Hiring Marketing Generalists vs. Specialists: Which is Best for Your Team?

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December 17, 2019

Hiring Marketing Generalists vs. Specialists: Which is Best for Your Team?

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The structure of a marketing team can make or break a brand’s success. Carefully building a well-thought-out organizational chart is essential to support a company as it grows.

Many marketing leaders, however, struggle with how to assemble and hire the best marketing team. They wonder whether they should employ marketing specialists, generalists, or both.

Marketing specialists are high in demand and provide tremendous value to teams. A survey by The Creative Group revealed that 71% of marketing professionals said it’s challenging to find candidates with up-to-date digital skills in areas such as data science, web design, content creation, and SEO.

On the other hand, marketing generalists wear many hats and can be a more cost-effective hiring solution for businesses.

Here’s a look at the differences between marketing generalists versus specialists, and how to decide which is best for the team.

The role of a marketing generalist

A marketing generalist is someone on the team who can do numerous things well. They can be proficient at email marketing and writing while juggling the work of a marketing technologist.

What sets marketing generalists apart from specialists is that they hone in on areas of organization and project management. They think big picture and can manage projects like product launches, website redesigns, or major lead generation initiatives.

While marketing generalists can do many tasks well, they may be at risk of spreading themselves too thin as a business grows and demands increase.

When to hire a marketing generalist

Not every company has the need or budget to hire specialists for every marketing discipline. For companies looking to build a small marketing team consisting of one to five people, it’s best to hire marketing generalists. Hiring generalists can be a cost-effective way for organizations to cover a wide range of bases.

Businesses should keep in mind that generalists handle numerous areas of marketing and can only dedicate so much time to each project. Therefore, they shouldn’t expect them to focus on the smaller details of a project. Instead, it may be necessary to outsource tasks that require specific knowledge or technical skills.

The role of a marketing specialist

A marketing specialist is a team member who focuses day-to-day on a specific marketing discipline. Examples of specialists include a content writer, web developer, graphic designer, video creator, or a marketing technologist.

As digital marketing initiatives increase, talented specialists are crucial in helping marketing teams achieve their goals.

When to hire a marketing specialist

Before hiring a marketing specialist, businesses should make sure their existing team of marketing generalists can first identify a need. Second, they should have a plan in place for how a specialist role will address that need. Once teams have outlined a new marketing strategy, adding a specialist position can help ensure it gets the attention it needs to succeed.

Based on hiring activity in the past six months and anticipated hiring for the next 12 months, Gartner research shows that the most sought-after roles are digital marketing lead, marketing analytics lead, content manager, and social media specialist. It’s a good idea for businesses to prioritize hiring a digital marketing lead first when looking to add on more specialist positions later.

Building a well-balanced marketing team

When it comes to hiring marketing generalists versus specialists, do companies prefer one to the other? According to a survey from recruiting expert Hays, this isn’t the case. The report shows that 78% of marketing directors said they seek a combination of both generalist and specialist skills when building a marketing team.

Businesses can build a top-notch marketing team by hiring a healthy balance of generalists and specialists.

They can hire marketing generalists that eventually transition into a specialist role, depending on their strengths and skill sets. For instance, a team member with a technical skill set may move into a marketing technologist position later down the road.

According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), rather than expecting candidates to have experience in specific marketing disciplines such as copywriting or marketing automation, many managers are hiring for fundamental marketing strategy and then providing on-the-job training to fill skill gaps.

Additionally, a shortage of talent has led many marketing teams to increasingly rely on freelancers or consultants for specialized expertise in areas such as web analytics and video production.

Finding the best hiring approach

When deciding between hiring a marketing generalist and a marketing specialist, businesses should consider the size of their team and their objectives. When starting out, marketing generalists can serve as the foundation of the organization. However, once the department begins to expand and identify new marketing strategies beyond their skill sets, it may be an ideal time to add a specialist position to the team.


Albizu Garcia is CEO and Co-Founder of GAIN, a marketing technology company that automates the social media and content publishing workflow for agencies and social media managers, their clients, and anyone working in teams. Twitterhttp://twitter.com/albizu