Jacks & Jills of All Trades

Posted by on Sep 14, 2009 in AdBiz | 2 comments

Best to leave it to the pros

Best to leave it to the pros

Lately, I’m hearing about many jobs and opportunities at various ad agencies. Surprisingly, there are jobs in the advertising business, despite the gloom and doom of the industry in particular and the economy in general. For those of us around Boston we have to be willing to relocate. For all of us, in the advertising biz, we apparently need to possess multiple skill-sets.

If you are an art director then you must now be able to concept, create great designs and help sell ideas to clients (standard job description) as well as know Flash with ActionScript and hopefully some HTML & CSS. I recently read a post by a young art director wondering whether she should learn HTML because some copy job descriptions now list coding knowledge as a requirement. I see jobs for my role, producer, that require knowledge of Flash with AS2 (not AS3, are you sure?), HTML/CSS & JavaScript, PhotoShop, Illustrator, copy writing, and great MS Office skills especially, Project and PowerPoint. A former colleague once complained that the designers on our job didn’t do front end development too, and wondered why not.

Whenever confronted with this attitude, or with job descriptions like the above I wonder in which year folks are living because it sounds like 1999. My next thought usually has to do with the evolution of societies. Back in the early days of web marketing many folks did many things like design and code and even write. An interesting thing happened, as it often does in evolving societies: things started to get complicated and division of labor within the (web marketing) tribes began to emerge. Granted, there are folks who have truly full tool sets, and the more that you can do, the better. Yet, I think it unrealistic to expect everybody to wear many disparate hats as par for the daily course. Sure it’s great from a bottom-line, head count perspective when you can hire one rather than two folks. In over a decade in this business I’ve met very few people who were conceptual thinkers, great designers, rocking Flash developers and good managers (in fact, I know one).

I do believe that everybody in an interactive agency who touches work that goes into the world needs to understand the medium, the platforms and the capabilities and limitations of same. Expecting a copy writer to write both the copy and the markup that holds the copy is asking quite a bit of that person and, frankly, not providing the level of service and work that we should provide to our clients. Many of us in advertising can do many things. We are gamers and are willing to tackle challenges. Perhaps the new business model –whatever it will be — will require us all to wear more hats (though, the old one did too) but I want to wave a caution flag. Unless that copy writer is very good at both markup and pithy marketing copy — and I mean very good at both — then she should not be writing both. There is a professional level of work that we marketers need to deliver to the people paying the bills. I’m not entirely convinced that hiring Jacks & Jills of all trades is the way to deliver that superior product. If an agency finds that multi-tool person, by all means, scoop them up, and pay them well. Otherwise, hire appropriately, let people do what they do well and deliver great work from within well built teams.


  1. You are so right! My husband works for an ad agency, doing concept and copy. This is a frustration for him too. There are actually two particular reasons why the Jack of all trades hat is a bad idea. Reason number one is the rest of the axiom – “Jack of all trades, Master of none”. You can’t be all things to everyone and do each one equally well. So the question is, does a company want specialists who will kick a** with their responsibility, or one person to do a mediocre job on all of it? In the long run, the bottom line will support the superior work.

    The other reason is that many people don’t have a clue how much time is involved with research, copywriting, editing, etc. Even if you find that “multi-tool person”, you’d better not only pay them well, you’d better find them several extra hours per day. Clients will set unreasonable deadlines for everything anyway – imagine being responsible for the whole project! It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  2. a very valid point but there several things going on here and it depends on who’s reading what the reaction will be.

    First of all, as one of the “jacks of all trades,” I’ve got to say that the master of none comment doesn’t necessarily apply to all. Being able to speak a lot of different languages and execute on a variety of levels really helps in getting a project done well. These days, the medium and the execution of the idea is nearly (if not equally) as important as the message. Not everyone involved needs to be able to understand all of the elements, but it sure would help if they did. Those that don’t understand need to be able to accept criticism from people whom they may not feel comfortable accepting it from. In these times of short money and even shorter deadlines, there can’t be anymore “I did my job, now make it work” or “it’s not my concern how it gets built, I came up with the idea.” That kind of attitude will put a seriously bad taste in the mouths of those who are doing more than one thing to get the project off the ground.

    Another thing you have to remember is most of the job postings you see are written by HR people, not copy writers :). They have a role to fill and are told what they need to accomplish. They don’t really know what they’re asking for because they don’t do it for a living. I’m generalizing here and I really hate generalizations. I’m sure there are HR people who do have an understanding of all of the things they’re asking for, I just haven’t met many.

    I also think what you’ve mentioned is exactly why job postings are fairly useless to me. I try to find a company who’s values I share and who makes good stuff and ask them if they’re interested in talking about a partnership. Yes I can do a whole host of things, but ya know what? I also know when I need to take a step back and say “I know someone who can do a much better job at this than me.” I make sure to talk about things like that when I talk to a company about opportunities to work with them.

    Great post!