Why “Generalist” Shouldn’t Be A Dirty Word

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”  You’ve heard the phrase or at least one of the two parts. (I highly suggest Master of None on Netflix. Aziz Ansari is incredible.) And before that idiom came Johannes Factotum or “Johnny do-it-all.” The best part of Joannes Factotum? It was used to describe William Shakespeare. Negatively. (Check out Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit by Robert Greene for this reference).


But you see, that “jack of all trades” part is typically positive. When you think of someone’s jack of all trades uncle who can fix your leaky sink and also patch a hole in your wall, he’s the hero of the story. Master of none? Not quite as positive.


In marketing and advertising, our version of this phrase is “generalist” and it gets thrown around a lot. I’ve always tiptoed around it as it came with a negative connotation in my brain. “Oh, someone who thinks they know everything about marketing and will just take on any job to make money. Then, produce an awful output because they’re not skilled or seasoned enough to know what to do.” And a lot of times that isn’t wrong. I mean, morally, it’s a shitty thought and I shouldn’t dwell on other people’s skillsets or judge them unless it affects me. But objectively, there are a ton of people out there who have either never worked full-time in the field or never had a good enough set of mentors/leaders to learn and grow from. They’re out there selling a bag of BS to people who put their trust into someone they think is a professional marketer.


But not everyone that is a generalist fits this description. Some are really savvy and have spent years building their skills. They’re constantly curious about other topics. They want to learn as much as possible from masters and provide that knowledge to others.


During a recent conversation, I was asked if I considered myself a generalist. I found myself skirting around the answer but I couldn’t hide from it anymore. I guess I am? I’ve done sales. I’ve done project management, resource management, account management, strategy, and copywriting. I’ve been the manager of the dev and creative team. And I’ve done all of those at the same time before. As a freelancer, I find myself doing the majority daily and I think I’m pretty damn good at them too. So, I guess I’m a generalist.


And you know what, it’s not as dirty as I thought it would be.


I mean, it’s 2017 and you really need to know digital. But at the same time, understanding branding can’t be a thing of the past. To survive and really thrive, I think you need to know all these things. Or at least know enough to speak intelligently and understand how they must work together.


I’m often hired to be a copywriter first. Then, when auditing the current brand, materials, or website, I come across some major issues that need to be addressed before we just start slapping new copy into place. I then become the strategist. Sometimes it’s all the way back to structuring the site—the sitemap, the layout, the user journeys. Everything. Sometimes, it’s assessing how they’re using brand language in materials and why it’s not consistent. Which leads to a full brand messaging strategy. Sometimes, the website just straight up doesn’t work. I’m then searching for a vendor and leading a development project.


You need to ensure a project is on time and budget? Got it.

You need copy that’s easy to understand, sounds like a human wrote it, and entices someone to do something? I’m your gal.

Do you need a social strategy that engages and builds your fanbase? Cool.

Do you need brand consistency? Yep. I can help.

Do you need to understand how to reach people through all types of media? Mmmhmm.

Do you need a super developer to finish up this project? I can help you find her/him.


So, yeah. Why is being a generalist a bad thing, again? My skillset is not only useful for handling a variety of issues, but I’m also able to connect with and understand everyone else on the team—their needs, their frustrations, their work style.


I think I’m going to start embracing it. I promise to try to even make the cringe face less when I tell people. I’ll resist the urge to say things like “integrated marketing” or “strategist slash copywriter.”


-Sam Siman


Strategist and Copywriter

Integrated Marketing Consultant

Marketing  g e n e r a l i s t

Sam works in advertising/marketing by day and moonlights with startup consulting, dating profile overhauls, and event planning. She lives in Columbus with her two dogs and spends her free time writing, drinking coffee and local beers, getting zen with yoga, catching a good concert, and laughing with friends. She doesn't give a shit if you're offended by lewd language, so #dealwithit.

  1 comment for “Why “Generalist” Shouldn’t Be A Dirty Word

  1. Steven Michalovich
    November 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Great perspective Sam, and something I’ve struggled with at times, and other times I’ve totally leaned into it. You hit it on the head when you wrote some people are constantly curious about other topics, wanting to learn as much as possible from masters.

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