Mark Atkinson, who’s currently Director of External Affairs at Ambitious about Autism, is starting as Scope’s new Director of Communications and Marketing in October.
Mark has worked at Ambitious About Autism for three and a half years where he has led the introduction and development of a new brand and identity. Before that Mark worked at the Youth Sport Trust,Citizens Advice and the Local Government Association.
Here he explains why he’s excited to be joining Scope and some of the important lessons he’s learnt in his career.
What was your big break?
I spent four years working for the Citizens Advice service and was asked to lead the charity’s response to a review of its statutory funding. It was known as a ‘zero based review’ – meaning that you start from position of the charity receiving no financial support from government and work upwards until you reach a figure where the charity could ‘function reasonably’. There was a huge risk to the organisation and the network of bureaux. I managed to protect the money that came from Government into the Citizens Advice service by demonstrating the reach, impact and overall return on investment. It was a great campaign and I learnt a lot about how to influence, manage relationships and the importance of keeping focused. The experience helped me to get my next job at Citizens Advice – which was to lead a large communications team.
What’s one important lesson you’ve learnt?
I’m a firm believer in trusting your instincts. That’s not to say that evidence doesn’t matter because clearly it does, but I do believe that your first assessment of a situation or opportunity is often reasonably accurate.
What excites you about Scope?
I have been a long-time admirer of Scope having worked in the third sector for much of my career. The opportunity to join the organisation as it works to embed an ambitious strategy is one that could not be missed. I can’t think of a more exciting communications and marketing challenge than changing society so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. I looking forward to joining the team and supporting Scope to grow its brand and influence over the coming years.
Have you had a notable mentor?
I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people throughout my career. I learnt a great deal from Phil Swann when we worked together at the Local Government Association. He was the Director of Strategy and Communications and was the brains behind the LGA’s policy and campaigns effort. He is massively creative, thoughtful and, importantly for me, he has a great sense of humour. Working with Phil was a real highlight of my career and, more than anything, I learnt that you have to keep resolutely focused on the end goal and not get too distracted by the tactical issues that come along.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing disabled people?
I’ve worked for a disability charity for the past three and a half years and so I know that life is really challenging for many disabled people. There is a toxic mix brewing across society which is fueled by a significant reduction in public expenditure, meaning that local services are harder than ever to access, combined with a deeply unpleasant narrative around those who rely on the welfare state for support. Disabled people and their families are disproportionately paying the price and, more than ever, Scope has a critical role to play in changing attitudes across society.