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For many years now a debate has been raging on about whether it’s better to hire a marketing generalist or a specialist. Each one has its camp of rabid supporters and detractors touting various benefits to hiring managers of one and warning of the problems should they dare go in the other direction. From our point of view, both have their place in your organization — it all depends on your specific situation.

Your resources, your company’s goals, what’s expected of marketing, and the competitive brand landscape you’re operating in should be the first factors you consider. (We’ve all been in that awful spot when our wants are more than our resources and circumstances will allow.)

Assess Your Situation

In the hunt to find the right people to grow your business, you first need to sort out some important factors. We put together this short assessment to help you do just that. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a good first step that should help you clarify initially which direction to lean towards.





Marketing Goals

ReasonableStretchOver the Top


Insufficient to reach goalsSufficient to reach goalsMore than enough to reach goals

Staff Size

(Full Time)




Weak to strong

Highly differentiated


Moderately Differentiated


Little to No Differentiation


  • In each row, circle the one box that most closely describes your situation.
  • Count 1 point for each circled box in column 1, 2 points for each circled box in column 2, and 3 points for each circled box in column 3.
  • Add them together to get your total.


  • If your total is 7 points or less, a generalist may better fit your circumstances.
  • If your total is over 8 points, a specialist may be needed to take you to the next level.

If you’re an agency trying to decide whether to hire a specialist or a generalist to support one or more client’s accounts (rather than to grow your agency’s business), use your client’s situations to make your selections. For instance, the marketing goals you’ve agreed to, the budget they’ve allocated, how many full-time staff you’ve attached to their accounts, and their brand competition and positioning.

The Pros and Cons of Your Options

The Generalist


  • Broad diversity of experience, knowledge, and skills.
  • Open-minded, curious.
  • Leverages everyone’s talents to support the agency overall.
  • Pushes everyone to play at a higher level.
  • Creative and resourceful.
  • Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Flexible and adaptable — embraces change as an opportunity to grow.
  • Easily moved into new role and can be retrained.


  • Resists going deep into any one discipline, finds it confining.
  • Inquisitiveness can feel intrusive to others.
  • Has to rely on others for in-depth information.
  • Less efficient execution because of juggling tasks in multiple disciplines.

The Specialist


  • Deep discipline-specific experience, knowledge, and skills.
  • Content experts, provides in-depth information to their peers if asked.
  • Focused on tasks and getting things done.
  • Extremely efficient and fast execution.
  • Develops new processes, testing and vetting it with their colleagues.
  • Quickly and easily diagnoses problems, offer solutions.
  • Close-knit networks of other experts they can turn to for assistance.


  • Limited to no knowledge or understanding of other marketing specialties.
  • Ingrained in their discipline’s accepted frameworks and methodologies.
  • Solutions tend to be formulaic instead of tailored to the specific situation and don’t always understand ramifications of their solutions.
  • Can’t assign tasks outside their expertise.
  • Doesn’t handle change well; can be inflexible.
  • Hard to retrain.

Dialing It In

Deciding which way to go is not all that simple. Even with our assessment, you still need to consider what the costs will be to your company if you go one way or another. And we’re not just talking about the hard dollar costs and your cash flow. Those are of course extremely important.

We’re also talking about the opportunity costs. Think about what will happen if you don’t hire a specialist (or generalist). How will it help you? How will it hurt you? Will you be getting closer to or further away from the vision you have for your company? Will you be reinforcing your company’s positioning or taking away from it?

At the end of the day, you need to be able to sleep and rest easy with whatever your decision is. Enlisting the support of your leadership team and the rest of your company is crucial at times like this. Because growing pains will always be with you.


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