The age of the generalist is upon us ...

Paul Wilkinson
By Paul Wilkinson | 17 May 2022

Paul Wilkinson, head of commercial, Half Dome

Not long ago I read an article by an industry peer whose sentiment was that in the digital age, the offline folks of the world need to get on the digital wagon or be left to fossilise – or words to that effect.

Perhaps because I started my career in London buying TV, in a broadcast department that only bought TV, and have since had a steep learning curve to find my way around print, outdoor, radio, cinema and digital channels, I found it an interesting view – even more so having recently wandered into a digital first agency with a genuine passion and hunger to elevate its traditional media capabilities.

Conversely, the implication of the article was that the required learning curve within the industry was one sided; just learn about digital, the rest is now irrelevant.

It also ignored a stark truth: offline channels have been merging with digital for years now, a trend the pandemic has expedited at an exponential rate.

Those channels that were traditionally considered ‘offline’ are now hybrid versions of their former selves – think TV and BVOD, newspapers and news websites, radio, and streaming, outdoor is now programmatic - offline channels have well and truly adapted to the digital landscape.

Inevitably this consolidation of delivery will only continue, until all channels could be considered “digital” – but contrary to the aforementioned opinion piece, the required learning curve is still very much omnichannel, and those who just consider themselves “digital” need to understand the ‘offline’ landscape as well – even offline sounds old fashioned now - or it may be them who are left behind.

While the move to digital delivery of media is undeniable, it is just that – delivery. The markets in which each channel resides and the various roles each play within the communications mix remains largely intact. I would argue that this is true for all media, but no single channel exemplifies this more so than programmatic outdoor, or pDOOH.

By way of explanation, answer me this: how can a native digital buyer who has spent their career working across online, deliver a truly successful programmatic outdoor campaign without knowing the outdoor landscape? Sure, they play the DSP like a well-worn Fender, but without understanding the nuances of each market and the role each OOH format performs, it is akin to driving a car without knowing where you are going. The same is true of all media channels.

Ultimately, they are all just tools we use as marketers and communications professionals to deliver to our goals. Each plays an important role, and each has its own validity depending on the campaign objectives – and most importantly, the consumer places no distinction on whether that billboard they saw was delivered digitally or not, or whether that show they are watching is on BVOD or linear – they still just call it TV.

And therein lies my point – to be able to truly deliver for our clients’ needs we have to be able to take a broad view across all channels and decide (without bias), using solid data-led insights which are the right solutions for each campaign.

For the most part, that generally means using a number of channels in a complementary way at any given time and that in turn requires us to genuinely understand them all.

Please do not misunderstand, I am not suggesting we do not still need specialists in certain areas, of course we do, that’s just common sense. But in the world in which we live, whilst it is wise to think with a digital first mentality - by no means should that mean digital only. At the end of the day, it is simply a means of delivering our message – it is the road, not the car - and to think otherwise ignores a massive number of opportunities.

What this means is the unicorns among us are those who truly understand all facets of the media mix and can therefore navigate the entire ecosystem.

Hence why I say, the ‘Age of the Generalist’ is upon us.

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