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  • Sara Harrod

The demise of the generalist marketer

Are you suffering with a marketing skills gap in your small business?


93% of marketers, hiring over the last 12 months experienced a skills shortage. Two thirds of these hiring managers, then went on to hire someone in the role who didn’t have all the skills, with the intention of upskilling them (source: Hays Recruitment). These are some alarmingly high statistics.


But what does this marketing skills gap mean for small business owners? When you are running a small business, you have to be all things to all people, in every department. So, if you take the leap into employing a marketing professional inhouse, how do you know if they have the right skills? And what are the right skills you need to be looking for?

Marketing is such a broad topic, which is constantly evolving with the rapid and constant disruption of digital. Small business owners can’t be expected to know it all. And, if you’re at the point where you are looking to recruit a marketeer in house, it suggests you’re past the DIY, fake it ‘til you make, give it a go yourself stage and want to bring in the right skills for the job, without the added pressure of having to upskill staff.


The biggest area of skill decline according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing is within the proficiency of marketing analytics and data. This is hardly surprising with the laws constantly changing around data collection. The introduction of GDPR and Cookie Policies, have made it all the more complex. But data and analytics is not the only area apparently in decline, so is content marketing, social media, mobile marketing, and search engine optimisation (SEO)…all of which make up a large portion of marketing strategies for small businesses.


Digital Marketing is no longer classed as a specialism, as social media, SEO and so on are all specialisms in their own right, under the digital marketing umbrella. Is it even possible for one marketing professional to be expert in them all, and do you need to be? Are we now seeing the demise of the generalist marketer in favour for specialists?


As a generalist marketer, and very proud of that fact, my answer to this would be yes, we are a bit of a dying bread. However, I think all newly qualified marketers, digital or otherwise entering the market should not be focused on choosing a specialism too early on in their career, pigeonholing their expertise and experience. This just creates a whole new skills gap. That gap being marketing strategy and having the holistic view of the complete marketing mix based on a broad generalist knowledge and experience.


Very few, if any, small businesses can afford a bunch of specialists compared to bringing onboard one generalist. So where does that leave the average small business owner? Is their only option, to not employ someone in house, but to go to a full-service agency, which does have all the specialists, but likely to cost more? Furthermore, it requires the business owner to manage the agency relationship, which comes with a whole host of other challenges, such as how to go about selecting the right agency in the first place. For an agency to be successful in your business you need to be prepared to invest time in that relationship. This is likely time that you just don’t have, else why would you be recruiting in the first place.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here saying that taking someone on in house is not the right thing to do or that choosing to go down the agency route is wrong. I’m simply saying that obtaining the right and effective marketing support for you and your needs as a small business is a minefield that is only getting bigger and more complex.


As such I want to make it my mission this year to champion the benefits of the generalist marketer, whilst simultaneously helping to close the marketing skills gap in the small businesses I work with.


I am very much a generalist marketeer having been fortunate in my career to do everything from traditional media buying, on and offline campaigns, email, TV, radio, branding, social media and more. By having this broad scope of experience, it allows me to take a holistic view of a business and understand the right marketing mix and channels across the board, whether that be online, offline or a combination of the two. I have no ulterior motive, or hidden agenda to favour a specific channel because I have no affiliation to any. When I recommend a marketing mix, channel or media type to one of my customers it’s for no other reason than I believe it to be the right thing for them, to meet their business objectives. It is then that I can recommend an amazing specialist for their business if this is needed and there are some amazing specialists out there.


The biggest challenge for marketers, including myself, in 2023 will be that of upskilling and staying ahead of the curve.


To all the marketers in my network, take this as your warning…don’t get swallowed up by the ever-growing marketing skills gap.


Expand your knowledge, grow your skills, and focus on your professional development in 2023. I certainly intend to!





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