Generalist Vs. Specialist

When mapping out your career goals there are many potential paths to take. Some of us find out quickly where we would like to head while others take our time or end up stumbling into a career.

As you begin to figure out what you want with your career you are often faced with this question: Should I developed a set of skills that caters to one line of work or should I branch out and acquire a wide set of skills?

In laymen’s terms – should you be a specialist or a generalist?

It is important to note that the answer to this question will be different for everyone. We all have different goals and we all are naturally born with characteristics that can help guide us one way or another.

For the sake of conversation, I will be referencing the marketing industry, specifically drilling down to the digital space.

Advantages Of Being A Specialist:

Honing in and becoming a master of your craft can provide an individual with a great career path. When you become a specialist at a task that is of high value, you may get presented with great opportunity. Promotions at a younger age, higher salaries, getting recruited to top companies all because you are one of the best at your craft.

A perfect example of specialists reaping the rewards right now is developers. With the start up community and many large enterprises needing developers on staff to grow their business, this set of specific skills is providing a great opportunity. The fact that limited people have the set of skills required is presenting these specialists with opportunities to grow their career at a faster pace then other skill sets/jobs.

Individuals may have been attracted to this line of work at a young age or it is something that may have blossomed in college or when they first reached the real world. But this is skill that is not easily picked up by the everyday person and takes dedication.

Disadvantages Of Being A Specialist

While being a specialist can lead to growth quickly in your career, if you are not able to broaden your skill set you may actually cap your growth. As you move higher and higher within an organization the need for specialists deteriorates. Sure, you may become the Director of SEM, the Lead Developer or Head SEO Engineer, but if you do not branch out and learn additional skills will you ever become the CIO, CMO, VP of Digital Marketing or any  other fancy title can think of?

One group of people I am seeing affected by this is the technical SEO group. Don’t get me wrong, these are a bright bunch of people. But with SEO now being meshed with outreach, social media and PR – the skill set needed to offer a complete SEO program no longer goes along with just having technical skills. Sure they may be able to solve indexing issues and do a complete URL re-write for their clients, but do they have the creative mind needed to develop a marketing plan to generate social signals and quality links?

Advantages Of Being A Generalist

In the marketing world generalists can speak to many different channels. They have enough knowledge in each area to converse, stratagize and begin the execution process.

The issue with Generalists is they need to have working knowledge across all marketing channels. They can’t just know that SEO is about rankings and links. They need to understand how paid media can help promote content and generate links from quality sites. They need to have a quest for knowledge about the entire space and continuing to feed their brain as updates are made to algorithms and new targeting capabilities are released. Generalists need to understand new channels and they will play alongside and with current marketing efforts.

If you possess this thirst for knowledge and are able to grasp the entire space, there is a good chance you will be able to grow your career. This skill set often leads to positions of leading teams. These are the individuals who get the chance to run departments that span across multiple channels. If they do truly have a solid base understanding of all marketing channels and how they work together, these are the candidates that eventually run companies.

A great example of how being a generalist is a trend within an the industry is the need for ‘growth hackers’. Many SaaS or tech based companies are looking for do-it-all marketers. Owners of companies and recruiters often run into issues with filling this position as candidates need to have knowledge across SEO, display, paid search, social, print, mobile and every other channel out there. There are not too many candidates out there that have those capabilities.

Disadvantages Of Being A Generalist

Anyone can read a blog post about social media and claim their an expert. Unfortunately, many generalists fit into this category. To be a true generalist, you need a relatively deep understanding of your industry. You also need to understand how each cog in the wheel works together. If not, you’ll just end up as someone who can talk the talk and not walk the walk. (account people?)

One area mentioned above in the advantages of being a specialists called out the opportunity to advance within your organization quite quickly. The generalist may be hindered earlier in their career by not having a specialty as new employees are usually given more repetitive, specialized tasks.

So Which Is The Best?

None of them. It all depends on who you are and what you want out of your life and career. As shown above there are pluses and minuses to both.

For me, I started as a specialists managing PPC campaigns, but to get where I want to be I needed to branch out and understand what SEO, content, social, analytics and paid media can do for my clients. And next up is understanding how traditional media can be intertwined with digital. For you, well it may be a completely different route.

Where do you stand? Are you a specialists or a generalist?

Justin Freid Speaking At SES Chicago

Next week, I’ll be heading to Chicago to speak at SES Chicago. My session will be on Thursday, November 15th at 10:35. The session is called Leveraging Twitter and Facebook Ads and I will be presenting a case study and how to run a successful Twitter advertising campaign.

The session will highlight the Florida Blue Twitter case study that was put together by Twitter and focused on how TPG ran a super successful Twitter campaign for Florida Blue. I’ll also dive into how it can affect your content marketing strategy, link building and SEO efforts.

For more information check out the SES website and if you are gonna be there, definitely check out my session.

Justin Freid Recently Interviewed By Twitter

Over at TPG, we did some great work with one of our client, Florida Blue, in helping them build an online community as well as amplify their social presence. Florida Blue was going through a brand transition, renaming their brand from Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Florida to Florida Blue.

Justin and his team helped develop the brand transition strategy and how they could utilize the change to build awareness and create and online community. The program worked extremely well and a major part of the program was Twitter’s paid advertising platform. check links . As you will see in the case study, the paid media campaigns on Twitter had great results.

Check out the case study here: Twitter Case Study.

Justin Speaking At Digital East And PodCamp East

Coming off a great experience at SES San Francisco in August, I have been invited to speak at two additional conference in the next few weeks. I am excited to provide attendees with some great info at both of the conferences. I’ll be speaking at Digital East, a great conference being held in the Washington DC are and I am super stoked to be presenting for the 2nd year in a row at PodCamp.

Here is some additional information on the conference and what I’ll be speaking on:

Digital East:

Session Topic: Utilizing Twitter Advertising To Amplify Your Brand

Session Info: In this session I’ll take attendees through a case study of how my media team at TPG drove engagement, brand awareness and created a social community for one of our health insurance clients.


PodCamp East:

Session Topic: Competitive Research and Analysis

Session Info: Attendees will learn real life examples of how to perform competitive research and leave with actionable items on how they can get an understanding of what their competitors are doing online.

See Justin Speak At SES San Francisco

Just got the news that I will be speaking at the upcoming SES San Francisco event on August 14th-17th.I’ll be on the panel of Spy Vs. Spy: Competitive Research and will be given tips and explaining tactics to decipher your competitor marketing strategy.

I am extremely excited to speak at SES and represent not only TPG but the Philadelphia search community as well. My goal is to have everyone who attends my session will lead with actionable insights they can use to dig up come dirt on their competitors’ marketing strategy.

If you are interested in attending SES and my session, check it out here: SES San Francisco. If you are interested in scheduling a time to meet or grab a drink, email me at justinfreid[@]gmail[.]com.

Buy A Copy Of Justin’s New Book

One of the goal’s I set out to accomplish was to write a book and thanks to my great relationship with a former manager of mine, Michael Fleischner, I got the opportunity to co-auther my first book while I was still in my mid 20’s.

The book is a beginner’s guide to blogging and is a great starter book for anyone interested in learning how to blog. You can buy a copy on Amazon and if you happen to be an Amazon Prime member you can actually download the e-book for free! Check it out below: