Leveraging a Decentralized Marketing Team

The benefits of a centralized marketing team seem pretty obvious. Team culture, transparency, and collaboration come naturally when you’re sharing the same office space. But with large-scale mergers, paired with the ability to work virtually, many marketers are finding themselves part of a team they don’t see on a regular basis, if at all.

On this week’s episode, we chat with Erin Ongena, Associate Vice President and Marketing Manager for CallisonRTKL‘s Commercial Practice Group, about how she keeps her team connected, motivated, and contributing at the highest level within her organization.

Our approach is to really make sure that our marketing team structure reflects our corporate structure.

CQ: In The Ultimate Marketing Machine, a recent Harvard Business Review article by Marc de Swaan Arons, Frank van den Driest, and Keith Weed, the authors state, “As companies expand internationally, they inevitably reorganize to better balance the benefits of global scale with the need for local relevance.” As a manager within a global firm, how have you adapted your team to better serve local initiatives?

EO: The way in which we’re structured is how we’re tapping into having that local knowledge and experience to play off of when it comes to our marketing strategy and approach. We have a decentralized marketing team with boots on the ground in all thirteen offices that have a commercial presence. And we now have people of all levels within those offices. There are coordinators who are working day to day with the vice presidents on business development initiatives; regional business development strategists who are really looking at the market, our clients, trends, and research to help stay relevant and ahead of the curve on things that are happening locally; and our senior leadership that are not only doing the work, but interacting and speaking with our clients every day. Our approach is to really make sure that our marketing team structure reflects our corporate structure, and having individuals who are not only from the areas where we’re doing work, but are sitting in those areas every day and really understand what’s going on in those markets.

CQ: As the manager of a global team, how do you infuse a sense of proximity and team for those people who are sitting all over the world?

EO: That is certainly a challenge. I spend a lot of time trying to identify ways to get my team engaged and interacting with each other. We have weekly calls where we talk about what’s going on in our offices and bigger initiatives we’re working on within the practice group. I try to pull people off into smaller teams, pair people from different regions or offices, and give them a project or initiative to work on collectively. When possible I try to also get them face time and get them traveling. Those opportunities don’t come up as often as we’d like, and being that we’re an overhead cost to the firm, you really have to have a good reason to get people face-to-face. We do look for those opportunities, and often it comes with training new hires that will get people moving around and in other offices.

CQ: What do your weekly team meetings look like?

EO: Well they’re getting a lot more fun now that we’ve incorporated Skype into our weekly calls and we can see everyone face to face. The agenda of the call itself is an evolving agenda, and what I’ve done this year is really put it back on the team. I’ve given ownership of each monthly call to a coordinator and let them come up with the agenda. Let them identify who’s going to be coming in as guest speakers, and what they think is important and want to talk about. It’s everything from showcasing projects that are happening in our offices, to talking about the topics and issues that are related to marketing and communications. Or something that someone has an interest in and they want to share it with the team. We cover a variety of things, but it all stays tied to what we’re doing as a practice group and as professionals.

CQ: How do you keep each other in the know enough to be able to leverage each other’s projects and people the best way?

EO: There are a variety of tools that we use as a team to stay up to speed on the latest and greatest coming out of each office. The biggest tool for us outside our weekly calls is Deltek Vision. I think for a decentralized team, having a system in place where everybody has access to the same information really helps us understand the global portfolio. We also use our intranet to share marketing resources and examples of materials we’ve put together to get feedback from the team. It’s really about the communication at the end of the day, and making sure that we’re keeping everybody in the loop on what we’re doing in our own offices.

CQ: Do you find the process of quality management an issue

EO: It is absolutely something you need to stay on top of, and I really try to do my best to monitor what the team is doing. But I put it back on them as well to be aware of the brand standards and guidelines and how something should be looking when it goes out the door. I think the team has really taken it on themselves. Not in a way of ever singling anybody out or making them feel embarrassed, but it’s a way of elevating the team in general. We put everybody in a position to say, “Hey, is this the best work that’s going out the door?” If you see something that’s not right, I expect them to call it out. Help that person identify the changes that need to happen, and understand that we’re doing this as a collective team. I challenge my team to be aware of what others are doing, to be double checking their work, and to really ask themselves if it’s up to par with the quality of the materials that we want to be producing. At the end of the day, always asking if we’re putting our best foot forward in the work that we’re doing.

CQ: How are you leveraging your team’s presence across the company to raise the bar and elevate your team’s role within the firm?

EO: This is a huge challenge. Especially as a decentralized team because you definitely have much less of an impact just in numbers. You tend to be in an office sitting by yourself. What I’ve really encouraged my team to do is to find ways to engage outside of just the task-oriented work that they’re doing. One of the things we’ve been talking about as a team for the last year and a half is how we go from being a task-oriented, reactionary team to a proactive team. What we’re finding is that as we master the processes of proposal generation, and those day-to-day activities, we start to free up and identify time to focus on other things like participating in cultural events and professional organizations.

We’ve done a much better job over the last year of making sure that we’re communicating what we’re doing back to the designers and VPs in our office so that they’re aware of the breadth of what we’re doing. It’s also about identifying the skill sets and the passion of the individuals on my team and figuring out ways to leverage that, even if it’s outside their job description, and incorporate it into our daily process. I’m always looking for ways to engage team members with other people outside the marketing team to elevate our expertise and be more present in the office environment.

CQ: How do you collect feedback on your team members in local offices, and how do you decipher the “he said, she said” from the truth of their work product?

EO: There’s a lot of things that go into that. As a manager you have to be very proactive about staying in front of and being aware of what your team is doing in those other offices. And it needs to be everything they’re doing, not just the job related stuff. Are they participating in office events? Are they doing things in their own time that benefit their local office? Who are they working with? Also, having an understanding of the  individuals in their office, their personalities and expectations, and having open and honest conversations with your team. We all have different perspectives on situations and how things work out for both the good and the bad. It’s being able to talk to the person you’re receiving the feedback from, getting the full story, and then being able to go to your team member and talk about it in a non-accusatory way. You have to come at it with an open mind. Giving the person the opportunity to own the feedback, and if there’s something that needs to be corrected, the ability to go back and make those changes on their own to support and maintain their relationships in their office. As a manager, being in a position where your team knows you have their back, that all goes back to your communication style. From my own experience, being able to have very open, honest, and direct conversations with them has built that trust to where they know I’m not just going to throw them under the bus or take anything I hear at word. It’s always a much larger conversation.

CQ: How do you recommend marketers on a decentralized team increase their visibility and influence outside of their own office?

EO: You need to be your own advocate. You need to speak up and make sure that those around are aware of what your career goals are, what you’re trying to do, and what you’re bringing to the table. Having been in that same role before when I was looking to grow, your direct supervisor is not always there and aware of everything that you’re doing. So you have to be proactive about engaging them in the conversation about what you can do to get to the next level. As a supervisor, I need to look for ways to engage my team outside of their own office, and look for projects and opportunities that get them in front of a larger audience and a larger group of senior leadership so that there is a name recognition. Giving my team members the opportunity to prove themselves and build those relationships. But at the end of the day, no one is going to ever ask you what you want to do in your career, so you have to be proactive about communicating that in the appropriate opportunities.

Listen to the Podcast

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Links and Resources


About Erin

Erin OngenaErin Ongena leads CallisonRTKL’s global team of marketing professionals in communicating the firm’s brand and position as a thought leader in the architecture and design community. She is responsible for directing global marketing strategy, budgets, and collateral; working closely with the firm’s communications team to establish and implement brand standards and processes for the Commercial Practice Group; and overseeing all aspects of proposal development, award submissions, conference and event management, and database organization.

Have questions or want to chat more with Erin? Post your comments below or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Double Dip with Erin

Join us Thursday on the podcast where catch back up with Erin about how she stays inspired, her biggest wins, and how she’s gone from a junior coordinator to managing a global marketing team.

“It was the first time we’d ever had a position like that at RTKL and I was the first to hold it. I was given the opportunity to define what that role was, and set the direction for what it is today and where it’s going.”

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Next on Communiqueso

We’ll be taking a break from the podcast through the end of the year to celebrate the holidays. Oh, and our very own Kate Erdy’s WEDDING!! That’s right, when we return it will be Communiqueso with Kate ATTILIO and Laura Ewan. Same old podcast, now twice as spicy.

We’ll also be starting the year off with a bang, welcoming Melissa Rysak, CPSM, Marketing and Business Development Director at Daroff Design, to talk about making the leap from marketing to business development.