Red tape and bureaucracy are requirements to adhere to certain rules or follow particular processes. While every organization has a bit of red tape, some have much more than others.

This can make life difficult for marketers.

“Businesses are, on average, far less adaptable, innovative, and inspiring than they could be and, increasingly, must be.

It is the unchallenged tenets of bureaucracy that disable our organizations—that make them inertial, incremental and uninspiring.” – Gary Hamel, writing for Harvard Business Review

As a general rule, the bigger the company, the more hoops you’ll need to jump through to get things signed off and complete. There may be multiple people who have to approve ideas or check through content. You might even need to get the green light from legal teams.

Does this sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to.

While you’re unlikely to succeed in eliminating red tape entirely, there are things you can do that will make your job easier so you can get better results, faster – whether you’re working in-house at a big company, or agency-side.

Get decision makers on your side

You know those people you have to answer to? It’s much easier to get them to say “yes” if they like you and trust you.

It’s just like sales. People buy from people they like – and really, getting buy-in for an idea or a piece of work isn’t really that different than selling a product or service.

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Make things easier for yourself by taking steps to get stakeholders on your side as soon as possible.

Make an effort to talk to them and build relationships

Whether you’re in-house or agency-side, arrange a meeting with every decision maker as soon into your working relationship as possible.

Use this as an opportunity to sell your ideas and get buy-in for your initial strategy, but also as a chance to get to know the people you’ll be working with. If possible, split the meeting into two parts. Talk strategy in the meeting room, then get chatting on a more personal level over lunch.

Educate them

The more stakeholders understand about why you do what you do, the easier getting buy-in will be.

Always be prepared with resources and data – in meetings, when pitching an idea, and in emails. Be ready to back up what you want to do with proof of why they should want you to do it.

At Web Profits, I always supplement what I teach in meetings by providing our clients with articles to read.

While there’s no guarantee anything you send will actually get read, it’s important to at least make those resources available. We once had a client read an article that said they should write four articles a week. The article was three years old, referencing data from two or three years before that. It wasn’t relevant.

There are lots of articles with old or conflicting information. If you can at least get correct information into stakeholders’ hands, that’s a start.

Pre-empt their objections

You don’t need to be in this game long before you learn that the objections stakeholders have to your ideas tend to follow a pattern.

“We don’t understand how this will benefit us.”

“We don’t feel this is on brand.”

“We just don’t ‘get it.’”

Expect one or more of these objections when pitching an idea or seeking approval on a final draft and be ready with answers to overcome them.

Explain that this is a two-way relationship

Ensure they understand you need their support to do your job properly. This makes stakeholders feel important – like their opinion matters – which is great for getting them on your side. It should also help things move faster, since stakeholders will know they have an active role to play in the process.

Show them a “win” asap – prove that your ideas work

Begin your work with a task you know never fails to get results. This will go a long way toward convincing stakeholders you know your stuff and that when you say “if we do this, this should happen” it’s because you know that when you do something, something else should happen.

The resulting effect is that it’s easier to get buy-in for the next task and when that goes well, easier again, the time after that.

Focus on tasks you can complete quickly

Being a successful marketer in an environment that’s heavy on the red tape is not always about doing the best possible thing – it’s about what you can do as quickly as you can and with as little friction as possible.

This means steering clear of things like blog posts and design-led content. These sorts of tasks are too subjective. If multiple people need to be checking over and approving work, that’s multiple people who are going to want something worded differently, or who think a certain design element would look better bigger, smaller, or in a different style or color.

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Instead, choose tasks which, once the idea has been approved, you can pretty much get going with.

Things like:

  • Making technical changes to the website.
  • Chasing unlinked brand mentions.
  • Engaging influencers.
  • Engaging customers, seeking testimonials, and encouraging word-of-mouth.

Tasks that may need some input from stakeholders, but still tend to see a pretty quick turnaround include:

  • Paid search ads.
  • Remarketing ads.
  • Social media posts.
  • Implementing referral schemes.
  • Updating existing pages with fresh keywords.
  • CRO testing.

Once you get into the swing of things you might be able to manage some “slower” projects simultaneously, but only once you’re starting to see results from “simpler” tasks.

You might also find it easier to get buy-in on more “conventional” marketing tasks – things like press release distribution and direct mail – simply because these are tactics that stakeholders who have been on the scene a while are most familiar with, and most comfortable using.

At all times, never forget that you’ll make your life easier and get better results for stakeholders if you expect and plan for delays and buffers. Pre-empt the fact that you’re going to have a long wait to get a blog post or email design approved, and ensure you’re working on tasks you can turn around more quickly simultaneously.

In other words: never, ever hold all your eggs in one basket.

Prepare for legal roadblocks

Red tape gets taken to the next level when legal teams get involved. Unfortunately it’s often part and parcel of dealing with big corporations, and for good reason. There’s just too much at stake if the “company” says the wrong thing.

When legal teams get involved the time required to get certain tasks approved increases significantly. Legal’s focus will never be on your timetable, but on them ensuring they’re doing their job properly and that nothing produced under the brand name leaves it at risk.

This is something we have to account for with a few of our clients at Web Profits.

While I can’t name any names, we do Facebook ads and content for social advertising for one client and there are always legal issues around it. Every post has to be approved before it’s published, and we regularly have to make changes.

That’s okay because we expect and plan for it.

We have another client in a financial institution and likewise, anything they write needs to be approved by legal.

In all cases we plan for a lot of back and forth. What we’ve found, however, is that we can generally save time by getting on the phone and explaining what we want to do and why. The result is that when we send that final draft, it’s much less likely to need significant alterations, which means we’re one step closer to finalization.

Accept that nothing you do will ever be perfect

Perfection does not exist and the idea of it is only an illusion. In fact, striving too hard for perfection – being a perfectionist – is unhealthy.

“It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. We can never achieve perfection — any of us. Yet so many people keep trying to reach this elusive goal and they drive themselves crazy in the process.” Penelope Trunk writing for CBS

Set “perfect” as a goal and one of two things will happen to your work:

  1. It never gets finished.
  2. It gets finished but you’re not happy with it and you feel you’ve failed.

Learn to stop striving for perfection and you’ll live a happier life – in all areas – especially if you’re working in an environment that’s heavily wrapped in red tape.

Instead, your goal should be to move fast and produce something that’s “good enough.” So long as your work gets results, it has achieved what you set out to do. Be happy about that. When you’re marketing with two hands behind your back, even getting your work completed is a big achievement. Don’t stress about the details.

Be willing to diversify the channels you use

If you’re working on content, for example, you’ll get the best results if you help out with email, SEO and social, too. All these things come into it and play a part in successful content marketing.
Ensure that stakeholders understand the importance of these channels to your work from the outset. Don’t wait to tell them what you need.

Never stop communicating

The minute you let communications lapse, trust starts to break down and your job becomes even harder.

The better informed you can keep your point of contact, the better they can keep their team informed. This is more beneficial to you than it is to them.

This is easy if you work in-house.

Ensure you’re showing your face at social events. During business hours, make the effort to approach decision makers in person. Tools like email and in-house messaging systems are convenient, but they suck for developing relationships.

Maintaining relationships agency-side is trickier, but definitely not impossible.

Again, avoid using email and pick up the phone whenever you can. Regular face-to-face meetings are a huge help too – just be realistic about how often you need them. Avoid wasting time on unnecessary meetings (though the meetings themselves can be part of that red tape). The more your contacts like and trust you, the less need they will have for them just so they can tick a box.

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Be prepared to lose

Whatever you do, and however great an idea you might believe you have, sometimes you’re going to be forced to back down. There is only so much time and energy you can invest into pitching an idea before you hit diminishing returns.

Backing off your great idea is a part of doing large scale marketing. There’s never only one solution. There’s only one you can get implemented. Be prepared to not do your idea. Have a back up idea. Have several.

That’s what makes a good marketer vs. someone who says “This is my suggestion and this is the way to do it.”

Key takeaways:

Get decision makers on your side – it’s much easier to get people who like you and trust you to say “yes.” Do this by:

  • Educating them – always be prepared with data and resources.
  • Pre-empting their objections – and being ready with answers to overcome them.
  • Ensuring they understand that this is a two-way relationship, and you’ll need their help to get things done.
  • Showing them a “win” asap – and proving your ideas work.

Focus on tasks you can complete quickly – tasks that can be carried out with as little friction as possible. This generally includes:

  • Making technical changes to the website.
  • Chasing unlinked brand mentions.
  • Engaging influencers.
  • Engaging customers, seeking testimonials, and encouraging word-of-mouth.

And to a lesser extent:

  • Paid search ads.
  • Remarketing ads.
  • Social media posts.
  • Implementing referral schemes.
  • Updating existing pages with fresh keywords.
  • CRO testing.

Limit use of subjective tasks like blog posts and design-led content.

Prepare for legal roadblocks – this is part and parcel of working with many big brands. Minimize friction by getting on the phone (to legal) and explaining what you want to do and why. Communicate as much as possible and learn what they expect (and what they will reject).

Accept that nothing you do will ever be perfect – not only does “perfect” not exist, but striving for perfection will destroy your job satisfaction and more importantly, stop you from getting things done. Instead, strive for “good enough.”

Be willing to diversify the channels you use – boost results by using channels that are connected to and complementary to your work. Ensure that stakeholders know you’ll want to use these channels and how important they are from the outset.

Never stop communicating – trust will break down and your work will get harder. Do this by:

  • Embracing social events.
  • Approaching decision makers in person (if you’re in-house).
  • Calling decision makers instead of using email (if you’re agency side).
  • Scheduling regular face-to-face meetings with stakeholders.

Be prepared to lose – not every great idea you have will be approved. Have several back-up ideas ready at all times.

Have you ever had to market a company that’s heavily wrapped in red tape? How did you get around it (or didn’t you?) You know I’m always keen to hear your thoughts – comments are below.

Image: Pixabay

    1. Thanks for the tips. These are excellent suggestions I can use in a current consulting job with a governmental agency. They want improvements but trying to get people to consider actual change is not easy!

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  2. Hi Sujan

    I’m a freelancer and these are invaluable guidelines for working on client projects. I always strive to educate my clients by showing them case studies that corroborate what I’m saying.

    Understanding that all channels need to be mutually supportive is also a key part of how I work. When I create content for a client I always give them advice how to maximise their ROI with appropriate SEO and social media strategies, whether they ask for it or not.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with “Never stop communicating.”

    Great article! Will be sharing this one.

    Clement Lim

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