The 2012 Reality: Marketing Generalists Need More Specialists

By | October 19, 2011

Writing for the upcoming December issue of DMAW’s Marketing AdVents, Greg Curran made a point I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Greg is the vice president, group creative director at Merkle. Among other points he made in his article “2012: The Year of The Ampersand,” Greg talked about “specialization and collaboration.”

“The rapid growth and constant change within new media over the last few years has splintered our work forces,” he acknowledged. “We have designers who are insanely good at micro sites but have no experience in direct mail. And there are strategists who excel at awareness campaigns, but struggle to incorporate social media into the mix. The list goes on. Clients can sense this lack of cohesion. That’s why they have been choosing separate agencies for search, and mobile, and SEO, etc.”

But out-sourcing to specialists is no long-term solution, he says. “Over the long run, clients are best served by agencies that understand and can build programs across all media.”

The complexities inherent in such collaboration echo what TDN contributor Bryan Yeager observed in his October 5 post about about the continuing shift to digital and cross-media that he saw displayed at DMA2011.

Adapting to and integrating the full range of marketing capabilities is a monster order already, and we know it’s only going to intensify. That’s why I was glad to hear experts like Greg Curran and Bryan Yeager describe the village of specialists required to do effective direct mail, email, telemarketing, ecommerce, social media, blogging, microsites, design and testing, campaign planning, cross media measurement, and mobile marketing, let alone stay on top of the newer stuff like augmented reality and near field communications.

How will agencies and marketing departments afford all these specialists, especially in tough times?
I suspect something will need to change at the highest levels. Perhaps the shift starts with a recognition that — like it or not — it’s going to be “this way or the highway.” Then maybe we entertain fresh approaches we’ve found a thousand reasons not to try yet.

Would any of these tactics work?

1. Tapping the Brain Power. How would it work to pull staff into an (after-hours?) uniterrupted, freethinking, brainstorming session focused on the imperative to bring more knowledge in-house?

2. Rethinking Policies. What creative employment options might help absorb the cost of bringing specialized expertise in house? Would it make sense to try and attract knowledge workers by negotiating less pay in exchange for flexible work options (for example, 24-hour flex-time or part-time options)? How about incorporating work-from-home opportunities for gifted students or setting up job-sharing programs? Would anyone on staff like to cut back on current responsibilities in exchange for getting up to speed on one of the newer functions?

3. Retraining. Is there value right now in ramping up, paying for, and giving time-off so staff can take on extended learning in new technologies, perhaps in exchange for a longer-term employment contract?

4. Educating. How about investing in consultants and experts to teach specific skills at in-house seminars? Or lining up free webinar series? Or selecting an interested staff person to research and compile a program of educational materials available online?

5. Cost Sharing. Perhaps you know of a like-minded company that would consider a shared-employee arrangement. This definitely involves a deep level of trust, but tough times call for daring approaches.

No doubt this is going to be challenging, but the companies that survive will be the ones that figure it out. In his Marketing AdVents article, Greg concluded that, “2012 will see a focus on figuring out how to coordinate the efforts of various specialists and to generate integrated, multi-platform ideas that flow from collaboration across the organization.”

The collective mind on this blog is quite intelligent. Every idea and comment is welcome, so let’s go!

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3 thoughts on “The 2012 Reality: Marketing Generalists Need More Specialists

  1. marcia chithelen

    Missing from your list: a different kind of agency – flat, lean, with lots of client side experience and a broad network of different types of experts they can tap into on a project basis. This type of organization can operate effectively as an outsourced extension of the client’s marketing department, work more closely and collaboratively with the client (senior personnel interacting directly with senior personnel) – and often come in at a more reasonable price point than big agencies with lots of overhead of their own.

    Let the agency specialize in making sure that specialists are lined up when you need them – and are working closely enough with you to understand just what you need.

  2. Nicole Schappert

    That is a great suggestion. Smaller agencies can usually be more nimble and offer more personalized and detail oriented solutions. They can also turn projects around more quickly than large firms, given adequate time and resources from the company.

  3. Nancy Scott

    Hi, Marcia… How right you are! I thought of this in the context of “rethinking policies,” but I should have said it more explicitly. This is a superior option for survival that deserves careful consideration.

    And, Nicole, thank you for the reminder that “nimble” has been identified as one of the key characteristics required to survive exponential change. Many experts have noted that smaller agencies can, by definition, offer greater flexibility and quicker response.

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