Do You Really Want to Hire a Specialist?

Millennial Work Habits, Industry's Rapid Evolution Call for Flexibility

By Published on .

Carolyn Hadlock
Carolyn Hadlock
Specialists are in demand today among agencies and chief marketing officers. A CMO manages an average of five ongoing agency relationships, and agencies now offer sub-specialties to their specialties. It's an à la carte culture.

This creates a dilemma for those now entering the work force: millennials. Millennials see themselves as inherently generalist. They want to do it all. And they want to do it all now. They don't see themselves as blurring lines. They simply never saw the lines. They don't see Facebook as a social-networking site. They see it as a way to stay in constant contact with their friends. They don't see TiVo as time-shifting. Or watching the latest episode of "The Office" on their laptop as convergence.

Working with what you've got
How do we reconcile emerging creatives' hunger for work, opportunity and growth with agencies' desire for workers such as "a digital designer for the L.A. office, with experience working on e-marketing for a high-end car"? Couple this with the fact that our industry is moving at the speed of light, with little room for mistakes, and it's easy to see how difficult it is to foster individual growth.

Not only is this specialist-hiring approach debilitating for creatives, it can have an even larger negative impact on the work. The gaps between specialties are quickly becoming chasms, resulting in brand babble. In the end, this negatively affects consumer perception of brands.

For example, a curious consumer who reads a blog about a fashion show in L.A. for a luxury car brand may follow a link to the luxury car's website to see the fashion show, but then not be able to find it anywhere. That consumer is now not only unimpressed, but confused. This is a result of the ad agency, the PR agency and the digital agency not communicating effectively. If a team of generalists had been involved, it would have been an integrated experience that leveraged the collective experience across all platforms, bringing a fresh and coherent perspective that benefits the brand.

Mixed messages
Another example of brand disconnect is seeing a brilliant TV campaign for a discount retailer that changes your mind about the brand. Then you see the Sunday circular for that same retailer, which takes you right back to where you were. This might be a case of two separate creative directors -- one responsible for broadcast, the other for promotional marketing.
Carolyn Hadlock is partner-creative director of Young & Laramore, Indianapolis.

It's impossible to know whether these examples result from a lack of collaboration within agencies, or across agencies.

An example close to home is Steak 'n Shake, a client that involves our agency across all facets of its business, from product development and store design to broadcast and reader boards. (And by the way, all these examples involve the same team.) Various members of our creative team, at all levels, bring their training and expertise in music, writing, photography and art direction to the creative, and they work across all disciplines to produce the most innovative work possible. It is common for the art director to write and a writer to art direct. Account managers weigh in on issues like casting or editing. The team is collectively responsible for moving the brand forward, regardless of each individual title.

Curiosity builds careers
Being insatiably curious is the most important "skill" to have. Generalists have a very democratic approach to communication. Healthy agency cultures recognize that a writer could be the best photographer in the building, an account manager could be the most accomplished editor, or an assistant creative director could be the head of information technology at another agency. The capacity to work across disciplines should not only be nurtured, but demanded.

Hiring and developing generalists results in engaged and satisfied people. Ultimately, this shows in the work, generating truly creative and effective campaigns.
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