opinion

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What's Really Causing The Marketing Talent Crunch?

These days, marketing contains multitudes. The rise of digital has brought with it a parallel rise in complexity. And that, in turn, has yielded a diverse array of specialized agencies, software vendors and individual practitioners.  

Instead of one tribe, the marketing world is now a collection of many. And each of these tribes has its own orthodoxy. Its own way of thinking about marketing. Its own mix of biases, buzzwords and best practices. 

Of course, specialization itself isn’t new. Media, advertising and PR have long circled clients along parallel orbits. But today’s brand of specialization is infinitely broader in scope, spanning practices as diverse as inbound, social, CRM, content marketing, programmatic, apps, data science and beyond. 

Clearly, this fractured state of affairs must come with some consequences. Here’s a theory about one of them: hyper-specialization is causing the current marketing talent crunch.

Of course, a marketing talent crisis is nothing new, either. Every few years, a panic about talent scarcity ripples through the marketing world. Until—a few beanbag chairs and beer fridges later—management moves on to the next crisis.

We seem to be in the thick of one such cycle now. But this one feels different — stronger and longer. More intense. With causes that are harder to pin down. 

Here’s a theory on why things are different this time around: Today’s marketing talent pool is just as full as it ever was. Now, it’s just full of many different species.

These are folks that have spent years working within specialized practice areas that are dynamic and demanding. And many steps removed from the big-picture marketing strategy. Many have entered the field through non-traditional paths. Many have spent most of their careers in one field, often with little or no grounding in the basic principles of marketing. Their work generally tends to focus less on ideas and more on execution. Less on outcomes and more on outputs.

These are highly capable, highly talented practitioners. But their talents, skills and experience are not easily transferrable to other roles within an agency or marketing department.

And therein lies the crunch.

And we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. In our rush to keep up and continuously add new capabilities to our arsenal, we’ve built an army of specialists and turned the smart, informed marketing generalist into something of an endangered species. And, in the process, we’ve inadvertently made it much harder to find marketing talent. 

So what can we do about it? Free snacks and Ping-Pong tables won’t cut it. The real solution is as much a shift in mindset as a shift in tactics. It starts with a commitment to bridging the specialist-generalist divide in your agency or marketing department. Here are a few concrete suggestions to get you started:

1. Bolster the basics. Ensure all of the folks on your team—no matter how specialized—are trained on marketing basics. 

2. Balance specialists with generalists. Make sure your whole team (including your partner roster) mixes specialists with informed generalists to form a more unified marketing machine. 

3. Beware of bias. When defining the strategy to move that unified machine forward, steer carefully clear of the biases that can come with specialization.

4. Get everyone on the same page. Socialize the big picture strategy widely. Every member of your army of specialists should understand the outcome they’re working towards. And why it matters.

I’ll leave you with one more theory: If you follow these steps you’ll be doing more than helping fix the talent crisis. You’ll be setting the stage for tighter integration, more unified teams and, ultimately, stronger work that yields real outcomes instead of just outputs.

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