Home > DIGITAL, DILUTION, SKILL SETS, TIPS, TV > Here’s To The Dilution Of Skill-Sets

Here’s To The Dilution Of Skill-Sets

Don’t tell anyone this, but a Suit is often surprised. Beneath the calm, unflappable, pin-stripe (or, increasingly, corduroy) exterior there sits an ever-shifting, ever-reacting mind that deals with each unexpected obstacle or support it comes across. We just don’t let it show.

I’m in no way ashamed to admit that it’s happened to me on a number of occasions during my career. There was the occasion, early on, when I was a mildly surprised to discover that it wasn’t acceptable to wear shorts and flip-flops to work (I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I arrived in the industry woefully under-educated on the true nature of a Suit). I’ll leave you to imagine my reaction when, a couple of years ago, a Creative Director with whom I used to work uttered the immortal line, “D’you know, I sometimes wish this f*cking internet thing had never been invented.”

(And breathe.)

More recently still, I was engaged in conversation with another former colleague – this time, a fellow Suit. His background was digital, as they say, having come from a pure-play digital agency (that I won’t name) to join my team. On our first day working together, I explained that I would be looking to give him opportunities to do some work in other media – our clients didn’t (and don’t) delineate themselves in terms of on and off-line, and as such neither would we. More fool me, I expected this to be a positive thing.

But no. This Account Manager looked me in the eye (more or less) and explained that, if I didn’t mind, he’d rather not get involved in any non-digital work (be it TV, press, poster, experiential, DM or whatever) – he rather liked being a ‘Digital Account Manager’ and was worried that working in any other media would “dilute his skill-set”.

We’ll leave him there – as it turned out, neither he nor his undiluted skill-set were around for much longer.

It is, of course, his turn of phrase that has stuck with me. Just ponder it for a minute, roll it round in your mouth – “diluting my skill-set”. Now think of all that time you’ve wasted at school, at art college, in meetings, on courses, in life. All that time you thought you were ‘learning stuff’, when you were in fact ‘diluting your skill-set’ and making yourself slightly ‘worse’ in the process. Every moment you’ve spent since birth has been a gradual degradation of that key breathing/shitting/crying skill-set with which we are all naturally endowed. In fact, taken to its logical conclusion, evolution (with, to name but one, its dastardly introduction of opposable thumbs – don’t you find they’re always getting caught on stuff?) is the greatest skill-set dilution of them all.

And I’ll stop the rant there – sarcasm is most unbecoming in a Suit. But once I’d got past the surprise, the phrase, and the attitude it embodies, really angered me – for me, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding both of digital and of the role of a Suit.

Here’s a quick newsflash for you, chaps – digital is a channel, not a solution.

I’m sorry if that hurts, but you’re going to have to deal with it at some point, and it’ll make you better at your job the sooner you start. I’m not talking about Flash designers, QAs or html programmers here – they clearly need to be specialists, in the same way that a Flame operator, a retoucher or a director does. But the job of a Suit is not to be a specialist, it’s to provide the best solutions to our Clients’ business problems, and then to work with specialists to implement them. That means seeing at least a million and one possible options when a challenge is presented, and knowing enough about each of them to establish the best way to proceed.

Of course the digital possibilities are exciting, and we should all be extremely excited – but not to the point where we dismiss other, more viable, perhaps better options of getting our ideas out there, simply because they’re not digital. Because that would just be stupid. I hate to be the one to say it, kids, but there was a time when people were as excited about TV as we all are now about social media, iPod apps and Twitter clients – and trust me, there will come a time when a specialist digital agency is as anachronistic as a specialist TV agency would be today. You can quote me on that.

If you want to be a Suit, you need to understand that you need to know more, and you need to want to experience everything. If you want to be a specialist, then you don’t want to be a Suit.

So is learning about new things diluting an existing skill-set? I guess so. But only in the same way that you dilute tonic by adding gin to it.

Bring on the dilution, kids – it’s what we’re here for, and it’s what makes things exciting.
  1. Andrea Nastase
    April 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Diluting his skill-set is like a refusal to learn anything else outside his comfort zone. Work isn’t about favours and preference but I guess people have to learn it the hard way. Where was he all these years….in school there were things I’d have rather done but I couldn’t choose so you had to them all.When you’re that young, you have to comply, arrogance has to be earned if you ask me. But that’s just my view. There probably are agencies who will have people boxed into one-two ideas. Or…perhaps I’m being too sarcastic.

  2. AdLand Suit
    April 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    In defence of the unnamed AM (who was and is, in most respects, a lovely chap), I think it was more ignorance than arrogance. He had been told by a lot of people that he looked up to that digital was the future, and that his career would be better off if he managed to keep ‘digital’ in front of his job title, untainted by any of that nasty off-line stuff. He was misguided, and it was a shame – but there’s a huge responsibility on the shoulders of more senior folk to ensure that they’re teaching the people who look up to them the right things.

  3. Anonymous
    April 23, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Great post.I think the punchline is that someone told him to defend his digital skills and not learn ‘traditional’ advertising. I know we young lion cubs are all keen on the transformation of the industry, but good luck with your CV there, Robotboy. The old guard, not so impressed by your technobabble. But tweet about it freely.

  4. Cat
    April 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    By the same token, there are lots of agencies who seem to subscribe to a similar philosophy, by refusing to hire a digital handler to work off-line or vice versa. Equally annoying when you’re on the other side of the fence.

  5. Katy
    June 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I totally agree that the idea of not wanting to learn more in case he diluted his skillset is utterly ridiculous – I'd have been shot of anyone who showed that attitudeBut would disagree that digital is a channel – it's the fuel that powers lots of communications, not necessarily just another media channel – I think lots of bad solutions come out of thinking of digital as 'just another channel'. Doesn't mean to say digital solutions are always the right ones, but equally not as straightforward as TV / press / OOH

  6. Mandy
    March 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I completely disagree with you Suit – ever heard of the phrase ‘jack of all trades master of none’? You need to specialise when dealing with digital… p.s. not keen on the ‘Suit’ moniker – aren’t us ‘kids’ allowed to wear one?

    • March 17, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Hi Mandy. Yep, I’m familiar with that phrase; and I don’t really think it’s relevant to someone who wants to be a Suit (or an Account Handler, if you prefer). And, obviously enough, I don’t agree with your point about needing to specialise when it comes to digital – again, with specific reference to Account Handling. A digital account handler is no more specialised than a non-digital account handler – they still can’t build you a website, develop an android app… And nor should they be able to. That’s not their job. PS Everyone’s entitled to wear a suit – I hope I haven’t suggested otherwise. The name of the blog is a reference to the (usually derogatory) term used to describe account handlers by other departments in an agency. My real name’s Dan. Hello.

      • Mandy
        March 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm

        I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree Dan :)!

  7. Jon
    March 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Digital skillsets… where do you start? Design and build to complex WCMS, it’s a complicated business. Ultimately, digital as a channel is a constant shifting landscape. New technology, platforms, techniques, standards, accessibility… the list goes on. Can you do a good job of keeping up and really understanding other channels or could you work as a team and compliment each other. Specialist or jack of all trades? I know who I’d speak to.

    • March 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      Surely it depends on whether or not you know exactly what you want? And, importantly, whether or not you can guarantee you’re right? If you want a website built, don;t go to a Suit; go to a guy who builds websites. If you want a TV ad made, hire a TV producer. If you want someone who can work with you, who knows how marketing works, and who knows enough about all the different tools on offer to bring in the right people at the right times, then you want to speak to a Suit. Of course, there are shit Suits out there. But same goes for pretty much any profession you care to mention.

  1. March 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm

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