5 Reasons Marketing Generalists Are Back

For many years the trend in marketing has been towards specialization. Large agencies have numerous departments with niche specialists and some smaller agencies specialize in a single niche. The argument was that growing complexity in marketing due to media proliferation and the social media revolution could only be tackled by specialists.

But is that really the case? And more importantly, can you afford this specialization model?

While the specialization model certainly provides a high level of expertise in a wide variety of services it also means that each project involves a great many people. For agencies, more people means more billable hours, and this is a good thing.  For the client, it means bigger bills and longer time lines.

When I was a client I used to joke that by the time our large ad agency team were all briefed their bill was 10K and no real work had been done.  This is fine when you have big budgets, but this simply is not the case for most clients.

There is now a real case to be made for marketing generalists who understand the evolving marketing ecosystem and can look holistically at your needs.

Some of this has been driven by the economic need to do more with less however even companies with deep pockets see the value of marketing generalists. Facebook’s Jonathan Rosenburg writes that they prefer marketing generalists because “when you’re in a dynamic industry where the conditions are changing so fast, then things like experience and the way you’ve done a role before isn’t nearly as important as your ability to think.”

Steve Rubel writing for Advertising Age argues for Specialist Generalists who are “marketing Jedis”. While I wouldn’t classify my partner and me as “marketing Jedis” (he may disagree) we have found that the generalist model works well for our clients for five reasons:


1. Lower Costs: Having a lean team of generalist means that very little time is spent on briefings, team meetings and keeping people in the loop.  This keeps billable hours down and ensures there is time for strategy and creative development - the actual work.

2. Longer Timelines/Less Flexibility: Bringing teams together almost always means extended timelines. It also means if something changes it takes longer for a larger group to adapt and change course.

3. More on Brief: A good strategy is a the foundation of good work and a smaller team is more likely to stick to the strategy because they helped develop it.

4. Greater Creativity: The traditional agency model that separates “creatives” and “suits” means that the people doing the creative work often aren’t the ones with a personal connection with the client and their business.  However, it is the client who often provides the insights that spark creative inspiration and they should be involved.

5. Stronger Relationship: Fewer people means, a bond between the client and their marketing provider can develop. Such a bond can lead to trust which means better sharing, greater business understanding and more effective marketing.

Often the client’s greatest issue is determining what their true needs are. They can’t afford a large agency and are not sure which type of specialist agency they need. What they need and want is someone to guide them through the marketing complexity – identify their needs and provide solutions. A generalist background means you have the skills and knowledge to provide this level of service.

Our clients and some of our agency colleagues are often amazed that a couple of people can put out a whole campaign from strategy through to implementation. However, when you bring to the table a huge array of practical experience, technical skills and varied skill set to draw upon, it comes naturally.

Vera Wynn-Williams
Partner and Director of Strategy
Iconic Communications