What benefits can digital generalists bring to teams?

Montse Cano
Mar 12 · 3 min read

This isn’t new at all.

We usually start our careers from scratch, doing a bit of everything, then we may specialise in a line of work and advance our careers until we get to C level or similar roles. Senior execs need to go broader in their remit to be able to make decisions that affect several specialisms — but they also lose touch with the specialism they once had.

As a SEO, there was a long time when I didn’t want to do anything else, and having to manage other channels was not as appealing to me. Data-driven SEO and content strategy in combination are at the very heart of digital marketing and exciting topics to learn. Then, I realised that I could easily lose sight of the big picture. So, I decided to learn more about integrating the other channels.

Why this post?

There is, understandably, a high number of specialised peers in the industry.

You might have heard of Co-op Bank famously disbanding their digital team. Dave Chaffey’s excellent article outlines the need to have a digital marketing team and to get the balance right.

It’s all about providing value. As marketers, we need to optimise our output to best meet our audiences’ needs and wants. By optimising internal processes, we can optimise channels more easily to position brands as their audiences’ first choice. A digital generalist can manage a specialist team (which usually involves several specialisms), whether it is at Co-op Bank or at an ecommerce brand, etc to bring all digital channels and data-driven processes together, as well as keeping other colleagues informed of developments, etc (lunch time workshops are great for this).

Generalist teams are starting to be preferred in other fields. Eric Colson, former VP of data science and engineering at Netflix, gives his reasons in the Harvard Business Review. I reckon that it needs to be managed by someone who is now closer to business strategy than sheer marketing execution.

However, is this the right career move? I can still execute SEO-content, CRM, etc. But, having worked in digital project management, which SEO and content were an integral part of, I am fully aware of the importance of having all pieces of the puzzle in place for everything to provide business value.

So, I asked industry peers to see how useful they consider a broad skill set in their day-to-day work or in the companies they work for. To my surprise, it was quite positive.

with some plausible reservations:

Some facts

  • Specialists are hugely needed, and can be a good fit for agencies or big businesses
  • It can be frustrating when specialists are not brought in from the start or even when needed.
  • There is now a better understanding of and willingness to work with other digital channels. This might have allowed for less siloed work, which is excellent.
  • I’ve found there can be no real collaboration if people don’t want to understand what others can bring in. This goes beyond achieving KPIs.


  • Help set some direction to projects or campaigns — as specialists, we tend to get too immersed in what we do, and it can be easy for a project to get stuck in the ‘nice-to-have’ elements.
  • Knowing what specialisms to use or bring into a project and when.
  • Generalists can provide strategic advice to the board. This would be a business function which would advise the C-suite on the strategic digital direction of the company or, simply, how to work with specialists.
  • Generalists can help businesses to achieve digital maturity by setting up appropriate internal processes.
  • Generalists can make collaboration between specialisms possible by facilitating the transfer of knowledge from specialists and even bring in some specialist expertise themselves.
  • A healthy flow of knowledge and expertise can only be good for everyone, including specialists.

What do you think? I am keen to hear your ideas. Thanks for taking the time to read.

Image by PublicDomainPictures

Montse Cano

Written by

Spaniard enjoying digital, #ecommerce, #tech & all that jazz. Curious, but sensibly adventurous. Good food & music lover too. http://goo.gl/7oQgk

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