How to Build a Better Marketing Calendar

Calander with pencil.

I am a firm believer that every company needs a marketing calendar and should share it companywide.

A marketing calendar is a great communication device for your marketing team, sales reps, and company management. The marketing calendar also informs the marketing budget helping you to plan for expenses in advance.

Save the Date

Start by gathering the dates of all known events and deadlines. Just pencil them in on a paper calendar. You’ll be adding a lot of detail and moving things around so I recommend paper and pencil for now. Save your favorite calendar app for later.

Your company may have an annual customer appreciation golf outing—put it on the calendar. How about trade shows or conventions? Industry events are usually held around the same time every year.  Write those down, too.

Next, move on to contract obligations. Are you committed to publications? Activities like case study or white paper placement for online or print outlets have specific deadlines. Consider any speaking engagements, social media posting, podcasts or guest blogging. Make sure these dates are recorded on your marketing calendar.

This exercise may stir up some great ideas for marketing opportunities that you haven’t tapped into yet. Capture these activities as a “maybe” and research them further.

The end result is a broad view of all activities and drill down capabilities to ensure consistent branding and on-message tools and promotions.

What About Lead Time?

Lead time is important to remember. You are often working months and even years ahead of an actual “go-live” or publication date. Contracts are usually involved and stipulate cutoff dates.

For example, if you want to book a speaking engagement,  start with the date of the presentation and work backwards for your significant activities like these dates:

5.  Your final presentation is due a week before the conference.
4.  You need to do a dry run to practice.
3.  A graphic designer does design and layout.
2.  Content needs to be researched and written.
1.  The speaker proposal and outline must be written and submitted.

Know payment terms and deadlines and put them on the calendar.  Payment terms are specified in number of days before or after the event or deadline. Some vendors want payment in full before the event happens.

Stay on top of those dates so you are not stressed out and making poor decisions at the last minute.

The Marketing Calendar Visual

I work with clients in their planning cycle and use this calendaring exercise as the foundation of a marketing budget.

Once I have a rough draft of the marketing calendar, I involve other stakeholders to get their input. To get the most out of the exercise,  use the following process in a working session with your team:

  1. Grab a flipchart and some markers. You’ll need a page for each month of the year.
  2. Write the name of the month at the top of the page.
  3. Draw a horizontal line half way down each page to divide it into two sections.
  4. Write Execute in the top half and Plan in the bottom half.
  5. Fill in the chart for each month with the information and deadlines you have.
  6. Ask for input from your team of stakeholders to fill in any missing information.

In the Execute section, create a bulleted list of all the activities that must be completed and delivered that month.

In the Plan section, create a bulleted list of all the activities that require resources, contracts, payment, and decisions that month.

This sounds so simple but beware. When done properly this can take considerable time and input from other stakeholders. It’s worth the effort. Here’s just a few benefits:

  • You can spot resource overlap or gaps.
  • Your team will understand the scope of activities and timing.
  • You’ll uncover unknown expectations.
  • Interdepartmental needs will surface and be identified.
  • Communication and buy-in will improve.

What’s Next?

Take a look at the information you have compiled. Do you see any patterns or cycles in the activity?  Pay attention. Think about how activities align with the company’s business plan or goals.  Marketing activities should be leading sales activity—not at the same time, or worse, after the fact.

Congratulations! You’ve finished creating your marketing calendar. Now consider the expense of the activities you have defined and detailed. This information provides some great forecasting data for creating an annual budget.

Be sure to read my ebook 5 Easy Steps to Creating a Marketing Budget to learn more about the budgeting process.