As integrated campaigns become the norm, marketers are increasingly preferring to enlist a number of different agencies on a single campaign, each with their own areas of influence and expertise, to add value to the communication process, rather than depend on a single agency to deliver all their marketing and communication objectives. This typically involves the generalists or the brand custodians, who help put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Then there are the specialists, with domain knowledge in their areas of expertise, whether in the fields of digital, CRM, experiential or POS, who are brought on board to solve a specific set of communication or business objectives. While collaboration is a term that has been much bandied about, the practical aspects of ensuring that true collaboration takes place is always a challenge. In a typical collaborative venture, one has the generalist putting the big picture together, with a number of specialists pitching in. So who leads the conversation in such a context?
Says Mediaedge:cia’s Shubha George, “I do not believe that the debate is or should be about who, between the generalist and the specialist, will lead business conversations with clients. Our industry is young. We have highly talented youngsters who need to be channelized right in increasingly complex structures. This is a significant responsibility for agency leaders so that the role and value of each is understood in the agencies’ offering.”
Says Lintas Media Group's (LMG) Lynn de Souza, “In today’s increasingly complex world, specialists shine. Specialists who can lead a team of other specialists are the ones making it to the top, not necessarily the jacks of all trades. Most of the media agencies doing well today are run by media specialists with management capability. Pure generalists , who do not take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the disciplines of the specialists they oversee, will doubtless find themselves without a role in the near future.” BBDO India’s Ajai Jhala says he prefers to look at this as the emergence of the ‘The Interactive Idea.’ The generalist who does not understand that the idea has to be interactive, irrespective of the media and the digital specialist who does not understand that interactive, without a core brand idea driving it, is superflous, are both going to be irrelevant very soon.”
JWT India’s Colvyn Harris believes each is integral to the process, “Given the fact that the specialist is so close to what he is doing, it is possible sometimes for them to not be able to pull back and assess the larger picture. That’s where the generalists can come in and add media neutrality to the mix and assess the bigger picture.” BBH India’s Subhash Kamath says, “There is a need for a ‘central brand custodianship,’a big brand idea that needs to be managed. One needs to work on a close brand partnership with a client, at one level from a strategic perspective and then bring in a right partner to fulfil that particular vertical.”
“Specialists are integral to the process because they possess the domain knowledge, which builds the verticals in a company. Then there are the generalists who try to bring media neutrality into this mix. Given the fact that the specialist is so close to what he is doing, it is possible sometimes for them to not be able to pull back and assess the larger picture. We have a unification platform within JWT, where the verticals now have a horizontal axis, it’s what we call city heads. In each city, there will be one person who will play the center forward role for that brand, and that generalist will be the one who will pull in the skills.”
Shubha George, managing director, Mediaedge:cia
“Advertisers hire media agencies to provide them integrated solutions. They would like a guardian of their brands’ interest at the agency who is their focal point of contact. Typically, such a guardian is a generalist – simply because he or she guards the brands’ overall interest. The crucial point is that for such a guardian to be truly successful, he or she needs to have a holistic understanding of the benefits of all communication channels with respect to the brand and engage the right specialist to add the depth that only a specialist can bring. The sure recipe for failure is when the guardian starts acting gate keeper rather than facilitator.”
Ajai Jhala, chief executive officer, BBDO India
“Rather than think of this as a generalist vs specialist debate it is probably better to focus on the emergence of a new type of idea- ‘The Interactive Idea.’ The generalist who does not understand that the idea has to be interactive irrespective of the media and the digital specialist who does not understand that interactive, without a core brand idea driving it, is superflous, are both going to be irrelevant very soon. Our work on Quaker - Mission to Make India Heart Healthy is an example of Proximity, Mindshare and BBDO collaborating around an Interactive Idea. The idea is dead.Long live the Interactive Idea.
Lynn de Souza, chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group
“There is no question that it’s the era of specialization in every single field. That’s not to say that an overall big picture helicopter view is not needed. Leadership of any kind needs to be able to have generalist qualities – an understanding of what other specialists bring to the table and the value of other specialist disciplines in solving a business or other problem.In today’s increasingly complex world, specialists shine. Pure generalists , who do not take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the disciplines of the specialists they oversee, will doubtless find themselves without a role in the near future.”
Subhash Kamath, managing partner, BBH India
“I don’t believe it is a question of either, or. Different business models operate differently. It depends on the need. Today, there is a need for some kind of a ‘central brand custodianship,’a big brand idea which needs to be managed. Then there are various conversations under that brand that need to be taken to the consumer, through activation, digital, content or other consumer touchpoints. There are very few cases where it has really worked from one single window. What one needs to do is work on a close brand partnership with a client, at one level from a strategic perspective and then bring in the right partner to fulfil that particular vertical.”