If you haven’t heard about Google’s 20% time policy, let me fill you in. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlight the idea in their 2004 IPO letter:

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

At Kapost, we don’t have the exact practice, but we do have a similar mentality about protecting time to be able to step back from our everyday grind and engage in some creative thinking.

In fact, starting today, our entire marketing team has blocked off the whole week to devote time to indulging our creative side. We’re dubbing it a marketing hackathon, and it’s the only thing on our calendars.

That’s right. The blog writers are passing off their duties to some exciting new guest writers, the directors are canceling their (many) meetings, and playing email tag will have to wait a week.

But, before we go, I wanted to share a bit about what exactly a marketing hackathon is—and how your team could implement it.

What Is a Marketing Hackathon?

In the broadest sense, a hackathon is protected time for individuals or small teams to rally around passion projects and self-education. Typically, the term is used in the context of coding and design of a particular project. A group of designers, coders, and generally smart humans get together and work towards a creative solution to one or more problems.

One of the most crucial elements of a hackathon is that it’s open-ended. This enables creativity and inspires innovation. So, in the truest spirit of a hackathon, who’s to say marketers can’t adopt the practice? (If there are any nay-sayers out there, please feel free to email me, and I’ll get back to you after approximately a week of fantastic hacking.)

A marketing hackathon isn’t conceptually different. Sure, we aren’t building new technology, but we might experiment with posting to new channels, building new types of assets, working on internal processes, or learning a new skill.

This is our marketing team’s first hackathon, so our main goal is pretty baseline: give the team time to step back and think about new ways of doing everyday projects, entirely new projects, or barriers getting in the way that we previously haven’t had time to address.

With that goal, we hope that our learnings will spark other ideas to get out of our own ruts and continue leading the way in marketing thinking.

Essentially, we’ve planned a week to train ourselves to consider different ways of doing things.

The Rituals of a Hackathon

Want to plan your own hackathon? Here’s a rough breakdown of our agenda:

Start Strong

To kick off your marketing hackathon, start with the entire team together. This sets the right mood, allowing for collaboration and alignment right off the bat. In the beginning, it’s important to embrace the art of the possibility.

Have each team member present their ideas. Keep in mind, some will come prepared with 50 things that they’ve been thinking about, while others might show up and be inspired by a concept they thought of during someone else’s suggestion. That’s okay! Hearing new ideas will inevitably get the creative juices going.

Depending on the projects, individuals can identify common interests or goals to rally around. It’s important to focus on projects that can be completed in the given period so you can have valuable learnings by the end of the week.

Engage in Projects

After the initial brainstorming phase, it’s time to start acting. Here’s what to expect:

  • Teams that don’t typically work together will connect on a shared pain point or personal interest
  • Some might focus on learning new skills before making a project, while others might jump right into creating
  • Everyone will be amped and full of creative energy
  • Relationships and trust will be built

Of course, every hackathon is different. Don’t set too firm of expectations, or you might end up stifling the possibilities.

Wrap Up

At the end of the week, it’s time to gather the whole team again to present the projects they’ve been working on. Everyone should share what they created, any learnings, what worked—and didn’t.

Really amazing findings might just turn into a complete strategy shift.

Know before You Hack

Before you launch into a hackathon of your own, here are some of our tips. After all, it’s always expensive to ask your team to stop what they usually do, so you want to be prepared to make it truly worth it.

Tip 1: Flexible Guidelines

Hackathons are designed to be open and ambiguous. This is essential for maximum creative potential.

But create some guidelines and goals to facilitate learning and push forward. For example, our main goals are to encourage personal learning and push the business forward in ways we wouldn’t typically do—that means all of our projects aim to accomplish those goals.

Tip 2: Enable Cross-Functional Groups

Hackathons are not the time for cliques. Be open to working with all of your amazing colleagues. Leaders, make it clear that established teams are not required to work on related projects.

Sharing ideas will be the best way to create great projects in such a short time frame. Embrace the collaborative spirit of hackathons!

Tip 3: Commit as a Community

Let’s be real: no one has an extra week to devote to extraneous work. One reason why Kapost chooses to do hackathons over a 20% time policy is that there is a very real danger that the extra 20% of your time is falling on weekends or working late. After all, you have a full-time job!

But when your entire team commits to a week of dedicated time to work on extra projects, you’ll find it’s much easier to stay on track and actually protect your time. Not to mention, communally setting the time aside allows everyone to work together and bond as a team.

See You after We’ve Hacked!

With that, I’m off to hack with my fellow marketers. Check out the awesome guest posts coming later this week, and we’d love to hear about any marketing hackathons you’re part of. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all things marketing and technology.

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Aubrey Harper

About Aubrey Harper

Aubrey is a former Content Marketing Manager here at Kapost. When she's not dreaming of helping marketers build content operations, you can find her falling down a mountain attached to a snowboard or cuddling with her pup, Sierra.