"When can the blog post go live?"... "Will you have the e-book finished tomorrow?"... "We should try out Pinterest ads, everyone's doing it right now."
Sometimes, it feels like your head might explode when considering all the requests received on a daily basis — from colleagues, superiors, other departments, and more.
Of course, to be successful, your work in marketing must always multi-layered, complex, and agile — which is why it's incredibly important to learn to say "no" to unrealistic or unnecessary requests. However, many brand managers find this difficult, as they don't want to offend or upset their colleagues or superiors.
Still — taking a clear position and setting realistic boundaries is not only more effective, but it also ensures that you're taken seriously in the long run.
In this latest #WorkAdvice article, you'll learn how to comprehensively reject unrealistic requests without alienating colleagues, how to pick your battles, and how data and research can help support you along the way.
Why It's a Bad Idea to Accept All Requests Unconditionally
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: Your boss suddenly wants to integrate influencer marketing into your department, even though you're already working at full capacity. Of course, you want to say: "We don't have the resources or experience for that." Instead, you dutifully start researching influencer marketing strategies.
Scenario 2: Your marketing manager asks you to create and launch a corporate podcast for an upcoming campaign that's just a few weeks away. Of course, you've already done enough research on podcasts to know that the market is saturated — plus, the topic is too complex for such a last-minute request. Still, you find yourself developing a podcast editorial plan.
Do these scenarios feel familiar, or have you been able to refuse requests that you feel don't make sense? Minor spoiler alert: very few people manage that.
There are many reasons why most people can't say "no" in both their personal and professional lives. Perhaps the most common reason people fail to do so is for fear of the consequences a refusal would bring about. Especially when one's boss makes the request — your immediate reflex is to always say "yes". Why? Because, as we all know, superiors don't promote employees who refuse to comply with their requests.
However, working overtime during the week or on the weekends in order to cope with unnecessary, non-goal-oriented tasks is only possible for a limited time. And superiors have to recognize the limits of their employees — or risk losing them.
But it doesn't end here — there are plenty more reasons why you should learn to refuse pointless requests. If you never take a stand, implement everything without questioning, and can't manage to say "no" once in a while — a "favor trap" quickly turns into a vicious circle with negative consequences:
You lose the ability to assert yourself, which is essential for your career and a job in a leadership position.
By saying "yes" to meaningless requests, you have much less time for meaningful and productive tasks — resulting in too much work and unnecessary errors. This approach means you don't end up pleasing anyone — least of all yourself.
If you aren't able to refuse requests once in a while, you'll miss the opportunity to set strategic and process-related goals in your department. Plus, you'll end up completely overexerting and overloading yourself, which can even have negative health consequences.
The Solution? Communication and Facts Galore
As previously stated, there are many reasons why you should learn to say "no" now and again.
To be fair, it's not about refusing every content request and saying no all the time. Instead, it's about self-preservation and learning how to listen to your own needs.
With the right explanation, your colleagues and superiors will be able to understand — on a rational level — why their request may be met with a "no".
How Can I Explain My Refusal?
Saying "no" outright is hard, so here are a few techniques you can use to soften the blow.
1. Make an Alternative Suggestion
Instead of just saying "no", try something like: "I can't put the brand marketing concept together for you by tomorrow, but I'd be happy to outline the rough points for the meeting."
When you offer reasonable and purposeful alternatives that you believe are more realistic and resource-efficient, you show others that you're taking their request seriously and you're not indifferent to their needs.
Nevertheless, you protect yourself and your team from spending valuable time on meaningless tasks.
2. Create a Time Cushion if You're Unsure
If someone approaches you with a request and you're unsure whether or not it makes sense or can be successfully implemented — don't commit immediately.
Instead, give yourself a cushion of time to weigh KPIs, do your research, and prepare an answer as best you can. The time buffer also gives you the opportunity to prepare your colleague for a "no" if it turns out the request isn't feasible.
Another positive side effect of not announcing your decision right away is that your "yes" suddenly becomes much more valuable and your colleague appreciates your commitment more.
3. Say "No", but Back It Up With Facts
What do you do if a content request makes absolutely no sense and, as an expert in your field, you want to make your answer crystal clear? Make your point and then justify it with facts.
At the end of the day, you know your target audience and your market best. You know which campaigns have worked in the past, you know your team, and you know how much time and professional capacity you possess.
Therefore, stand by your opinion and justify it sensibly with data and facts that will convince your counterpart. Bonus points if you can present studies that show which content and channels are most relevant for your target audience — your colleague will surely understand that.
4. Deliver a Better Idea When Responsibilities are Unclear
Marketing is often met with unclear, nearly impossible requests from other departments — with the expectation that you'll just do it.
In order to show assertiveness and maintain boundaries, it's very important to make responsibilities clear in order to protect yourself and your team from requests that would be better handled by another department.
The best approach? Answer in a friendly, yet firm, manner: "Actually, I'm not the right person for this task, and I'm sure you'll find someone better suited in another department. If there's anything else I can do to help, feel free to let me know."
5. Remain Empathetic and Professional
Maybe it's a Friday afternoon, and you're already swamped. Or perhaps it's the 6th request of the day, and it's only 9:30. Whatever the reason, multiple requests from colleagues can put you under a great deal of stress.
However, it's important to take a deep breath and remain professional when dealing with these kinds of situations — even in the face of wildly unrealistic requests.
Calmly and objectively explain to your colleague why, from your point of view, the request doesn't make sense — and then ask for feedback. With this approach, you should both be able to express your opinions and have open discourse.
A working environment that's characterized by helpfulness, openness, and understanding is important for any company. However, it's just as important to know your own limits, value your opinion, and prioritize your own well-being — something many (young) brand managers need to learn.
By learning to clearly, empathically, and factually say "no" to requests that don't make sense, you'll be far more successful in the long run — not only in your professional life but also in your personal life.
And remember, this approach to setting boundaries and learning to say "no" applies to all departments and roles, not just marketing and brand managers.