Initiative Perth’s investment partnerships executive Tia Sullivan (lead image) is just back from secondment to the London office on the agency’s ‘Emily in Paris’ initiative. In this guest post, Sullivan reveals the experience has stirred the old ‘specialisation VS generalisation’ debate for adlanders.
As a young professional, relatively new to working in such a fast-changing industry, I find myself asking the age- old question: should I strive to be a specialist, mastering a particular domain, or adopt a broader outlook and become a generalist, adept at wearing multiple hats? The global stage presents two distinct answers, embodied by the specialized approach of London and the adaptable spirit of Australia.
‘Emily in Paris’, is Initiative’s employee program where lucky people – like me – get to spend a week working in an Initiative office of your choosing anywhere in the world. After much deliberation, I chose one of the biggest and best, the London office.
Some of Sullivan’s London souvenir snaps…
On day 1 the first thing I noticed was how specialised the roles are. There was a whole team that did client planning; there were roles that strictly buy just TV or just radio; there was even an entire other agency equipped dedicated to OOH. It blew my mind that there were young people in the London office with similar time in the industry to me, who had only ever been exposed to one or two mediums. It got me thinking about the reasons for, and against, knowing one thing inside out vs. knowing a little bit of everything.
The London team stands as a testament to the power of specialisation. Professionals there deep-dive into their selected realms, cultivating expertise. This siloed approach can be incredibly rewarding, offering insights that few others possess. However, it appears it can come at the cost of limited exposure to different dimensions of a campaign, which is how we operate in Australia and where we thrive on adaptability and versatility.
The Australian ethos of a ‘Jack of all Trades’ often encourages us to gather knowledge from various sources and fields. This approach is intriguing, as it enables young professionals to immerse themselves in diverse challenges and opportunities not available in a specialised role. And whilst it can be challenging wearing numerous different hats, I am grateful I have been exposed to so many different crafts within media so early in my career. I think of it as time for me to find my passion which may lead down a road of specialisation further down my career track.
The heart of this debate, of course, revolves around the question of what best serves the client.
Specialisation can offer deep insights and tailored solutions, but it may lead to a lack of holistic learning and possibly missing opportunities for learning cross-functional skills. I would argue that young generalists are better positioned to challenge assumptions and offer innovative solutions that stem from their broad knowledge base. However, when the client asks a question that requires deep knowledge of the medium, I often find myself leaning heavily on the specialists.
Striking a balance is crucial to avoid being a ‘master of none.’
After debating the merits of specialisation versus generalisation when I returned home, I can see ultimately, there is no definitive answer. It’s a question of balance, context, and individual strengths and client needs.
The London model thrives on deep knowledge and specialised skillsets, while the Australian approach champions adaptability and broad understanding. Just as architects and plumbers/electricians/engineers collaborate to build a harmonious structure, specialists and generalists must come together to construct the best plans for our clients.
Receiving exposure to such different ways of working in two very different-sized markets has been invaluable and as I continue on my career journey, I hope to navigate challenges and opportunities with the depth of a specialist but with the agility of a generalist.
There is no one-size fits all answer to the specialisation vs generalisation debate. The choice should be made based on individual goals and client needs. And ultimately adaptability is key; fostering a hybrid approach and creating a new generation of professionals, specialised enough to deliver excellence and broad enough to drive innovation.
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