How to Conduct a Marketing Postmortem

Postmortem is a bit of a morbid word. It may even trigger thoughts of darkness, death, or autopsies. But don’t run off in search of a sunnier blog post just yet. In marketing, postmortems are positive, perhaps necessary, affairs. Even if you prefer to call them project exit interviews or project close outs, you can’t deny their importance. Whether you’re an agency like us or a B2B marketing team, postmortem meetings can help you get the most out of every project and campaign—no pathology degree required.

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Why Conduct Postmortems?

The goal of a postmortem is to remove emotion and personal investments from a project, dissect the details and outcomes, and suss out actionable takeaways. Whether a project generated positive or negative emotions, postmortems encourage positivity and growth at project close. You’ll explore what you learned and what you can improve to continuously optimize your marketing machine.

Getting Started

Before you can begin, you need a facilitator to objectively guide the meeting. A project manager is often an acceptable choice for agencies as they’re invested in each project, but not attached to the creative work in a way that could lead to emotional reactions. Plus, they can work postmortems into the project schedule automatically at the close of each project. If your marketing team needs a facilitator, look to your team leader or marketing manager.

Once you have an objective leader, they need to get the meeting scheduled—it should be held within a week of project close while details are fresh in your minds. The facilitator should invite all team members who were involved in the project. Each role should be represented, from the assistants all the way up to the CMOs. This brings unique perspectives to the meeting. If your team consisted of more than 10-15 people, conduct a separate postmortem for each department. This opens the door for more team members to share their thoughts during the meeting and makes for a more open, comfortable environment. The facilitator should also invite an additional, objective attendee to observe and take notes.

The Meeting

Now that you have your team in a room, it’s time to get started. Postmortems are a timed, hour-long session. While these meetings are important, they don’t directly provide ROI and your timetable should take that into account. Not only do postmortems have a strict time limit, they should be carefully structured to keep the meeting on track and ensure you cover the full breadth of the project within the hour. To help maintain structure and track time, we recommend using a program such as WorkLife. You can input questions and notes ahead of time, track the pace of the meeting, and send out a summary afterward. Here’s how each meeting should flow:

5 Minutes: Set the Tone

The first five minutes should set the stage for a positive, honest, open meeting. Encourage team members to come in ready to take an objective look at the details.

2 Minutes: Recap the Project

Go over project details and outcomes to get everyone on the same page. This is key as each team member likely had different roles within the project and may not know what happened outside of their own skill bubble.

3 Minutes: Recap the Deliverables

List the deliverables of the project or campaign. What was your team asked to do? What was your budget? Did you deliver on any and all requests?

40 Minutes: Team Q & A

This section is the bulk of your meeting. This is where you dissect the project from every angle and from every team member’s perspective. Run through a list of predetermined questions. The facilitator should pose each question and ask team members to answer honestly, while keeping in mind the goal of positivity. The facilitator should guide the flow of discussion, preventing any tangents, while the note-taker records the key points. Encourage each attendee, even quiet colleagues, to speak. Everyone’s opinions are relevant and it’s key to provide an atmosphere where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. Your list of questions should be tailored to your agency or marketing team goals, but here are a few recommendations to get started:

  • Are you proud of the finished deliverables? If yes, what made them great? If no, what was wrong or missing?
  • Did we get the results we wanted and did it make an impact?
  • Which of our methods or processes worked particularly well?
  • Which of our methods or processes were difficult or frustrating to use?
  • How would you do things differently next time to avoid this frustration?
  • What else could we do better next time?
  • What was the most gratifying or professionally satisfying part of the project?
  • Was the project profitable?
  • Were team/client expectations set accurately early on and were they met at the completion of the project?
  • Are there any actionable takeaways or next steps?

10 Minutes: Meeting Summary

Over the final minutes of the meeting, summarize what took place. Then, outline actionable conclusions. This is the most important part. The goal of a postmortem is to bring positivity and action to both successful and unsuccessful projects. It’s especially important for team members to take something away from the meeting: whether it’s a goal to accomplish next time or a system to repeat from a standout project.

Postmortems don’t have to be the intimidating, dark meetings their names imply. They are a key way of getting the most out of every project—even the ones that don’t appear to be successful at project’s end. If your facilitator sets the tone for a positive meeting, gives all team members a platform to speak, and outlines actionable conclusions, your team will come away feeling good and ready to conquer the next project.