How to Pick Marketing Project Management Tools and Software

Smartsheet Contributor Joe Weller

May 16, 2016 (updated August 1, 2022)

Marketing people are a creative bunch, which means they all usually have different ways of conquering projects. Whether they are working at an ad agency, a design studio, or on an internal marketing team, their projects often involve many types of professionals: writers, graphic artists, marketers, social media experts, sales associates, and the marketing project manager who handles it all. It’s no wonder they need collaborative project management tools that are flexible, easy to access from anywhere, and have customizable views. 

Marketing project management software does just that and a whole lot more. Some solutions even have the ability to track time and monitor traffic, and include CRM features and invoicing. This guide will help you understand all the features available in project management software along with questions to ask when evaluating potential solutions.

8 Key Questions When Evaluating Marketing Project Management Software

Marketing project managers have unique needs. They typically work in a fast-paced environment, and require multiple ways to sort tasks (by department, project, clients, and specific team members), and a way to organize the various assets (video, images, content, and audio) involved in a project. Many people on the team typically have different workflows, making juggling timelines and setting deadlines an essential part of any marketing project manager’s job. It’s imperative to understand everything you need marketing project management software to do for you, before selecting an option. Ask yourself some of the questions below first to make it easier to narrow down your choices.

  1. Will your team and clients use the tool differently?
  2. How your internal team uses the software to manage marketing projects may not be the same way you want your customers to interact with it. For example, perhaps you require an external portal that you can use to collaborate with clients. A portal gives you the ability to only share materials that are ready for review, instead of providing access to all versions created in-house. Clients can also use this portal to request changes, monitor calendar updates, and view project progress on a project dashboard. Conversely, the in-house team should have access to the underlying project spreadsheets that roll up to the dashboard.

  3. Do you want the project management software to create automated workflows?
  4. Marketing campaigns have a lot of elements that need to be reviewed by multiple people and often multiple times. With this in mind, do you want to manually move assets through the review process or would you prefer to automate it? If it’s the latter, look for a solution that lets you set up rules to forward marketing materials through the proofing and reviewing processes before being pushed along to the next stage. To keep items from getting stuck in a workflow, look for software that will automatically send alerts to those responsible for approving the materials.

  5. How do you plan on organizing and storing project assets?
  6. If you already use a cloud storage solution such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box, you’ll want to make sure it integrates with the solution you choose. Alternatively, you can also choose cloud-based project management software that comes with storage. This way you can easily store, organize, and manage assets in one location. When it comes to sharing those files, consider something that allows for threaded comments, version control, and an editing tool.

  7. Will you be using it to manage on-staff and freelance vendors?
  8. Marketing departments often employ freelancers for various parts of a project. In this scenario, you might not want the freelancers accessing the same items as on-staff team members. Being able to set permissions is going to be incredibly useful. Additionally, a tool that allows freelancers the ability to upload assets and communicate with team members via messaging can eliminate the need to email items back and forth. Consider if you want freelancers to be able to track their time or submit invoices through the platform. The fewer tools that freelancers and staff members need to learn and use will make everything more efficient.

  9. Will you be using the project management tool with other software?
  10. Make a list of all the software that you use when conducting your daily marketing activities. This list should include CRM, financial services, Google Apps, social media management apps, and analytic tools. Then see if they are compatible or can integrate with the solution you’re considering.

  11. Can you customize the tool?
  12. If you plan on using the software as a customer-facing tool, do you want to place your brand on it? Will you need the option you choose to work with a client’s platform? Check out the project templates included and see if they have what you need and how easy they are to alter or duplicate. When it comes to reports, make sure the software offers the ones you need or that you can easily create them.

  13. Do you need project management software that’s scalable?
  14. Don’t just think of your needs today, but down the line. Find out if there is a limit to the number of users (or if you need to pay for each seat). Are there storage limitations if you’re planning on using it as a repository? Even if you don’t plan on utilizing certain features today, find out if they are available in the current offering. You don’t want to have to change the software you use a couple of years down the road because you outgrow it.

  15. Do you need a mobile solution?
  16. As the project manager, you probably always want to know the status at any given time of day or night. In that case, select something that you can use on a mobile device either via an Android or iOS app, so it doesn’t matter what you use as long as you have an Internet connection. Additionally, consider the members of your team who will need mobile access and find out what type of device they use. Another benefit of mobile access is that freelancers and clients can access the materials they need regardless of where they work.

What to Look for in Marketing Project Management Software

Now that you have a better idea of how you plan to use marketing project management software, it helps to know which features are available. As you read through this list, consider prioritizing those that are most important to narrow down your choices. Then take those products for a test drive, most tools offer a free trial period for just that reason.

  • Task Management: At the heart of every project management tool is task management. It helps turn goals into actionable items. Managers use it to create tasks, subtasks, and set deadlines. They can then organize tasks by projects and assign them. To ensure tasks get accomplished, they can set up automatic reminders and updates as deadlines approach. If you want a big picture view of how tasks fit into a timeline, look for something that allows you to easily create dependencies and provides a Gantt chart view.
  • Dashboards: This is a useful tool that lets you see the real-time status of your project and processes. For example, you might want to see how much a project is costing. You should be able to create a dashboard that displays key details including deadlines, fees, and expenses, and that also takes into account overruns and how they affect an overall schedule. Dashboards are visual so you can customize them with charts, graphs, and other design elements. Dashboards can also be created for groups or individuals on your team, or set up for clients so they can quickly gauge the progress of a project. 
  • Run Reports: Project managers are responsible for a lot of moving parts and often need to report on a team’s efforts. Some marketing project management tools come with report templates that include things like resource loads, project phases, and critical path overviews. Identify the reports you’ll need and make sure the tool you choose supports them or that you can easily create them.
  • Interactive Timelines: There’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking off a task and seeing your project timeline automatically update to show time to completion. It’s important to create a project roadmap that is complete with tasks and deadlines. Some tools enable you to create Gantt charts, and easily move around asset due dates and add dependencies and milestones.
  • Email Integration: When it comes to project management tools, integrating with email means more than the ability to send a note asking for an update. Email integration enables users to add comments, set due dates, and update tasks all from their inbox. It can also be used to link emails to a task, project, or file, which can save tons of time. This element is usually part of the software, but it can also be available as a plug-in. Either way, you’ll want the integration feature to work with the email system you’re already using.
  • Mobile Apps: Do you want to be able to check the status of projects on the go on an Android or iOS phone or other mobile device? If so, you’ll want project management software that has a mobile app companion. However, not all apps are created equal, so there may be limitations to the mobile version of the software package. Many options let users track time, create tasks, and view projects status; however, it’s possible that not all the project information available on desktop will also be available on the mobile app. Also, be sure to check for syncing options and how it occurs, it’s not always automatic. 
  • File/Document Sharing: Where will everything including copy, design drafts, wireframes, and other relevant documents be stored? Many solutions will either tie in to a cloud-based storage app or let you attach it to a project and organize it by client or task. Remember these files are large, so make sure the system you choose can handle your storage requirements.
  • Integrate with Existing Tools: You aren’t going to be using marketing project management software in a silo. There are plenty of tools that you use to complete a project. If you want to be able to handle invoicing, look for something that works with financial apps such STRATA, SmartPlus, and QuickBooks. Maybe you manage leads within a CRM tool like Salesforce; wouldn’t it be nice to have access to all that information in the marketing project management tool? Check whether the software you choose supports the other tools you use such as Google Apps, MS Project, and cloud-based document management offerings. If not, does the company have an open API so you can integrate things yourself?
  • Messaging and Collaboration: Who has time for a meeting? Some collaboration tools can help eliminate the need for additional meetings through project chat rooms, message boards, and messaging within the app. If you want to keep the internal team communication separate from the discussions with the client, look for an option that lets you set up client messaging as an independent portal.
  • Workflow: Marketing materials need to go through quite a few revisions and approvals. Getting them through that process with ease is what workflow is all about. Marketing project management tools typically offer the ability to create automated workflows wherein once a task is complete the person who needs to approve it is notified automatically. You can also set up automatic task assignments and customize it based on individual projects.
  • User-Friendly Interface: No matter how many bells and whistles marketing project management software may offer, if it isn’t easy to use or learn no one is going to use it. Look for an intuitive tool that provides a drag-and-drop interface and a simple way to stay updated on projects and client status. If there is a learning curve, what materials does the company offer to help you learn the system? Look into support, video tutorials, and knowledge centers filled with “how to” articles. If it seems straightforward in those materials, it’s probably going to be easy to learn.
  • Calendars: In addition to timelines, you might be interested in a group calendar that everyone can view to see what deadlines are approaching. This may be available as part of the solution you choose, or it could be something that integrates with existing calendar apps you already use. Marketing managers who are in charge of content should look for an editorial calendar that they can customize to monitor the status of company blogs, content marketing materials, and social media initiatives.
  • Templates: A good way to get acquainted with a product is through their templates. They tend to utilize many of the features you would likely want to use already set up, so you just have to customize it to fit your needs.
  • Permissions: Not everyone on a team needs to have access to everything happening in a project. With permissions, you can assign certain permission levels and dictate who can access what documentation and communication. This is a useful feature if you work with freelancers. You should check to see if the freelance staff needs individual accounts as well and how much that will cost.
  • Track Costs: How much did that successful marketing campaign cost to produce? Marketing project management software will help you conduct analysis to determine the ROI of each campaign. It provides ways to keep track of expenses for each project and break it down by employee, task, department, and work items. At the end of the project, you’ll be able to view actual costs versus initial projections.
  • Log Times: This is a  useful way to find out how much time employees spend on a given task. Timesheets let users enter the time spent on a particular project and task. For a project manager, this is incredibly useful information to better allocate resources and understand how long a task takes to complete.
  • CRM Tools: When dealing with clients, it’s helpful to have a history of the interactions your team has had with them. That’s where CRM account management tools come in handy. Additionally, it’s a great place to find prospects for new work and all the information you need to pitch them is already available. These features may be part of marketing project management software, or it should integrate with existing tools such as Salesforce.
  • Pricing Structure: How much does it cost to get started? Some products offer a free version, but most of them have pricing on a monthly basis and can be restricted to the amount of projects or amount of users. There are also enterprise offerings available for those working at large companies.

Why Smartsheet Is a Powerful Marketing Project Management Tool

The best marketing teams know the importance of effective campaign management, consistent creative operations, and powerful event logistics -- and Smartsheet helps you deliver on all three so you can be more effective and achieve more. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.


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