The Digital Specialist Versus The Marketing Generalist: Who Do CMOs Want More?

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As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, the pressure is firmly on marketers to ensure their digital skills are up to scratch.

But with all the hype currently surrounding digital, do marketing bosses value those in their team with specialist skills more than the generalists?

According to a recent survey of Australian and New Zealand marketing directors by recruitment specialists Hays, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

An overwhelming majority (78 per cent) of respondents said a combination of both generalist and specialist skills are required in a marketing team.

Just 13 per cent said the lateral or broad-based skills of generalists are more valuable than the combination of generalist and specialist skills, while nine per cent said that specialist expertise is more important to lead and guide on new trends.

Susan Drew, senior regional director at Hays, said despite many generalist marketers focusing on becoming digital specialists out of fear their career would suffer if they failed to do so, marketing directors still seem to value generalists as much as specialists.

“For aspiring marketing directors, the message here is to acquire broad-based generalist skills so you can understand the end-to-end marketing function, but at the same time, find your niche and develop specialist skills that could put you in the driver’s seat,” she said.

One of the marketing directors surveyed by Hays was South Australian Tourism’s Brent Hill who, when on the hunt for new recruits, looks for people who are well qualified, have a broad marketing skill set and a solid understanding of data and digital.

Hill expects his team to be able to use data and statistics when running campaigns and understand digital in other areas of their role.

“I have had dedicated digital marketing teams, but now I believe everyone must have digital skills and a working knowledge of data,” he said in the report.

“You don’t want the digital team flying into the sunset and the ‘traditional’ marketers left behind. Now we just have marketers who understand all media, including digital.”

Getting tech-nical

When asked by Hays to compare their own digital skills with those of their team, the majority of marketing bosses rated them as ‘good’, behind the ‘very good’ of their team’s skills. 

The survey also found that 77 per cent of marketing directors have developed their digital skills to complement their traditional marketing skills.

To do this, 80 per cent read publications, blogs or news articles, 66 per cent attend industry events, conferences and or meet-ups, and 40 per cent undertake formal courses or training paid for by their employer.

To access digital expertise, marketing directors also work with an external digital agency (83 per cent), train up existing staff as needed (73 per cent) and have employed a permanent digital expert in the past year (51 per cent).

In addition, 41 per cent have employed a temporary or contract digital worker.

“With digital transformations occurring at a rapid pace, in turn widening the technological skills gap, contractors are seen as an ideal solution,” Drew said.

In terms of how marketing directors upskill their staff, the most popular options are training run by digital agencies, ADMA training, internal workshops and bringing digital agency talent in-house.

And according to the survey respondents, the digital skills that are hardest to find are data analytics (51 per cent), marketing automation (41 per cent), digital lead conversion (32 per cent), SEO and SEM (25 per cent), and digital content production (24 per cent).

To learn more about how to be the recruit of every CMO’s dreams, click here.

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