Does the advertising industry need more generalists or specialists?

Should the advertising be hiring more specialists or generalists? Mumbrella's Abigail Dawson speaks to senior creatives and strategists to find out what the advertising industry really needs.

The advertising industry has fought a long battle between the specialist and generalist, with different agencies choosing to weight one heavier than the other.

Elsewhere, both are equally as important, with generalists and jacks of all trades being hired into agencies at a rapid rate.

So which is a more valuable player within an advertising agency? A specialist or a generalist?

For Jacqui Paterson, one of Spinach’s senior creatives, both are imperative to an industry which is constantly evolving and changing.

“Specialists will always exist for as long as our industry continues to change and evolve. Experts provide the focused thinking we need, especially when navigating new, uncharted industry trends.”

Paterson says adland needs more specialists and generalists

Masters in their field, Paterson says, help navigate the uncharted waters of unfamiliar territory the industry often has to traverse.

“Experts provide the focused thinking we need especially when navigating new, uncharted industry trends.”

The senior creative does, however, agree generalists are “worth their weight in gold”. “However, generalists in agencies are worth their weight in gold, especially in smaller agencies.

“They are team players who listen and learn from specialists to evolve and grow their wider skill set. We need both, but what our industry desperately needs is more women. ‘Jills of all trades’ and females who specialise. Please,” Paterson adds.

The chief creative officer at CHE Proximity, Ant White, agrees with Paterson, arguing diversity is essential.

“Diversity of thought is essential. The more diversity we have in our agencies, the more specialties we have across our accounts, the more angles we can tackle a problem from, and the stronger the solutions are that we land on.”

White argues the industry just needs diversity in thinking

White reminds agencies it isn’t just about ticking a box. People who can act as the glue between the specialists have the most important roles within an ad agency.

“But it’s not about ticking boxes, filling a room and expecting it to just happen. We need to understand each other’s roles and responsibilities and know who to call on at each crucial moment to make the work the best it can be.”

Guy Marshall, Bashful’s strategy director, fears the era of the generalist coming to an end.

Marshall says Bashful is hiring more and more talent with specialised skills and “this shows no sign of slowing down”.

“As a dyed in the wool, life-long generalist I’m hoping and praying that the era of the jack of all trades is not coming to an end but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.”

Marshall says generalists are specialists in their own way

Marshall believes generalists have a certain skill set which is unique.

“I would suggest that even those of us who consider ourselves jacks of all trades will have certain skill sets that are a particular strength,” the strategy director says.

“I’m good at presenting work so I make sure I get every opportunity to do so. I’m terrible at putting together decks, so I make sure I have support in this area. It strikes me that perhaps there is no such thing as a jack of all trades, just someone who has never defined the specialist skill that they bring to the workplace,” Marshall says speaking from experience.

Carly Yanco, head of strategy at J Walter Thompson Sydney, agrees that generalists are “gold dust” in agencies and have been for years.

“An account service person that can juggle client budgets, deal with procurement, defend creative and think strategically is hard to find, but invaluable when you do,” she says.

While for Yanco, specialists have also always been needed in agencies to provide deeper knowledge into new marketing frontiers.

“At the same time, new marketing frontiers – programmatic, social platforms, technologies such as VR, mobile marketing, etc – have required specialists with deep knowledge on the ins and outs of one and the ability to feed that into a creative or media team.”

Yanco argues adland needs neither specialists or generalists, it needs the “multiplist”

However, Yanco disagrees with Marshall, White and Paterson, and suggests the advertising industry doesn’t need any more specialists or generalists.

The head of strategy said being a generalist is not enough, but neither is being a specialist.

Instead, she proposes the idea of the “multiplist”, who will become the new “gold dust”.

A multiplist, which Yanco describes as a “hybrid”, “will have mastered multiple, inter-related areas, allowing them to demonstrate depth of knowledge as well as the ability to implement that knowledge”.

“Think strategists who can develop a business strategy that informs brand planning as much as it informs the full customer experience – retail design, digital customer journey, voice marketing, etc.

“Creatives who understand how new technologies work as much as they understand how the ideas that use them work. And media planners who can design complex programmatic buys as well as they can feed data insights into a brand’s consumer journey.

“Agencies who develop talent with this in mind will only benefit in the future.”



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