For marketing agencies, generalists can offer a range of invaluable skills — and tend to quickly develop management potential.

In the past decade or so, the marketing industry has championed the specialist as the most valuable team member. The demand for specialists can be reflected in job boards full of listings for copywriters, video creators, PR experts, technologists, and web developers. Unfortunately, this creates a very real pressure for recent graduates, who often believe they have to choose a specialty before they’ve even started their careers.

But the need for marketing generalists never really went away — it was just underrecognized. Marketing agencies are now realizing that overly-segmented workplaces may be missing out. A report from Hay’s suggests that 78% of marketing directors want both generalist and specialists on their team.

Generalists can boost a team’s success by stepping in on a variety of tasks, connecting the dots between specialists, and ultimately learning to manage the agency’s overall workflow and vision. If you are a generalist, or are thinking about becoming one, rest assured — your skills can be just as valuable as those of a specialist in the workplace. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. Generalists Wear Many Hats

By developing skills in a number of areas, generalists can easily switch between tasks or step in as needed. This cross-training means they offer good value to small businesses who might not have specialists to cover all the bases. By wearing many hats, generalists can expand a team’s capabilities in multiple directions at once, establishing the groundwork for specialists to build upon in future. What’s more, generalists know how to learn, and are always game to teach themselves more.

Marketing generalists might not go as deep with some skill sets, but they tend to be functionally competent in areas like social media, email marketing, and copywriting. Generalists are also skilled in essential marketing systems like Google Analytics and Hubspot, and are familiar with reading and analyzing performance data. They may even know more about the latest best practices or philosophies within the marketing industry, and having an employee who knows even a little bit about everything can lead to unforeseen opportunities.

2. Generalists See the Big Picture

For specialists, it’s all too easy to stay in a silo, mastering only your part of the overall workflow. But when you’re working at a small agency, knowing how your marketing efforts fit into the rest of the program is paramount. Generalists understand the entire marketing ecosystem, as well as how their work fits into that picture.

With this overview, generalists can help break down silos that prevent effective team communication. That means they can ensure unified efforts across team members, and more unified campaigns across channels. This perspective is also invaluable when interfacing with clients, allowing generalists to clearly communicate the agency’s goals and methodology.

3. Generalists Keep the Team Together

Interpersonal skills may or may not matter for marketing specialists, but they are key to being an effective generalist. While specialists can get tunnel vision around their portion of a project, generalists can put work into perspective. Even shallow knowledge in an area can help a generalist ask the right questions of a specialist, and better translate any concerns to the agency as a whole. When generalists take the time to understand both specific roles, and the agency’s overall operations, they quickly become invaluable facilitators.

4. Generalists Become Managers

Although generalists may start out in roles that require a number of specific hands-on tasks, over time it may become clear that there is great potential in this ability to both cross channels and understand the marketing plan on a higher level. For generalists who have something of a Type A personality and are willing to take charge, the natural next step is becoming a manager.

Managers need the crucial soft skills, like organization and communication, that specialists may not be as inclined to develop. While specialists are perfecting projects, generalists are establishing goals, and guiding the workflow to get those projects out the door on time. Generalists can train employees on effective processes and best practices, and help everyone achieve day-to-day priorities while keeping the big picture goals in mind.

Generalizing for Success

Especially if you’re early in your marketing career, it can be to your benefit to generalize at first — it puts more tools in your professional tool box, allows you to explore, and gives you the chance to discover capabilities that may surprise even you. It’s also important to develop a passion about the industry as a whole, as your journey in marketing could easily take you in many directions.

If you’re interested in growing as a generalist, the key is to stay excited about learning opportunities, and keep seeking out ways to deepen — and broaden — your industry knowledge. Don’t know how to do something or need to learn more about a certain area of marketing? Take the leap and learn! Read widely, or even ask your company to pay for classes. If you continue to pursue new knowledge, you’ll ensure that you remain extremely valuable to any marketing team.

Author Reuben Weiss

As People Operations Manager, Reuben works to unify L&T's business and talent strategies. He believes that an organization is only as good as its people, and he strives to create a culture that supports L&T’s top asset. Prior to working at L&T, Reuben consulted for various organizations ranging from Fortune 20 corporations to nonprofits. He has also facilitated trainings on executive coaching, effective communication, mindful awareness practices, and working with personality assessments. He holds an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, and a B.A. from UCLA. In his free time, he enjoys exploring bodegas, sauntering, drinking seltzer, and doing yoga.

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