By continuing to use this site you agree to our Cookies Policy.
Marketing Operations

6 Reasons Not to Hire a Marketing Generalist in 2021

June 18, 2021
Camille Trent

The age-old specialist vs. generalist debate is especially popular in the marketing industry. This article explains why specialists are the smarter option.

Table of Contents

Over the past 30 years, marketing has changed beyond recognition. Digital ads now account for more than half of total ad spend. Self-serve ad-buying platforms have disrupted media buying — even for TV. Podcast ads are booming, even though the word “podcast” didn’t exist 20 years ago.

The internet changed the whole industry. 

Unfortunately, many companies missed — or misread — the memo. They still hire like it’s 1990, bringing on one or two marketing generalists to run the whole department.

It shows. 

Take this February 2021 growth hacker job description. The title alone is a red flag; it suggests the employer believes marketing is “hackable” and, maybe, not worthy of a proper budget or team.

Unrealistic growth hacker (marketing generalist) job description
Source: LinkedIn

The rest of the job description confirms that suspicion. This job is “easily 8+ roles,” said MarketerHire sales team lead Matthew Mozzocchi. 

At least one of the requested skills, experience with JavaScript and HTML, is “not even a marketer’s job.”

Mozzocchi believes unrealistic job postings like these stem from ignorance. “When you don't understand marketing, you tend to understaff it.” 

“When you don't understand marketing, you tend to understaff it.” 

In other words, you try to hire a marketing generalist rather than a qualified team of specialists. This can mean wasting time and money looking for a mythical marketer, and making yourself vulnerable to competitors new and old. 

Here’s our full breakdown of how many marketers you’d actually need to to fill the role above:

Marketing generalist job description broken into marketing specialist roles
Source: LinkedIn

While we’ve broken this job into nine distinct roles, 11 specialists is more realistic. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and app store optimization (ASO) fall under the paid search marketer umbrella, Mozzocchi said, but they’re two different skill sets that may require two separate specialists. 

(Content marketing is the same way — copywriting calls for different strengths than blog writing, for example.) 

This might sound overwhelming to a company with a limited marketing budget, but talent platforms like MarketerHire allow teams to pay pre-vetted marketing specialists by the hour, making expert marketing and sustainable growth accessible to all.

Here are six reasons you should stop hiring marketing generalists — and start hiring experienced specialists — in 2021.

Paid digital channels are too complex for generalists to leverage efficiently.

You can no longer afford to take a casual, shotgun approach to marketing. Digital ads are too expensive and the learning curve too steep for amateurs. Ad platforms are designed to keep you spending, not saving. 

"Facebook and Google are more than just tech products,” Chris Toy, CEO of MarketerHire, explained on a recent Foundermade webinar. “They're two of the biggest businesses in the world because of their ad products.” 

"Facebook and Google are more than just tech products. They're two of the biggest businesses in the world because of their ad products.” 

To avoid burning money on these ad platforms, companies need marketers with deep, up-to-date expertise on each one’s algorithms and biases. 

Take fast-growing DTC brand Outer: They brought on paid Google and Facebook marketing experts through MarketerHire to scale paid ads 100x while maintaining efficient ROAS

No matter your company or circumstance, the first step to making a good marketing hire is realizing marketing is technical and complex. Marketers without deep channel expertise can chew your budget up fast.

"Digital marketing jobs are techincal professions" - Chris Toy, CEO of MarketerHire
Source: LinkedIn

Execution is everything.

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed,” Steve Jobs once said. “Execution is worth millions.” 

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless execute… Execution is worth millions.”  

Coming up with an interesting concept or sound strategy is just 10% of the journey.

Unfortunately, most generalist marketers know what to do but not how to do it.

For example, a generalist might know your customers research and buy products like yours on Google, and suggest you publish SEO content. However, they likely won’t have the experience or time to set up and execute an effective SEO strategy — and according to Ahrefs, 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google.

That means that to see results from SEO in 2021, your content needs to be in the top 10% of all web content — at minimum. 

That requires a specialist, who can strategically iterate based on past experiences and A/B-tested insights. 

Jacks of all marketing trades are masters of none. 

The broader your expertise, the harder it is to go deep in one channel. And if you stay in the shallow end, you don’t recognize essential signals that go a long way. 

Is the Facebook algorithm inflating costs by optimizing for click-through rate (CTR) instead of cost per acquisition (CPA)? Is it properly distributing your budget or overserving select ads? 

These are tough questions, and one marketer can’t be everywhere at once — so they miss things. But, as Steve Jobs noted, the real money is in the details. 

“It’s not fair to expect one [marketer] to be an expert in all of that,” said Tracey Wallace, director of marketing at MarketerHire. “Or even to become an expert in all of that. That doesn’t allow you to be the best you in all those roles.”

"It's not fair to expect one [marketer] to be an expert in all of that." -Tracey Wallace, Director of Marketing, MarketerHire
Source: LinkedIn

You need channel specialists to properly cover your bases, argues Ryan Rouse, head of growth, digital, and e-commerce at Serenity Kids

“Either bring someone on with experience or don’t invest in the channel until you can,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post

“Either bring someone on with experience or don’t invest in the channel until you can.”

Excellence in every channel is too heavy a load for one marketer to carry. 

There are a finite number of hours in a day. 

"[M]arketers are humans subject to the laws of time and space,” MarketerHire CEO Chris Toy recently tweeted. “Making one marketer do [four] marketing roles saves you nothing except your own time of properly recruiting [three] additional roles.”

“Making one marketer do [four] marketing roles saves you nothing except your own time of properly recruiting [three] additional roles.”

 And while you save time on recruiting when you cram multiple roles into one, you lose out on focused work-hours and quality. 

Consider SEO content marketing. At MarketerHire, creating quality SEO content means:

  • Keyword and competitor research
  • Content ideation and planning
  • SEO briefs
  • Identifying experts
  • Setting up interviews
  • Conducting secondary research
  • Drafting the article (typically 2K+ words)
  • Editing and revising the article
  • Designing graphics and hero images
  • Staging the content on our CMS
  • Promoting that article via social media, influencer marketing, and email

 Each of those bullets comes with its own quality assurance checklist. For instance, here’s a list of things we check when staging final content:

Effective SEO content requires a great deal of expertise — and time — to do well on a weekly basis. A marketing generalist tasked with the responsibilities listed on the job posting above wouldn’t have time to do it right.

Instead of earning sustained web traffic, lowering customer acquisition costs (CAC), and building a stronger brand, their SEO content might do literally nothing.

Remember, more than 90% of content gets zero Google search traffic.

Marketing specialists really have T-shaped expertise. 

The specialist versus generalist argument creates a false dichotomy. It’s not one or the other. Most marketing specialists started out as generalists before choosing to specialize in one or two areas. 

As a result, marketing specialists give you the best of both words — a broad understanding of marketing and the depth of knowledge to efficiently grow one or two pillar channels. 

In other words, their expertise is T-shaped. Here’s what a T-shaped growth marketer’s knowledge base might look like:

T-shaped growth marketer in 2021
Source: GrowWithWard

A fan of specialist marketers, Gong CMO Udi Ledergor explained his hiring philosophy in a podcast interview with Dave Gerhardt. 

“I look for every new hire to add a skill set that we don’t have on the team,” he said.

“I look for every new hire to add a skill set that we don’t have on the team.”

Like Rouse and Wallace, Ledergor doesn't hire generalists.

If you want to avoid long periods of trial and error, hiring a senior marketer with a proven track record in one discipline paves a faster path to profitability. 

Task-switching kills productivity.

Work interruptions cost employees — and the companies they work for. Researchers at University of California Irvine found that on average, office workers are interrupted or switch tasks every three minutes and five seconds

Task switching can waste up to 60% of work-hours, and each year, it costs the U.S. economy almost $1 trillion.

So, even if the company searching for that nine-in-one “growth hacker” finds someone willing to accept the role, they still won’t get their money’s worth. Imagine how many consecutive minutes of focus an employee with nine jobs can string together.

Conclusion

In 2021, the best way to identify and engage with your target audience is to bring in marketing specialists to test and optimize channels for you. 

Founders and hiring managers might think they want a marketing generalist, assuming they’ll be a faster, cheaper, and more efficient hire than a specialist — but the opposite is true.

Platforms like MarketerHire help companies hire specialists in 48 hours, so hiring a generalist is not faster. 

Specialists can set the strategy and know if it’s working before investing too deeply in it, so hiring a generalist is not cheaper. (Especially if a specialist has to redo their work later.) 

Generalists can’t optimize — or even manage — all channels at once, so hiring generalists is not more efficient. 

When you remove your rose-colored glasses, you see the marketing generalist for what they are: a myth, perpetuated by executives and VCs who don’t understand or value modern marketing. 

You wouldn’t go to a physician for a heart transplant or a dentist for braces. You shouldn’t tap your marketing hobbyist brother-in-law to set up the Amazon ads for your e-commerce store. 

If you’re ready to level-up your marketing with a top 5% marketing specialist, take a look at our pre-vetted marketing roles and meet your perfect marketer for free.

Camille Trent
about the author

Camille Trent is the managing editor at MarketerHire. A copywriter and marketing nerd, she's passionate about helping freelancers and creatives recognize their value and get the knowledge they need to win long term. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her pup and two favorite redheads. Or she's trying to coach the Portland Trail Blazers to victory from her couch.

Hire a Marketer
Join MarketerHire Today
We'll match you with a perfect expert.