30 August 2010

We will always need Specialists

One of my four major agenda items, any given day of my career, is people development. In recent times the main task of people development has been to develop Renaissance Practitioners. Said differently, my task is to turn great specialists into great generalists.

Are you a Specialist or a Generalist?

Great specialists only see their own part of the marketing plan. Great generalists can play their position well and see how their work fits into the overall marketing solution we provide to a client. This way we provide business solutions, not just “digital solutions” or “retail solutions”.

SoMe specialist vs. SoMe generalist

Today I read two articles that show how Social Media, the industry specialty of the moment, is evolving in ways that should interest specialists and generalists alike:

A blogger at Sysomos, a business software company, opined today that while SoMe is a small slice of overall advertising investment, it will someday “rule the advertising roost”, eclipsing all known media except outdoor. Maybe so. Veteran ad people know that the #1 advertising medium cited by consumers as “most reliable” has always been “word of mouth”. SoMe is word of mouth in a publishable form.

Meanwhile, a “social media strategist” at Digitas Health laments her job title because it makes her sound too much like a specialist. “Social media,” says Sarah Larcker, “should really be viewed as an integrated part of the holistic strategy for a brand, not its own independent realm.” Sarah is an excellent example of a specialist-generalist.

We will always need Specialists

There’s no doubt that what we currently call SoMe will continue to be a major force in modern marketing. Everyone’s challenge is exactly what Sarah Larcker proposes, to make SoMe a strategic tool rather than a tactical silo.

We will always need specialists, however. Technology continues to develop daily and someone has to be on top of the changes – it’s a full-time job. New media will continue to evolve and we need specialists to show us how it can work.

The question is how much of a generalist do you aspire to be? You may always have your specialty, but having a big-picture perspective will keep your skills relevant.


  1. Thanks for mentioning me in your great post Steve! I like your perspective on the always-challenging balance between generalist and specialist.

  2. As Sarah said, the balance is difficult. We will naturally end up in a place where we are all multi-discipline strategists with specific expertise across these channels. Been ranting about the same lately as well.

    It's a big issue, not just about how we label ourselves, but how we differentiate those who do vs those we say and streamline as an industry.

  3. Great thoughts, Steve -- I'll throw another dimension at you: Specialization giving way to generalization as technologies mature.

    Think of the phone system. Early on, you couldn't place a single call without a specialist (read: local exchange operator). Then, you only needed an operator if you were placing a call between area codes.

    Now, you never need an operator: that specialization has been replaced by technology, and those jobs now reside in customer service.

    Just more food for thought.. thanks again for the post

  4. Your post made me think about the chicken-egg dilemma - which comes first, a specialist or a generalist? I would propose that a great generalist is one who is good, and possibly even great at many specialties.

    So where does one start - tackle one specialty at a time and build up to the larger picture, or go at it in a less directed, free-for-all, manner? Personal experience makes me believe that the former is a more effective route, and maybe many of our specialists are just generalists-in-training.

    Just something that came to mind. Thank you for this great post, and also your personal dedication to those who work for and with you.