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Is it better to be a PR specialist or a generalist?

This week, our resident agony (Dutch) uncle offers career advice, in particular about whether it is better to focus on one sector, or learn about as many as possible.

I am drawn to learning about new sectors so have swapped every couple of years. Is this good for a career in PR? Asks Joe Thomas, director at Spider, @JTJoeThomas

Trying to figure out whether to specialise or be a generalist is something a lot of practitioners find that they ask themselves as their career progresses. Usually, as in your case, every two or three years or so.

Building a career in one specialism can be rewarding, both financially and personally, particularly if you really love that sector. Fashion, beauty, sport, food, drink, are all sectors for example where it is common to find expert practitioners. They’ve built up a detailed knowledge of that marketplace and the business and media contacts that they have amassed are strong. I’ve always tended to find that these people view their job sometimes as an extension of their lifestyle.

They are happy to be working on the same sort of clients the whole time. They live it and breathe it.

On the flip side, an appreciation of lots of different sectors can be of tremendous value, particularly to a bigger agency. You can learn something from one sector and then perhaps apply it to another sector where it has never been tried before. Also, I’ve always felt that having an appreciation of lots of varied businesses and markets helps with creativity too. Someone well versed in the way different industries communicate can be of real value, both in the agency world and client side. They tend to be a bit more analytical too. It opens up career opportunities.

Also, if and when it ever came to the day that you wanted to set up your own agency, being a generalist gives you a good appreciation of where the gap in the market potentially is and which sectors are the most profitable. That’s valuable insight.

Written by Graham Goodkind who is a Dutch uncle – a new type of non-exec business adviser – to several agencies in the marketing services sector, in addition to being founder and chairman of Frank.

If you have got a question for our agony (Dutch) uncle regarding any issue relating to the running, operations, business or financial aspect of a PR agency, either as an owner, manager or executive, then email and your question will be featured in a coming issue.

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