4 way to play nicer with IT

Marketing and IT executives are finding themselves increasingly stepping on each other's toes. We look at how you can get along better with the IT function of your company

More and more IT execs and CMOs are adding "Play nice to each other" on their to-do lists these days. The reason? Technology is rapidly remaking marketing departments, to the point where previously siloed corporate marketing campaigns are morphing into enterprise digital media projects that encompass -- or are even run by -- IT.

This is especially true as social media increasingly becomes more important to companies' identities and dealings with customers.

But there remains a chasm: IT in general doesn't want to be bothered with branding and making things look pretty, and it doesn't welcome interference in its data centre, either. By the same token, marketing isn't much interested in the details of how things work. It just wants things to work, even if they're not perfect.

How can two such very different mindsets meet in the middle to collaborate on projects that are ever more critical to the business -- and ever more tech-centric, as marketing goes fully digital, dynamic and data-driven?

We checked in with marketing and tech executives at companies in a range of disciplines to garner their advice on making the IT-marketing relationship productive. Read on for their four best practices.

1. Consider your organisational structure

The United States Golf Association (USGA) relies heavily on digital marketing and has an atypical organisational structure to prove it: Its digital media team reports to IT, and IT reports to marketing.

"This provides a more streamlined and logical business flow for planning, design and implementation of digital and B2B applications," says Jessica Carroll, managing director of the hybrid department, dubbed Information Technologies and Digital Media. "Since Digital Media reports to IT, and IT reports into the business executive responsible for marketing, there is great clarity and smart directives for pulling these intertwined and critical functions together," Carroll explains.

Other organisations, while not ready to make such a bold move, still acknowledge the need for tight integration with and division of duties between marketing and IT. In the Miami-Dade (Fla.) County government, for example, digital media-related functions report to marketing but coordinate with IT on Web-related projects.

"In IT's working relationship with marketing, we have a collective understanding that marketing defines what it wants, and IT makes it happen," says Carmen Suarez, the county's director of the Enterprise Architecture Services Division.

"We are responsible for technical support, for running the website portals and for all of the back-end integration of the websites," she explains. "Within marketing, there is a function that deals with social networking over channels like Facebook and Twitter, and another outreach function that uses content management software to develop the content of our websites."

Likewise at financial services company Primerica, digital media is part of marketing, but the department is making an effort to work more tightly with IT. "We work more collaboratively with IT on software development projects now. We rely on IT since we don't have the technical knowhow to make all of the things behind the scenes happen," says Alan Hatcher, associate VP of publications, a marketing function.

"At first, our collaboration with IT was a learning process for both departments," he relates. "One of the grey areas was how to test new digital applications. We both initially were engaged in testing the entire application. But we now understand our respective roles: On major projects, marketing tests for usability, and IT tests the back end."

All of these organisations agree that it's important to spend time defining roles, win executive sponsorship and, most importantly, capitalise on each department's strengths. "We don't want to be a corporate communications function or to deal with a lot of the politics, which is something marketing does well," says Dade County's Suarez. "We are good at making things run, and we don't want to dilute that expertise."

2. Get ready to collaborate closely When marketing campaigns have a high degree of digital content, one common sense technique is to involve both departments in major meetings to make sure that everyone had the same essential knowledge of the project's goals and objectives.

Beyond that, the keys to delivering value to the business are effective collaboration and role differentiation, says Primerica's Hatcher. The end business doesn't really care how either marketing or IT accomplishes its projects -- it just expects them to deliver. "When you collaborate on projects for the business using different departments and skillsets, it can sometimes get competitive as to who is going to do what, but it's important to remember that you're on the same team," he says.

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