At this very moment, the biggest, most legendary ad agency in your city... is losing clients. And their biggest client, losing its lion's share.

Brands that once ruled the galaxy...are now light years behind the pace. With teams made up of world-class aces in each discipline, how did this happen?

Conventional wisdom might suggest that this is a fluke. That these brands should be thriving.

But the digital cosmos is anything but conventional. And like many NCAA championship teams have shown in the past, nimble "T-shaped" talent is the make up of a dominant team. They build on their own unique skill set by learning the role that each team member plays.

This is the shape of synergy. Or in spirit of nostalgic cliche - Great players. Even better team.


I recently met with the VP of Interactive at an esteemed agency. Like too many of the big city ad clans, the company is now rapidly seeking "interactive" creatives - due to what is clearly lost business on the digital front to the new wave of more nimble, scrappy hybrids.

Places where everyone contributes. Everyone has ideas. And creative.

After our introductions and dry humor riff raff, we began discussing the firm's culture. He told me about the 2 types of successful marketers today:

1. Those who learn multiple disciplines, and do each of them well
2. The true linchpins that hammer home one focus, and that is where she dedicates her career

The second, he told me, is what they were interested in. And the former, nothing more than generalists who will never be great at any particular skill.

As a more versatile digital creative and strategist, I question the VP's stance on this issue. Especially when the firms that are taking his clients are made entirely of professionals in the first category he mentioned.

However, Mr. Big clearly missed one key "class" of marketer - the one who has a specialty, and builds upon it. To quote the industry-revered creative Luke Sullivan:

"Today’s most successful creatives are a sort of hybrid, capable of expert contributions in their chosen fields of art direction or copywriting, but fluent enough in other digital disciplines to collaborate effectively, occasionally even executing things on their own.

The new creatives have both depth and breadth and today their job description isn’t “writing or art directing cool ads and TV spots.” It’s bigger. Your job is to create entertaining or useful experiences for your clients’ brands. That might involve an ad; it might not."
There are several reasons for the tight correlation between being T-shaped and success in digital marketing. But here are just a few...

1. Improve your overall game

There will never be a "best-at-everything" marketer, digital or traditional. Everyone has a specialty. A niche. You know the subjects close to your raison d'etre, and by learning them, you'll only get better.
Knowledge of Strategy = More Effective Tactics
With knowledge of the target, you have better aim. Knowing your competition gives you a better game plan. And in an industry that now demands better products, better service, and better business ideas altogether, you can even build a better weapon.

2. It gives you a better "Long Ball"

If you're a creative, then you knew this already. In fact, I know a few non-digital creatives who possess acumen in design, psychology, and brand strategy that would impress most. And they're irreplaceable linchpins, all of them.

To move up and become a Creative Director, you have to know (and know well) the games of art and copy. And once you're there, knowledge in project management, collaboration, consumer behavior, and team leadership had better be in your repertoire if you plan on staying there.

Digital takes "T-shape" demand to a whole new level. Web analytics, User Experience, Usability, Information Architecture, and Content Strategy are all key ingredients to success. And not just to one specific team member.

Most important: if you're a freelancer, you can increase your capabilities. And your revenue.

3. Your team (and clients) will appreciate it

There's nothing worse than a research/strategy/designer/writer team that delivers work separately. Designers appreciate those who speak the language.

Strategists hate the creatives who execute tactics to win awards, or "promote the importance of art" in advertising. They label them as granola nerds. Heady blow-hards. And they're right.

"T" is NOT the Shape of the Future

It's the shape of now. In an industry that requires constant shifts and nimble minds, focused digital specialists are often blinded by their one expertise.

They can’t spot new opportunities or, worse, can’t anticipate the slow demise of a niche. And even if they do, adaptation is difficult and unyielding to those with all of their eggs are in one basket.

To those who wish to build on their skill set, move forward, create change and make a difference, you've reached your crossing.

Author's Bio: 

Joey Barker is a Memphis-based digital marketing consultant and promotional copywriter.

He has led traditional and interactive campaigns for a variety of leading and insurgent brands, including Caesars Entertainment, World Series of Poker, Crislu, Swarovski, Trollbeads, Peabody Hotel, Fred’s, and many others.