Digital marketing project manager: pick the best path for you

Digital marketing project manager: pick the best path for you

When I first started out in my digital marketing career six years ago, I began as a specialist. As I’ve gained more experience and moved up the ladder my work has become more and more related to that of a digital marketing project manager.

There are lots of titles similar to ‘digital marketing project manager’ being thrown around these days and it can be challenging to understand the difference between them. 

If you feel confused, don’t worry, many employers can’t tell the difference either. That title is often interchangeably with others and depends on the business’ understanding of the word.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into what the work is like, how it is different from being a digital marketing specialist and what to consider if you’d like to work in the industry.

What is work like as a digital marketing project manager?

Digital marketing project manager
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

What does a digital marketing project manager do?

We often the opposite of specialists and focus more broadly while understanding the specialist-work and what it requires. If you are able to execute specialist tasks, you’ll be popular especially in small or medium-sized businesses that aren’t able to hire a full team.

The value you bring to the business depends on the business itself. For typical project managers, the goal is to make sure everyone goes home at 5pm and don’t have to work late.

However, some companies don’t value that as much as they want basic coordination between team members and more focus on getting things done. In that case, you’ll be focusing more on what needs to be done related to digital marketing at the moment.

There are two main types of tasks. Let’s look at each one:

Project tasks includes things like

  • Coordinating between team members
  • Planning, budgeting, strategizing, etc.

Digital marketing tasks includes things like

  • Digital marketing is all about helping the business drive revenue, sales, and growth via online channels
  • This part is the expertise in which type of projects drive the most growth for the business and what kind of challenges exist in the implementation of those projects

As a digital marketing project manager, you’ll be merging these two components of tasks into one and the pie of how much time you spend on each one depends on the business you work with and their goals.

Is Project Manager a stressful job?

In my experience, it isn’t but some people do feel that it is stressful. That often comes from the way bosses manage the business and it usually comes down to a lack of planning or managing expectations.

I’ve experienced that the most while working at different agencies as they often have a tendency to say yes to anything their clients want and the expense of a happy team. You might also experience this more often in startups where time is of the essence, everything is due yesterday and the goal is growth at all cost.

The most stressful part tends to come from coordinating between team members since you might be coordinating tasks between some that are ambitious while others are lazy.

What kind of companies hire a digital marketing project manager?

The most common ones are:

  • Agencies
  • Corporate companies
  • Startups
  • Lifestyle/remote-first businesses

Let’s dive into the different experiences for each of these business types.

In agencies, it’s more focused on coordinating with the client, their scope, and the specialists on your team, so the tasks will be done before the expected deadline.

At corporates, your work as a digital marketing project manager tends to be similar to in an agency but at a slower pace and often without working with clients. Instead, everyone is usually from within the organization and digital is just one arm of the business.

Startups tend to be fast-paced like agencies, messy, and more results-focused. Deadlines are always as fast as possible and last-minute changes are common.

The last type of business is lifestyle/remote-first businesses and come in many shapes and forms. They are often digital businesses that are large enough to have a small team of contractors and team members and their purpose is usually to support the owner’s lifestyle. 

In some, you’ll experience that the owner takes good care of the team and focuses on creating an attractive lifestyle for them as well while in others the owner is focused on stepping away from the business as much as possible.

With these businesses you often need to be good at solving problems and executing as there typically won’t be that much project management compared to execution.

How is a digital marketing project manager different from a specialist?

To give you a better understanding of what it is like working as a digital marketing project manager, let’s take a look at a day in the life of both.

Digital marketing project manager 

As a digital marketing project manager, the first thing I’ll do in the morning is to check my emails to see if there are any changes or developments to projects overnight. 

Next, I’ll meet with the team to recap the work from yesterday and flesh out what needs to be done today along with clearing up any bottlenecks or blocks. That could for example be if someone is waiting for a response from another team before they can move forward.

After that, I might meet with my own boss to understand what’s coming in the future and begin planning for it or simply work my way backwards from the yearly goals and reverse engineer what the goal requires and thus what we need to do now to make meaningful progress towards that goal.

That might be beginning to publish posts on Instagram or perhaps convert more sales from the website.

I’ll also spend time meeting with the other teams about their plans and see if they need digital marketing help, so we can fit it into our management of the team resources. They might have a project coming up that requires a promotion online.

I actually prefer to lock myself in a room, roll up my sleeves and grind out on a task. That’s usually what I’ll do in the afternoon although it is often hard because people come to involve me in a project or ask for my thoughts on something.

Digital marketing specialist

As a digital marketing specialist, the first thing I do is check the results of whatever I implemented the day before. That might be a new test on the website to see if we are converting more visitors to sales or driving more traffic.

In many businesses, there are constant updates and it can feel stressful at times but these days I’ve figured out who to work with and how to approach the different situations, so there are rarely any changes to the projects themselves.

I do a lot of the implementation as well which means that I depend less on other team members and it is more about managing myself and my work.

Next, I’ll look at my to-do list and get started on the first major task of the day. I usually schedule to work on one project until lunch and another after lunch as that allows me to get a meaningful amount of work done while driving more than one project forward. 

I’ve found that more projects within the same day are too many at it becomes all about multitasking which is usually a secret timewaster that makes us feel busy but doesn’t really get any work done.

Today, this morning’s project is related to search engine optimization (SEO) and the art of driving people from search engines like Google to a particular website. 

I’ve already prepared the rough tasks I need to get done such as find good keywords for the writers to write articles around and decide which ones are best. This is more of implementation work and the key part is talking with the team frequently so everyone knows what’s going on.

After lunch, I’m preparing some email sequences for another project – both planning out the email content itself, writing it and setting automatic flows up within our systems so that the emails are delivered automatically whenever someone on the website does a certain thing.

Get a digital marketing job remotely or create your own

If you’ve read this far, you might be interested in working as a digital marketing project manager. One of the things I like the most about it is that it is a great fit to be done remotely. 

Often both the work itself and the results are digital, so most of it can be done from a computer. As long as you have a good internet connection and are able to use tools and call with the team via software like Skype or Zoom.

If that sounds like something for you, there are two main paths you can take: get a remote job or create one yourself as a freelancer. First, let’s look at what you should consider.

The first thing is what you’d like to do. You can either work only with project management which is typically done for bigger businesses that larger teams with specialists.

The other option is a combo with project management and specialist implementation work merged together which is usually a better fit for smaller businesses with fewer team members.

In this type of job, your work as a digital marketing project manager will be more focused on the implementation of projects and less on project management although it depends on each business.

For example, I’m working with one client that has multiple marketing specialists and there I both manage the projects but also have my own to implement. Compare that to another client I work with where I’m the only marketing person, so I have to decide what is best to do but also do it myself.

Another way to approach it is to think about what kind of business you want to work for. Do you prefer an established business that wants to maintain the status quo and avoid risk? Or perhaps at one trying to change the world?

Another alternative is one that is smaller, unknown to most, and wants to grow nice and steadily over the years while providing a great lifestyle for the people working there with little stress and lots of flexibility. There is no right or wrong answer because we all have our preferences so there is a fit for everyone.

Create your own by getting multiple clients as a freelancer

An uncommon approach that I’ve been experimenting with, has been to create your own remote job as a freelancer by finding just a few select clients that I handle the same list of projects for.

That allows me to have more job security that compared to a normal job since each client make up an almost equal portion of my earnings. For example, if I have three clients two of them might make up 40% of my earnings each while the last one takes up the last 20%.

That means if something happens, I’ll stand to only lose up to 40% of my income temporarily instead of 100% as it is the case with a normal job. It also allows my to create my own career and steer it in a way that I prefer depending on how I’d like my life to unfold.

For example, I recently worked on a particular type of project for a few of my clients and realized that I actually don’t enjoy doing those. 

So I’m removing them from my list of projects and instead we might hire a specialist when we want to run those particular projects. Ultimately, it makes everyone happier since we all get to do what we are better at, and find more fun, while everything still gets catered to. It’s a more efficient way of managing projects and resources on a worldwide scale.

Granted, on the other hand, this comes with its own set of challenges since I’m in charge of paying my own retirement, sick days, and find clients that I like to work with. I also have to pay my own taxes.

There are pros and cons to both options, it depends on your preferences. If you want to learn more about landing freelance clients and creating your own job I suggest reading this guide or signing up for the email newsletter.


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