Recession – Killing Off The Generalists That We Still Need

I was recently reading a piece about what I call ‘wise old owls’. They are the mature staff members within an agency that are generalist rather than specialists.  The recession has been killing them off.  But, letting them go has actually been a longterm bleed from the agency world.

Here’s an example…  If you ask a plumber what’s wrong with a house, he’ll almost certainly tell you that it’s the plumbing. In the agency world ask a social media specialist how to jump-start a client’s business and what do you think she’ll say?  “Dial up the investment in social media!”

Both our experts would be correct … some of the time. But who’s looking at the big picture? Who’s looking at the condition of the whole house?

In agency management it’s the experienced and talented Group Account Director or Planner who sees the big picture, has an arsenal of resources to draw from, and the strength of personality to organize, mobilize and energize disparate platform gurus – the specialists – to create layered programs that really work for the client.

Here’s the problem: This senior agency layer is a dying breed.  The deeper tragedy for our business is what leaves with them: relationships with and between media, disciplines and clients – experience that’s attained not taught, and mentoring that makes people and their agencies smarter over time.

The recession, coupled with job specialization (and a host of other factors), is draining generalist talent — and the best, most thoughtful and most expensive talent is being sacrificed fast.

This leaves the younger generation of specialty-focused, advertising people who lack the broader education to appreciate the context across ALL media — which is what’s required to integrate all of today’s powerful media channels.

Mastering the interrelationships between a mind-blowing number of new communications platforms means real, sustainable advantage for a brand; the more options we have, the more essential it is to see the whole picture and put the right pieces together in the right way. And we need generalists to answer it.

The Fix

How do we keep these people in the business? That’s the most important question of 2010.  We start by taking a stand: Experienced generalists should be a priority. It is possible to save them even when the CFO hands down a draconian number for the agency to eliminate.  To do that, we have to change our management math. Cheap doesn’t mean necessarily mean efficient. Effectiveness is the real efficiency. Two or three junior specialists — people trained to evaluate and execute a portion of a media plan — do not equal one senior-level generalist, as much as you want them to.

They can actually cost far more. It takes them time to figure out things generalists have ingrained. Then you have to fill in their gaps, cover for what they don’t know how to do yet, and ease the discomfort inexperience triggers in a client.

So take the generalists out of the command post and put them on the front lines again. You’re never too senior to do the real job of planning. And the deeper you get in the mix, the more seamlessly your experience — real-world context you can’t get in training — transmits to the next generation.


~ by rtymerej on January 23, 2010.

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