Recently, a good friend of ours (we'll call him Marlon) was exploring career opportunities with a respectable global ad agency when the conversation took an interesting turn. At a time when job-seekers are proceeding carefully, Marlon was pondering which of many varied opportunities to take.
We're not talking about which account piqued his interest, or even which city or country he wished to explore. With his diverse portfolio, Marlon could fit into any one of several specializations. Creative director? Planning director? Account director? The field was open.
Now that brainstorming suffices for integration and siloed teams are the norm, Marlon is someone who has bucked the system. With a master's degree in fine arts, he first found himself working at an advertising agency as a graphic designer. Hoping to be more involved with campaign development, he set his sights on becoming an art director. Then, upon being exposed to the inner workings of the creative process, he realized the importance of brand strategy and consumer insight to successful campaigns, so he left the agency world altogether for business school. Now, armed with an mba, Marlon has reinvented himself as a brand manager for a Fortune 500, where he has since migrated into a broader role of research and strategy.
Marlon aside, we all know the typical office stereotypes:
>>Creatives:Aside from being, well, creative, they're the cool kids: unorthodox, passionate and spontaneous.
>>Account Planners: These non-conformists possess insight, curiosity and cleverness.
>>Client Service:The boys and girls next door are well-rounded, attentive and social.
>>Media Planners and Buyers: These good kids are responsible, disciplined and cautious.
But as the world moves toward truly integrated communications, are such rigid disciplines really necessary? During the inaugural years of Northwestern University's Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program, students could specialize in direct marketing, advertising, public relations - or become what was known as a "generalist" who dibbled and dabbled in all three concentrations. In later years, Northwestern abandoned the generalist track, likely in fear of producing marketing professionals who knew just enough to make them dangerous due to a lack of depth. But perhaps they were on to something. Think about it. How can we expect to integrate our communications with a divided mind?
Historically, the generalist was applauded for his or her knowledge of a variety of topics and an enviable ability to interface with the masses, even if only on the surface. The result was someone who could fly high and draw big-picture conclusions based on the vantage point. The specialist, on the other hand, was a trusted advisor whose expertise was sought for specific subject matter.
Each has its weaknesses. The Generalist may fear being challenged or making a mistake that renders him or her the weak link, unable to dig in and provide real-world solutions. The Specialist may encounter a dead-end career path after being pigeonholed. But maybe we have been thinking about this all wrong. In today's media climate, could there be the need for a "generalized specialist"?
Let's talk sports for a moment. The football coach has at his disposal an all-purpose running back, a multi-dimensional player. Originally, this player may not specialize in running between the tackles, catching balls, or blazing down the field with amazing speed. Over time, with technique and training, this player's contribution to the team becomes maximized, resulting in points on the board, a record season and a possible championship. In this scenario, everyone wins: the player, the coach and the team.
Think about your own work environment for a moment, with its time and budgetary restrictions, coupled with the complexity of today's communications marketplace. Rather than seeking complete and total mastery - the kind that can only be achieved by devoting an entire career to honing one's craft - think about the generalized specialist who seeks opportunities that allow for multiple specializations.
When you think about hiring your next employee, or even about your own career path, consider someone like Marlon, the all-purpose running back. It may be the choice that pushes your team from good to great.
Kelly Andrews is senior vice president/director, connections research & accountability at Starcom MediaVest Group. Kendra Hatcher King is senior vice president/consumer context planning for Starcom MediaVest Group. She would like to thank her husband, Robert, for the sports analogy (guess overdosing on ESPN is good for something).