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.


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