Published: 17 February 2012

How marketers can stay focused on the big picture in tough times

Will 2012 be a bumpy ride or a car crash for the sector? Funding cuts, restructures and an almost inevitable re-entry into recession create an environment euphemistically known as "challenging".

A well known marketing director recently told me that his work these days involved constant fire fighting, to the point where he felt he was no longer able to focus on strategic marketing.

Many of us will understand why he feels this way.

As the pressures on us grow, resources become scarcer and competition increases, the going is getting even tougher. No one is denying that. But getting mired in short term fixing of problems can negate the considerable value and load-reduction that marketers can bring to their organisations.

Marketers understand what your target audience needs, how to make sure that those needs are meet, and the opportunities and threats that could affect your charity. We need to avoid tunnel vision at all costs. We’re big picture people, and it’s vital that we preserve that approach to help guide our charities through the difficult terrain ahead. Otherwise, how can we take our organisations where they need to go? Here are some ideas to help you stay focused in tough times:

Find a quick way to stay up-to-date with breaking news

I use Twitter and other social media tools to stay on top of issues that could affect my charity.

Connect with people who inspire you

This could mean having a coach or a mentor who acts as a sounding board outside your organisation (CharityComms has an excellent mentoring scheme). Or it could involve coffee with a friend or contact who works in another field but who always leaves you feeling positive and energised.

Don’t try to do everything

I’ve blogged before about how saying yes to every request can leave you spread far too thinly. No one can produce consistently good quality work in that situation. My aim is to give every project the time and attention it deserves, and that means having to say "no" occasionally. It was tough at first, but I’m getting better at it.

Don’t take workplace politics personally

Marketing and comms professionals are in the unique position of having to work right across our organisations, with many different departments and stakeholders. This can inevitably lead to the occasional fraught situation as we are dragged into internal politics. Don’t fight those battles. It’s important to avoid taking this to heart and to stay neutral. Your job is to keep your project on track and help everyone stay focused on the benefits of getting your marketing project off the ground.

Get some perspective on things

Find ways to offload and unwind – whatever will help you get some headspace and come back to your work refreshed. As part of my commute, I like to walk for at least half an hour every day. Sure, it takes longer than hopping on the tube, but it’s my thinking time when I let my mind wander. I often have my best ideas then.

Whatever 2012 brings, it’s unlikely to be pretty. But if charity marketers can stay focused on the big picture then I honestly believe we can play a key role in helping our charities survive and thrive. Are you up for the challenge?


Zoe Amar, director, Zoe Amar Digital

Zoe Amar is founder and director of Zoe Amar Digital, a charity marketing and digital communications consultancy who've worked with Action Aid, CAF, Crimestoppers and many other great charities. She also blogs for The Guardian. Zoe shares charity marketing resources over at www.zoeamar.com and @zoeamar