T-shaped is just a funny name used to describe a person who has very deep skills in one area (the deep vertical stroke of the T) as well as the ability to collaborate across disciplines they’re not an expert in (that would be the horizontal stoke).
He also talked about the need for ‘digital immigrants’ – folks who grew up in the world of traditional advertising, to constantly up their skill sets required for today’s New Media-oriented communication. In my view, what he describes as a must-do is not just applicable to a Creative person in an ad agency but Account Managers and Business Heads too.
Traditionally, Account Management folks were seen as generalists who keep the operational end of the agency business running. They were expected to do a bit of everything – steer the brand in the right path, plan the brand communication, inspire the creative team, oversee the media implementation and collect bills. The ones good at all this went on to become Agency CEOs. An above-average AE growing up in a traditional advertising agency in the past would have learnt from the best brains in other ‘specialist’ disciplines – Media, Creative, Print Production and so on. The scope of improving one’s own knowledge was tremendous.
The junior Account Management person of today has little or no interaction with specialists in Media or Digital. Any knowledge that he acquires comes out of his own initiative or volition. The system does not allow for a well-rounded skill set. In that context, it is all the more critical to understand the best way to communicate with today’s digital natives. It may be imperative for Creative folks (those who create the brand experiences) and is a bonus for the Account Management folk. Such an ‘understanding’ best comes from personally practicing it rather than simply observing how others do it. Why? Because this shift in media consumption is different from what happened in the past.
Tech changes and its impact on creating brand communication is not new. Creating TV spots is way different from writing a print ad or a radio spot. A Creative person who grew up writing print ads was one day told of the need to think visual and write TV scripts. They adapted to that medium over time – not by attending script writing workshops but maybe simply watching good Cinema. There is a similarity and the required skill set could perhaps be learnt by observing.
Creating brand communication in New Media is a different ball game – I feel one cannot understand it by observing it from a distance. One has to participate and experience it personally in order to master it. Especially before we advice clients to practice it. It is especially true for digital immigrants – to borrow a phrase from Luke Sullivan. But our attitude towards New Media ranges from bemusement to fear. Some of the old-world ad folks see it as a trivial waste of time and actively discourage anyone from participating in it. It is seen as a waste of time and an impediment to real work. Some others simply fear it.
I understand that ‘immersing’ oneself in New Media is a huge threat to productivity and can be a distraction. So can idle chat or surfing the net. In the days before the Internet I am sure there were slackers. Just that they didn’t slack by surfing the net. I think a balanced approach to participating in New Media must be encouraged. Those creating content for a brand, especially those talking to digital natives, must experience how it feels to be a digital native first hand instead of simply observing it from a distance as if it were a zoo animal. And this attitude is perhaps what separates traditional agency mindset and new media mindset. That’s why a lot of specialist digital shops and ‘experience architects’ are picking up the non-traditional media activity of clients. The big agencies are gearing up for this change and are perhaps aware that in the future an ad agency may be expected not just create a TVC but a mobile app, augmented reality driven print ad, a Twitter campaign and so on. It may be impossible for one person to be an expert on all of it but it will be an asset if he – especially the one leading this into a coherent effort – were to be aware of how it feels to create some of it himself.
And in another piece of possibly related news, Starcom – a media agency, hired a former Creative Director of an advertising agency as its Chief Experience Officer. And experience comes from doing not just observing, no?