarily on hiring in-house (senior) experts as there wasn’t too much time to train people as the company was blitzscaling.

🌍 & 🌎 – Europe versus the United States

When the question got asked at the beginning, a few thoughts came to mind. I’ve been working and living for close to four years now in the US and previously for many years in Europe. As the US is a bigger country with a different educational system and different wage ranges (even across the US), the approach is often different. Some topics that came to mind about the differences:

  • Interns: I touched slightly on this, but Europe’s system enables to train young people more easily throughout the whole year as most educational setups have year-round periods for internships.
  • Wages: In general, wages are much higher in the United States than they are in Europe. This sometimes causes just issues in hiring, where you could hire somebody for a similar role in Europe for 70K that same person might cost 100K in most of the United States (with exceptions reaching much higher).
  • Experience at Scaling: There are different approaches to this. In the wider Bay Area, more people have grown up in a tech ecosystem that has shown them how big tech companies operate. As Europe, in general, is a bit behind that it sometimes impacts how they can operate at scale.

Again, this is not me judging Europe or the United States to be better. They both have a place in the overall ecosystem of hiring and extending your resources.

What’s the right approach? What to consider?

  • Short versus Long term needs: For short term needs like a copywriting project, designing a slide deck, creating an explainer video, you can’t convince me easily that they’re worth hiring for. You won’t find all those skills in one person, so it makes more sense to hire.
  • Cost: Let’s face it, the costs of a contractor/agency are higher right away, but don’t forget about all the additional costs an FTE brings with them (insurance, travel, office in a non-COVID world).
  • Depth of the Bench: Many sports teams have outstanding players sitting on the bench; this is a huge upside of agencies, for example. They often have well-trained teams that already have experience working with similar clients ready to roll directly onto your team and help out with efforts. Especially in functions like media buying, PR, and many creative services, I’m having a hard time seeing how you would be able to defend hiring for those positions solely internally.
  • Specialist versus Generalist: For smaller startups, it’s not always possible based on costs or the skillset to hire the right person right out of the gate. It’s the reason why many startups take off with a bunch of generalists and, while they grow, start adding more specialists to their teams. For example, I myself used to be a specialist as well (search and analytics). Over time while moving up the ladder, I became more of a generalist (welcome to executive life) than a specialist. For some roles that you’re looking for, it means that you might be better off with a consultant as they can provide the specialist skills that you’re not ready to hire for (just yet).
  • Range of skills / Many Hires: As a follow-up on this, what you face as well as your scale is that you have a range of needs that even a specialist in an area can’t solve for you. This is usually where agencies come into play as they have a range of skills available for you usually in the mix of 1 FTE. I’ve blogged many times before about our working relationships around Analytics. We use Marketlytics there as part of our setup as they know their stuff incredibly well and have many skills on the team (analyst, engineer, project manager).
  • Scale fast: Hiring is slow. There is a reason why big organizations sometimes have hundreds of different roles open at the same time. They just can’t hire people fast enough. This is mainly a problem at the top of the funnel. You don’t know enough people or can’t reach them quickly enough. It’s one of the reasons why you should always be talking to people to get them potentially interested in joining your company long-term. So consultants/contractors could be your temporary fix as they can usually provide a quick specialist approach to your needs. In addition, if you need to prove a business case, they can provide temporary support.
  • Tunnelvision: It’s surely is a thing. If you’ve been staring at the same problems for years and working with the same people for a while, you likely get stuck in this. A new fresh pair of eyes or agency team probably has a different approach that could help bring additional growth.

What am I missing? What are the areas that you prefer to hire against trying to find an agency or consultant? Leave a comment so we can discuss it. This will likely be one of those blog posts that I’ll keep up to date over time as I learn new things.


Starting & Growing SEO Teams

“Tell me, who/what do I need to hire to run our SEO program? What is the first hire for a new SEO team?” Questions I often get, usually followed by: “Do you know anybody for our team?”. As so many companies around the Bay Area are hiring it makes sense, which also makes hiring harder. I’ve previously blogged about writing a better job description for SEO roles but I also wanted to shed some light into what I’d suggest as good setups for an SEO team and what roles + seniority to hire for depending on your company structure.

Why need SEO support?

Most startup founders or early employees don’t have an extensive background in Marketing or specifically SEO (and they shouldn’t). Most of the time, they have been too busy building the company, getting to product-market fit and iterating on their product/service. In a lot of growing B2C companies, you need to establish plans for long term growth. That’s what SEO can usually bring to these companies: a sustainable long term growth strategy. But in order to get there, you’ll need to bring in extra help to make sure that it actually is sustainable. Instead of employing short term SEO tactics that might put your growth more at risk if you approach it wrong (as many startups also do).

Why create an SEO Team?

So why do you need to create an SEO team, for many of us this is common knowledge as we’re in this on a daily basis? But let’s say you’re getting started, these could be some of the objectives:

  • Dedicated focus on SEO, there are too many other channels to take care off.
  • Need to grow a long-term channel to success.
  • Too many tasks, need to specialize with its own dedicated specialized IC/team.
  • Build out more brand awareness for the company (SEO is a great way of doing this long term).
  • Grow revenue & transactions at a low Customer Acquisition Cost.

Consultant versus Hiring Inhouse

Hiring an SEO Consultant versus an Inhouse SEO

Some teams can’t always hire talent right away (think about the Bay Area where basically all the bigger companies constantly have a need to hire SEO talent) or it might take too long to ramp up SEO. In some other cases, it made more sense for the company to hire a consultant in the short term to take care of some issues and figure out what’s actually needed instead of just hiring somebody with potentially the wrong skill set for the long term.

My take on this is usually that if you already know what you want your SEO team to work on & are able to wait another 2-3 months that you’re better off hiring somebody in-house (if resources are available). In other cases: you have a short term need, you need a technical SEO but want to hire a content person, etc. You’re likely better off starting with a specialized consultant in an area to make sure your issues around that are covered.

Also, read my blogpost on levels & seniority in SEO roles.

Hiring SEOs isn’t good enough: resources!

The Skills of an SEO Leader

Provide them with resources, when I joined Postmates one of the questions that I wanted to make sure was that they provided me with not just resources to set up some tools but also that I had engineers available to run the actual implementations and a designer to create the new pages that we needed there.

  • Engineering: It’s important, as you the SEO can’t make all the changes yourself, you’ll need the team to make actual changes. Most SEOs that I meet don’t have the knowledge about their infrastructure to actually push code or design something that complies with brand guidelines.
  • Design: You need to add additional content, you need more blog posts, but they can’t just be text. There need to be visual add-ons to it, so you need design support.
  • Content: In a bigger company there will be an actual huge need for content (either new or to edit existing content). 

How have you been growing SEO teams, what is missing, what should SEO teams really focus on? Leave a comment!