Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.

Help! That Promotion Is Leading Me On!

Dear Content Therapist: When I started in my role as a content marketing specialist 3.5 years ago, I was hopeful for all the opportunities that came with it. I took this job because of the emphasis on growth and internal mobility that they sold me on during the interview process. I started with two other content specialists, and we essentially do the same work. But of the three of us, I’m the only one who’s still in the same position, despite my good performance. I’ve gotten certifications, attended trainings, applied those new skills and improved my quality of work, yet I keep getting told that there is “just one more” skill that I need before I can move up. This has been going on for three years, and I honestly feel like I’m being led on. I like the work that we do at this company and have come to appreciate the industries we work with, but being in a place where I’m consistently being overlooked is affecting my mental health. Should I just wait it out and hope that my manager has my best interest at heart, or should I brush up on my resume? — THE PROMOTION-LESS MARKETER

Paul Chaney: I’m sorry to hear about your frustrations. It certainly sounds like you’ve put a lot of effort into growing your skills and improving your performance.

A therapist once told me there are two ways to look at the future. One is to sit back and passively wait on it to do with you what it will. The other is proactively reaching out to shape the future into what you want it to be.

There’s virtue in patiently waiting, but it’s been three years, and you’re still stuck in the same role. So, waiting any longer, especially when you have this cloud of doubt hanging over you, is not in your best interest.

From what you say, you’ve done all the right things — gotten certifications, attended training, applied new skills, and improved your output — but the elusive carrot is still being dangled in front of you (i.e., “just one more skill”).

You also said that it’s affecting your mental health. In what way? If depression has set in, see a qualified therapist or mental health counselor. You cannot allow this job to rob you of your joy or self-confidence. If it’s anger, marshal that, and muster the courage to sit down with your manager to have a frank discussion about why you continue to be overlooked.

From what you say, you’ve been given unclear goals or a constantly moving target. Ask your manager directly what you need to improve or what other skills you need to acquire to advance in your role. Request a clear road map for advancement.

A friend once told me, “You can’t read the label from the inside of the jar.” By that, he meant we don’t see ourselves as others see us. Perhaps your manager can point out specific things to work on that you’ve overlooked.

However, if that discussion doesn’t prove fruitful and you continue to feel stuck, then yes, by all means, brush off your resume. There’s no harm in looking at other opportunities. You might even consider interviewing with a couple of prospective employers to get a better idea of your market value. No job is perfect, but you may find more growth opportunities elsewhere.  

We Have the Money … I Think!

Dear Content Therapist: I feel as though many marketers, especially freelancers, have experienced or worked with a client that wanted an expensive project or campaign but only wanted to pay pennies. It’s frustrating and, at times, insulting. Now I’ve joined a new team at an agency after freelancing for years and instead of a bigger budget, we’re still dealing with a small budget with big-budget ideas. What’s worse is that most of the marketing budget is going to processes that are no longer working for the company. While I’m not in a leadership position, I am in a senior role; having a budget to do the things clients want is important. How should I voice this concern to my boss in a way that’s actually effective? — THE LOW-BUDGET MARKETER

Paul Chaney: The adage “champagne taste on a beer budget” rings true here, doesn’t it? In the marketing world, it’s not uncommon for clients to have starry-eyed expectations while failing to deal with the reality that big projects come with a hefty price tag.

Based on your question, you have two challenges: Help your boss and the client accept that reality or find clients who can afford the budget you prescribe.

For the sake of this column, let’s focus on the first option. This strategy should help:

Prepare a Detailed Proposal

It all starts with the proposal. You have to make it as convincing as possible that doing everything the client wants will require X amount of dollars.

Prove a New Approach Is Necessary

Gather concrete data with hard numbers that show the current strategy isn’t providing the expected return on investment (ROI).

Pitch Cost-Effective Alternatives

​​Find alternate strategies that may deliver better results with the same or less investment. The more options you can offer, the more you demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and considered all angles. Don’t just pitch the possibilities; assess the risks, as well.

Present With Confidence

Be respectful but confidently assert that the options you present are in the client’s best interest. Showcase your understanding of the company’s financial constraints while emphasizing the importance of investing in areas that promise better ROI.

Propose a Pilot Project

If the client is hesitant to act in keeping with your proposal, offer to pilot your ideas on a smaller scale or for a shorter period. If you can prove your ideas work, you may get the budget you asked for.

Putting the proposal and accompanying strategy together will take a lot of work, no doubt, but it’s the best way to achieve your goal. However, as you say, you’re not in a leadership role. Ultimately, the decision doesn’t lie with you.

If things don’t go your way, try a different strategy: Come back with a proposal that states matter-of-factly, given the current budget, what you can do and the results you expect to yield. Your goal is the same — to get the required funding — you’re just taking a different route.

Regardless of the outcome, do the best you can with what you have. That’s all you can promise and all that your boss and client should expect.

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.