Agencies need both generalists and specialists. Generalists are the people who need to know a little about a lot. Specialists know a lot about a little. Both are important roles, and both are essential in order to effectively serve today’s clients.
The generalists in an agency are the senior client-facing functions in the firm – particularly senior representatives from engagement management (account service), content development (creative), and communications planning (account planning, media planning). Agency professionals in these functions should be fluent in both offline and online, paid and non-paid.
Ignition has written before about what we call the Nine-Box Model, where communications channels can be mapped on one axis labeled Paid, Earned, and Owned, and another labeled Passive, Active, and Interactive.
A generalist must be able to speak intelligently about all nine of these areas; at least enough to evaluate and recommend solutions that may live anywhere on this chart.
Meanwhile, various specialists in the firm can play a supporting role in the upfront Define phases and the play a leading role in the Develop and Deploy phases of a marketing program.
Specialists exist in the form of content strategists (writers), visual designers, interaction designers (UX), earned media specialists (media relations), creative technologists (developers), channel planners (media buyers), etc., depending on the size, structure and business focus of your firm.
RG/A’s Bob Greenberg uses a framework of Thinking/Doing and Stories/Systems as a progressive way to think about essential agency competencies. While the agency would have specialists in each quadrant of this model, the generalists would exist right in the center.
It’s time for account managers in particular to broaden their horizons beyond their traditional comfort zones and learn more about the other dimensions of today’s multi-channel world that will make them not just more well-rounded generalists more valuable advisors to their clients.