Having the right expertise is crucial in marketing, but do you want specialists or generalists on your team?
In marketing, finding that sweet spot where you have all the expertise you need in the team and there's a manageable balance of demand across the various skill sets is what dreams are made of. But how do you achieve it?
Is it better to have a team where everyone has a specialism that they stick to, or a group of people where each member can do a little bit of everything?
The world that many marketers find themselves in now is vastly different to that of even five years ago and this poses a significant problem for businesses looking to hire pure marketing specialists. Disciplines change and evolve, and if they don't, their importance to marketing strategies almost always does. This means you can invest X amount in hiring, onboarding and keeping a specialist happy only to find out in a couple of years that their skillset is no longer as valuable.
Econsultancy's Modern Marketing Model (M3) was designed with this shifting landscape in mind. Explaining the reasons behind the initiative, Ashley Friedlein, Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing, said the landscape that marketers work in has "dramatically changed" because of the rise of new channels and technologies. However, many teams have not altered how the discipline is taught or how they operate, resulting in a model that is outdated and professionals left without a direction to go in.
This has manifested in many marketers not understanding what skills they need or how they can best serve the team they're in.
This strengthens the case for hiring generalists over specialists in your team, but - on the flip side - what happens when a certain niche discipline becomes the next big thing and you have no-one to take the lead?
Assess your situation
Whether generalists or specialists are right for you depends on your unique situation. There are a number of factors that need to be considered, such as what resources are currently available to you, what success looks like for your marketing efforts, what your competitors are doing and where you want to go in the future.
Hubspot has created a simple exercise to help you understand what you currently have, what is feasible for growth and where you need the most support.
Good hiring will make all the difference to your marketing capabilities. Flexibility, adaptability and a willingness to learn will always be desirable attributes in candidates, whether you are looking for specialists or generalists. Working in a fast-evolving field like marketing means that you can't be completely committed to a single area or way or working if you want to succeed in the long term.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, says that he always opts for generalists over honed experts:
"Many people would argue that if you try to know a little bit of everything, you’ll never get to the point of mastering anything... I don’t buy it. I don’t believe in trying to strengthen weaknesses, but I do believe in working hard to be good at many things. We adapt and evolve our skill-sets depending on our particular situation in life. We do it all the time, so to consider yourself a specialist is limiting."
However, he also recognizes that there may be times when hiring a specialist is exactly what you need. So which is the best solution?
There's no strict rule that dictates whether generalists are better than specialists or vice-versa in marketing teams, especially as it depends on your specific and unique situation. If you're looking for someone to upskill your team in a new discipline - and you're able to afford this expertise - then bringing a specialist onboard may be the best solution.
Balance both sides
Identify your main needs and decide whether a generalist or specialist would better meet these demands, but always focus at least part of your recruitment on a candidate's willingness to adapt to new situations and step out of their comfort zone. This will help your team evolve alongside changing budgets, resources or objectives to realize your overall goals.
It doesn't always have to be a choice of one or the other either. There are significant benefits to having t-shaped employees , where professionals have a background or experience in one specific area but are able to transfer these skills into other related disciplines. Whether they consider themselves to be a generalist or specialist, having professionals that are able to quickly learn new expertise is something of great value to teams of all sizes.
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