diagram of creative services unicornWhich is better: specialization or generalization when you’re ready to make marketing magic? Depending on who you read, watch, listen, or talk to, you’ll get a different answer. When it comes to marketing staff, some hiring managers swear by specialization, others prefer a generalist. But what if the correct answer is both when it comes to building your marketing team?

You need both

I’ve been a creative marketing professional for my entire career. I started out as a graphic designer and worked my way up to creative director in the publishing world. When print media began to fade away, I pivoted into digital marketing. I helped build thiving brands in the fitness, wellness, and outdoor industries. I also did freelance journalism work for consumer and trade publishers and penned a column for a digital magazine on the side.

Clients noticed my writing and began to request copywriting of me, so I began to move my side hustle to the center of my business. I began ghostwriting thought-leadership content for mission-driven business leaders with plenty of wisdom to share and stories to tell, but without the time or aptitude to write themselves.

This wasn’t a trajectory I planned; it was born of necessity. Business—especially in industries like publishing and marketing—is changing faster than ever before. One must be scrappy and resourceful and acquire new skills and expertise even to remain relevant, never mind making magic happen.

In short, you have to be a unicorn to stay alive. And those scrappy unicorns can make some of the best outsourcing resources for a growing business.

expert generalist diagram

Meet the Expert Generalist

The Unicorn, aka the Expert Generalist, is one whose knowledge and experience is broad and versatile, with specialized expertise in one or two areas. Most commonly used in the agile software development world, this approach is a boon to cost-conscious startups and businesses looking to get the most bang for their buck. The Expert Generalist is one who can develop a marketing strategy and plan, develop concepts, direct and execute creative, oversee various campaigns and channels, and steer content.

I’m by no means suggesting you don’t need a team to execute your marketing magic goals successfully. Expecting one person to wear all the hats is too much. Many early stage startups get by with a fractional marketing director who works with a team of contractors. Some manage to find an elusive unicorn who can not only provide strategy, but also execution, or at least some of it.

In other words, adding an Expert Generalist to your team magnifies the magic that can happen exponentially.

Make magic happen*

I founded Allied Independent in part because I wanted to continue to provide marketing and PR value for mission-driven businesses, but I myself no longer want to wear all the hats.

Recognizing my strength as a writer and strategist (and a bona fide logophile), these are now the projects I focus on while occasionally donning my Creative Director bonnet when there’s a great brand fit.

For all other marketing magic, I rely on a team of crackerjack experts in social media, web design, and digital marketing. Together, we create a veritable Swiss Army Knife of creative and marketing capabilities (and we’re sharp, too).

When faced with the question of whether to go wide or go deep engaging a marketing agency or professional, I say do both. And remember, all marketing engagements are a collaboration. Find an agency who “gets” you. One that understands your values and goals and is excited to work with you.

*BTW, marketing isn’t magic. It’s part science, part art, and (this is our specialty) part heart.