How to Solve Marketing Fire Drills with Kyle DeWeerdt from Aprenda

Marketing fire drills: Can you learn to take care of them before they turn into bona fide emergencies?

It can be stressful and overwhelming when projects crop up with little to no notice. Planning where you can and having good communication with your team can help you get through it with no negative ramifications.

Today’s guest is Kyle DeWeerdt, marketing programs manager at Apprenda. He has come up with a simple system to help his team prioritize their time to complete their work, nipping stressful emergencies in the bud. He’s going to help us learn how to resolve issues before they even start.

Some of the topics you’ll hear about today include:

  • Some information about Apprenda and the types of content that Kyle works with, as well as Kyle’s background.
  • An explanation of “marketing fire drills”: What are they, and what can you do about them?
  • An explanation of buffer time, and how it can help you handle these emergencies that come up.
  • How to break down a project to define a deadline and a publish date for content.
  • How Kyle manages the process behind the scenes with multiple teams to make sure every task is completed on time.
  • Kyle’s best tips for marketers who want to manage their projects more efficiently.

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Quotes from Kyle:

  • “The most important thing is to plan when you can.”
  • “There are some things that can be done in conjunction … other things need to be done as an assembly line.”
  • “Get everyone on the same page and make sure organization is something they’re looking for.”


Nathan: Here’s the story: you’ve just been asked to do something today that’s due as soon as possible. What do you do? Unfortunately, it’s a situation that’s all too common for marketers, who help other internal teams communicate the company’s value proposition.

Hey, I’m Nathan from CoSchedule, and I think it’s time for us to prevent marketing fire drills before they become emergencies. That’s why I’m chatting with Kyle Deweerdt today, who is the Marketing Programs Manager at Apprenda. Kyle has come up with a simple system to help his team prevent some of that anxiety of rushing through a project too quickly. His system helps his team prioritize their time to complete their upcoming work to the best of their potential. Kyle’s on the Actionable Content Marketing podcast to share how you can use this framework to resolve fire drills before they even start. Let’s dive in!

Alright, Kyle, thanks so much for chatting with me today.

Kyle: Thanks for having me, Nathan.

Nathan: We are really excited to chat with you. I think that this idea behind marketing fire drills is really important for marketers to help prevent some of these anxiety of rushing through a project too quickly. It’s really important for us to prioritize some of our work so that we can make it to the best of our potential and not just work really quickly and poorly but more so plan out in advance what to do. With that, I’d like to lead into some of first introductory stuff.

Could you tell me a little bit about Apprenda and what you do there?

Kyle: Certainly. My name is Kyle Deweerdt, and I’m the Marketing Programs Manager here at Apprenda. That means a lot of things, but first let’s start with what Apprenda is. We’re founded in 2007 around the idea of making it easier for people to develop software at an enterprise scale. We sell what’s called a Platform as a Service, and it’s essentially a type of middleware, where IT operators and developers both have a view into the platform, where (from an operator’s standpoint) they’re able to set policy, ensure compliance, and basically more efficiently allocate their infrastructure; while developers – their applications are abstracted away from the infrastructure so they’re less concerned with some of the mundane operational parameters and can focus more on just developing their applications.

What that means for me at Apprenda and our marketing team is building awareness around what we’re doing, helping the sales team and helping business development, client services. At the end of the day, I think, every other node of the business is a customer of marketing. We wanna do everything we can to help make everybody’s life easier in the business.

Nathan: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. What are some of the projects that you work on there to help the sales and business development teams reach the audience? You were mentioning, sales enablement. What sorts of content types do you work with?

Kyle: We develop a lot of written material; this could be anything from white papers to a quick one-pager, maybe like a shorter version of a white paper. We also have recently been developing these whiteboard videos that are one- to two-minute long topical videos with a sales engineer or someone from our development team. They’ve really been a hit. We have someone on the product team, who’s quite handy with the dry-erase marker.

Nathan: Very nice. You’re working with all sorts of different content. Could you explain a little bit about your experience before even starting at Apprenda?

Kyle: Sure! I come from an agency background. I was at a marketing agency for maybe two or three years before getting into sort of a dedicated company role. It provides an interesting perspective on the idea of content development because when you’re at an agency, your clients are dependent upon a steady pipeline of content. And that’s not to say that’s not the case in an individual company, but I feel like it’s given a more front-and-center priority at an agency because it’s really the dollar value thing that you’re contracted to deliver.

I have this kind of ingrained scheduling and prioritization process in the way that I think about how to develop content so that we get out of this idea of just-in-time content delivery, where stuff is coming off the assembly line right as it’s about to be sent live. You can avoid a lot of heartache from doing that.

Nathan: I really like that concept of just-in-time marketing, and that’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to have this conversation with you today. The last time we chatted, you mentioned that you had a challenge that you were working to resolve that you had called marketing fire drills. Could you describe what you mean by that to me?

Kyle: Sure. A marketing drill – what would be a good example? You find out that a partner event is coming up. We need a booth; we need collateral to hand out. Do we have a speaker for one of the sessions? And it all happens next month. Are we going to be promoting the event? Do we wanna get people that are in our mailing list to attend?

Sometimes you just don’t know what you need to know ahead of time, or you don’t know what you don’t know. So we’ve come up with a couple of processes or templated tasks, so to speak, that kinda help address some of these fire drills.

I think the partner event is a little bit more of an elaborate example, but sometimes it’s just as simple as, “Hey, we have a piece of content that was just developed without marketing’s knowledge.” Maybe it was something that a sales engineer wrote that was for a specific account, but then it’s thrown over the fences. “Hey, this would be great for demand gen campaign as well.”

Nathan: Yeah, that’s a great example. You get a lot of sales enablement material possibly from your sales team How would you approach a project like that, that maybe wasn’t on your radar, but it seems like a really good idea to continue working on for demand generation?

Kyle: Sure. I guess the most important preface to that is planning when you can. If you have your weekly campaigns and your monthly events lined out to the best of your ability, it makes room for the unknown. So when these unknown things come up, you have some flex in your schedule, where you can take some time to address it, breathe, and think about what you can actually do with it, rather than just saying, “Oh! Okay, we gotta get something out the door, but I have three other things that are on my plate right now.” If those three other things that were on your plate are running at their own pace, then you can just slot that right into what you’re doing.

The most important thing is to plan when you can.

I guess the big thing is kind of taking what you can plan and getting that on some sort of schedule ahead of time, then when something crops up, you need to just have a quick checklist of “what are the things that are applicable for this?”

So in the case of a white paper, you say, “Okay, is this something that deserves lead collection? Do we need to make a landing page? Do I need to wire up a form through our marketing operation tool? Do I need to tie that to a campaign back in the CRM? Should I alert the sales team? They probably already know about it, if it’s sales collateral, to be fair, but is it something that we want to run an email campaign for? Should we get something scheduled out? Well, that means that I need to make an email image request. So that means we should wait a couple days; maybe schedule it out for next week.”

If you know what all of the pieces are that are required from your different team members for each piece of content, then if you decide to go down one of those routes, you know that, “Okay, it’s gonna take two to three business days in order to be able to do this.” And you can kind of figure out what is possible, and then discuss that with the content owner and see how they feel about it ‘cause they’re the ones that’s gonna have the best opinion on its use case.

Nathan: You’ve come up with a solution for marketing fire drills that you’ve described to me as a buffer time, the last time we chatted. Could you elaborate on that concept a bit more?

Kyle: Sure. Buffer time is basically just building in this expectation of, “We’re gonna need this time to sort things out.” If something pops up, if it’s an event, it should be expected from your teammates, both in the marketing department and in the outside departments, that we’re gonna need two to three days to develop content or develop any sort of design materials around the event or the new piece of content for the campaign that’s gonna go out.

The way that we address that buffer time is through those task templates, like something we use in CoSchedule. So we have a task template for, say a whiteboard video, and you say, “Okay, when we put this on the calendar and we want it to be live a week from now, there’s several things that have to happen two to three days beforehand.”

I think another major aspect of this is just communicating it and having a quick discussion on the phone with your team members (if they’re remote) or in person (if you have that luxury) and just making sure that everybody’s on the same page and the expectations are set.

Nathan: I’m wondering, based on that, how did you work with your team to come up with that content workflow or checklist or templates, as you’re calling them?

Kyle: We basically sat down with the leaders in each department. We had someone from our communications and PR team. We had someone from the design team. We had myself from the demand generation team. And we just thought it all out. We listed it all out. We said, “If you’re going to do content piece x with medium y, that means that you need what things?”

In the example of a white paper, you say, “We’re gonna probably need a webpage to host this white paper, and that means that we’re gonna need some images designed, let alone the white paper itself.”

We have a fairly beautiful PDF template that our design team worked up, so when they get a Word document draft of a white paper, it takes maybe an hour or so for them to finalize that and have it in that nice PDF format.

Anyway, we just sit down and lined out, “What are all the things that we could do with this? What’s required if we decide to do those things?” In that way, when you choose what avenues you wanna go down, you have all of those paths laid out.

Nathan: I love that idea. Something that we talk a lot about is kind of starting with your rock and working backward. If you have that piece of content that you’re working on, what are the other additional things that need to be done and who might need to do those so that you can create that template backwards?

Kyle: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you have a really strong research report that you just worked out with maybe some kind of partner organization – we took a research report. We turned it into infographics. We wrote blog posts that referenced the research report, and we were able to come up with a coordinated campaign that ran over two months, rather than just doing sort of a one-and-done-okay. “We blasted it out to our newsletter list, and we got a couple downloads. That’s great.” We’d pat ourselves on the back

Nathan: I absolutely love that idea – to not just promote something once when you publish it, but to make sure that it gets the full attention that it deserves. You just put a ton of time into creating this content.

Someone like Apprenda – you guys have multiple team members working into this, so a piece of content is a big asset. How do you maximize what you are creating? That just makes total sense to me.

Kyle: Yeah. Exactly.

Nathan: With buffer time, how do you break down a project to understand how long it’ll take to create? If I had to phrase that in other words, how do you define your deadlines and publish dates for your content?

Kyle: Good question. There’s certain things that can be done in conjunction. While an email header image is being designed, you can write the copy for the email, given that you’re not the person who’s gonna do both of those things.

Some of what we’re discussing becomes more difficult when you have a smaller team. We’ve grown our team out to about 10 members over the past two years, so it’s really been an eye-opening experience to go from back at that agency background, where you’re sort of wearing many hats and you’re doing all these things at once, to having a team that can support all these things at once – is really great.

Anyways, there are certain things that you can do at the same time as your teammates, and then there’s other things that has to work like an assembly line. You have to wait for someone to be done, so that’s when it’s really helpful to have as much planned out ahead of time as you can because then you understand where it fits in their priority and where it fits in their schedule, when they can deliver it.

There are some things that can be done in conjunction ... other things need to be done as an assembly line.

We keep honest deadlines with each other. If something can’t be done, when it would be nice to have it done by then, it’s communicated ahead of time rather than, “Oh, I didn’t get to it.” I think transparency is a huge thing. Nobody’s gonna get angry at one of their team members here if something can’t get done, when it was expected, especially if they’re told ahead of time.

Nathan: I love that. There’s accountability and the idea of a checklist that you’re working through. I mean, it just makes sense that there’s a transparency that people can work on things at the same time as other people. I mean, that is especially important with the amount of content that you’re creating, that you’re probably managing multiple, different projects at any given time.

Kyle: Yeah, and I guess one of the pro tips I would mention there is having some kind of abstract or some kind of promotional abstract at the beginning really helps. Say you’re gonna run a webinar. If you can get that summary from who’s gonna deliver the webinar as soon as possible, that then fills into so many other things that you’re gonna do.

You can share it with your social team, and they can start to digest that down into tweets. They can start to summarize it in a LinkedIn post and think about the way that they wanna position that, the targeting that they wanna set up.

From a demand gen angle, we can look at what geographical regions we wanna market this to, if it’s not all of them. We can design the landing pages, while the images are being built in the meantime, from that abstract.

Those core pieces, those rocks, as you mentioned – having those upfront really, really makes a lot of difference.

Nathan: Alright. I’ve heard that you called this entire concept “just-in-time marketing.” It’s something that you mentioned earlier. I’m just wondering, how do you manage the process behind the scenes with multiple teams specifically because you have your evangelism team, you have your demand generation team, and I know that you are also working with designers? How do you manage the process behind the scenes with those multiple teams to make sure that every task is completed on time?

Kyle: Calls are great, but you don’t wanna have too many of them. You don’t wanna bog everybody’s time down in meetings, so we try to have very short 10-15 minute calls around some of these topics. We track our tasks related to them through the templates in CoSchedule, and everybody’s given due dates on what they’re responsible for at a given time. Then it just goes back to that transparency, so when something is delivered, everybody knows about it. Or when something has to get pushed back, we make that notice right away as well.

That kind of avoids some of those just-in-time scenarios as we discussed, but again, I think it’s just taking the time to be creative about those ideas, too, and say, “Hey, if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it right and try some of these other things as well.” Maybe we create an infographic. Maybe we do a short video on it as well.

Nathan: I love that. That makes total sense What’s your best advice for marketers, looking to manage their own marketing projects more efficiently?

Kyle: I think one of the first things you can do is just get everybody on the same page and make sure that organization is something that they’re looking for. Sometimes people like to work in a scheduled manner; some people prefer to work in an unscheduled manner. We kind of came together as a team, as some of us were having some frustrations around things being dropped on them with a very tight deadline.

Get everyone on the same page and make sure organization is something they're looking for.

We said, “Hey, I think we can all benefit from a little bit of rigor here. I know nobody really enjoys meetings for the sake of having meetings, but let’s start to schedule project-oriented meetings, not just, ‘Let’s meet every week at the same time and see if there’s anything we have to talk about.’”

 “Let’s talk about this one thing for 5-10 minutes. Figure out everything that needs to be done for that. Make someone accountable for each piece of that, and then we’ll sync back up a week from now and see where we went.’”

 Add rigor where you can, and plan what you can. That will make room for things that you can’t plan for, when things crop up.

Nathan: That’s awesome, Kyle. Thanks a lot for sharing that. Thanks for chatting with me today. This was really helpful.

Kyle: Thanks for the time, Nathan. It was really great to discuss some of these things. It all makes sense when you talk about it in practice.

Nathan: Thanks, Kyle.

Kyle: When it comes down to getting it done and getting stuff out the door, it can be a little overwhelming, but that’s why whatever you can have planned ahead of time, things get a little bit easier.

My pleasure. Thank you, Nathan.