How To: Get A Derailed Internet Marketing Project Back On Track

Ian Lurie

Successful internet marketing brings together a lot of disciplines. Unfortunately, that often results in project chaos: Unhappy teams, communication failures, etc.. Read on and I’ll give you a few methods for putting things back on track.

You’ve Been There: The Project’s on the Rocks

Tell me if this sounds familiar:
The developer says they can’t go any further without the designer’s input.
The designer just can’t seem to call the developer.
The project manager cries a lot and can’t get anyone on the phone.
And you’re pretty sure the content team is down at the bar.
Your internet marketing project – the web site, PPC campaign, e-mail, landing pages, all of it – is at a dead stop. You’re 6 months overdue and your boss is ready to kill you. Or, if you’re the boss, you’re ready to kill yourself.

Most Internet Marketing Projects Fail

Many internet marketing projects never even launch.

  • They’re strangled by a committee.
  • They starve to death for want of content.
  • Someone’s ego takes over and ruins the entire project. The rest of the team quietly gives it a decent burial.
  • The project takes so long that its reason for being has come and gone, or the team goes its separate ways.
  • Some crime you committed in a past life brings the legal team, CFO, your client and the IRS into your office at the same time, causing you to throw your hands up, fire the client, slap your CFO, flip the legal team the bird and then get dragged off by the IRS.

I’ve personally experienced every one of these except the last. There’s still time on that one, though, as my company is being audited this week. I’m accepting donations of antacid.

If you’re in charge, it’s extremely frustrating when a project starts to sputter. You just can’t figure out why the team is being so difficult. Can’t they just get the damned work done?!
No, they can’t. You have to get things back on track.
I have three methods I use, depending on the circumstances:

The Sopranos Method

Use this method if you’re 100% sure that everyone has what they need and they’re just pouting, and that you’re close to having a heart attack out of sheer frustration.
Call the entire team into your office. Start nice and calm. As the team starts down the road of the same finger-pointing that got you in trouble in the first place, yell. Throw something (soft).
OK, you don’t actually have to yell. But make it very, very clear that this isn’t going to work any more, and that you’re going to hold everyone responsible for getting this project done. You, after all, sign the checks (or at least do the reviews).
Then give them $100. Send them to a nearby restaurant and tell them not to come back until they’ve mapped out their next steps.
I don’t like this technique: I don’t like drama. But if I’m stuck, this is my last resort.
If folks don’t respond to this, you’re going to have to make some changes.

The Caesar Method

Use this method if the project’s been stalled in a committee for the last 1+ months. I don’t literally mean a ‘committee’ – any group of people who can’t decide between green, blue-green and green-blue fits the profile.
Set up a meeting with the committee. Before the meeting, meditate, do Yoga, drink a beer or do whatever else is necessary to turn yourself into a font of tranquility.
In the meeting, report to the committee that:

  1. You can’t keep your team on hold any longer. They have to move on to other projects. If they do, it’ll be x months before they can come back.
  2. This isn’t about them – it’s about their audience.
  3. Here are the goals they set for their site (outline the goals).
  4. You feel very strongly that the project is on track to accomplish those goals, and you’d like to continue moving ahead.

Then give them some options for clearing the current logjam.
Do not make ultimatums! At least one person on the committee will translate ‘otherwise I’ll have to…’ to mean ‘screw you’. It’s not worth it.

The Admiral Adama Method

Use this method when you know darn well you have a great team.
Sit the entire team down. Make sure they understand that you are On Their Side. You know they can get this project done. Explain you’re sorry if you seem impatient. You’re passionate about this.
Tell them that if you seem angry or frustrated, it’s just that you want to see the cool stuff they’re going to do. And the client or boss is calling you every 10 minutes.
Point out where you think things have gone awry.
Ask them what their solutions would be. Work with them, closely, while they figure it out.
This is my favorite method, because 99% of the time it’s true, applicable and authentic.

Never Lie

One thing you never do to kick a project back into gear is lie. Use these methods when they truly apply.
I’ve learned these methods from painful, long experience (11+ years) running internet marketing projects. I’ve tested methods that don’t work (I’ve totally screwed up) many, many times.


…That in none of these examples do you take over or Ride In To Save The Day.
Somehow, you have to get your team to do the work. If you do it, you’re not doing the work you already have on your desk, and you’re not going to do the job as well as your team could. They’re the specialists.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action
Close search overlay