How many PR people does it take to change a lightbulb?

The age of the generalist and the super specialist

A light bulb in one of my rooms fused last week. While changing a bulb is a fairly straightforward task, this particular lamp shade is a bit difficult to remove and I used to leave it to my trusted handyman Justin*, to navigate. After weighing the pros and cons of inviting another set of hands into the home, and the sanitisation circus that followed, the option to do it myself seemed more appealing. 

Job done, I felt a strange sense of satisfaction. I’m sure there are many more efficient at the task and those who would have got it done in 2 minutes, while I took 20. But the 20 minutes I took was much less than the two hours of overall planning and coordination it would have taken to get Justin into the house and safely out. Navigating cookie who is a ferocious protector of her territory and Sushmita who is an equally fierce protector of every surface that Justin may or may not have come into contact with, is an exercise in itself. 

However my joy was short lived. A day later, when I switched on the light, the bulb fused with an emphatic bang. This particular light had two holders and one of them was a bit loose. Not to be deterred from my electrical engineering adventure, I decided that the problem was with the holder. So after successfully removing the lampshade for a second time, I checked the other side. It looked sturdy and in good shape. The new bulb shone bright this time for two days and then with no sound to say goodbye, it just left unannounced. 

Now I was out of self-help options, someone would have to be brought in. Justin is pretty proficient with all these things, he is better than me, but does he really have the expertise to diagnose and fix the problem? After thinking about it, I conclude it may be better off bringing in the electrician. He is the super specialist on this subject and at this point I believe I don’t want another ‘do over’. I want to get it right on the first attempt. 

This is my light bulb moment for the week. I believe, the work world is morphing towards this reality. A strong generalist with the right attitude is really valuable and so is a super specialist. I don’t really need a specialist if he is only marginally better than me. A generalist does not cut it when I need something technical and when there are no second chances, so the super specialist will also always be in demand. 

In the world of communication, which had started getting specialists into play for everyday work, I see that trend shifting. Not in the sense that these specialists are not important or needed. More in terms of them having to adjust to the new reality that it’s not enough for them to just play their specialised role. They need to truly excel at it, do more and be more. 

Today I need to be the client servicing person, who can make plans and reviews, engage well with clients, write well, think and come up with creative ideas, produce the content if pushed to a corner, and also engage with the right media to ensure the story gets out. 

I then need to possibly turn that into social media posts and have a view on how the whole digital piece works to ensure that there is synergy. I should also know how to keep track of the news and ensure it gets monitored and reported real time. Did I forget to mention the bit about managing a team of people and bringing in some new business as well? In all of this, there will be some areas where I truly shine bright and stand out, while being willing to share the load on the others.

A few short months ago there were specialists doing each of these functions and doing them well. It took each of them 2 minutes to change their light bulb. And together they delivered the task in a very productive and efficient manner. They were all very happy to do “their bit” and keen to stay in their zone and not get involved with other stuff.  Today, with remote working, and the challenges of lack of alignment and attention, many a time I find it quicker, simpler and more efficient to just do most of it myself. 

Then of course comes the time when I need an authored article on a topic that I know very little about, and I need it done in two hours. Or the media buying for a digital campaign that is beyond my abilities. The super specialist absolutely nails that piece. 

So this is where I see us heading in the near future. A ‘Jack or Jill of all trades’ who is ‘master of a few’ will be hugely in demand and will emerge as a valuable talent pool. They will be the golden boys and girls of this Phase of Covid Communication. Much like the early days of this profession, because in many ways we are in the early phase of this profession again. The old rules don’t apply. 

Super specialists in a niche or a domain will also hold their own. Those that are left in the middle will need to choose a side. There is going to be no place left for mediocrity to hide. Nor is there any place for people who say to themselves “this is not my job”. Serving the client and the team. Solving the challenge. Adding value. That is the job. A change in mindset is urgently required. That’s all it takes. When the “will” to stretch out of my comfort zone is there the “skill” will follow. 

Remember the old joke. How many PR people does it take to change a light bulb…, this is no joke. This is very real. Change your mindset if you have not already, and find your space in this race. That is what will help each one of us and our profession to shine through. 

In case you are waiting for the punch line of the lightbulb joke – here is my official comment “unfortunately it’s too early for me to share those details. As you know I don’t comment on speculation and rumour, the lightbulb in question has been replaced, it is working perfectly well and does not need changing at this point in time. However what I do want to share with you is…switch on a different mindset. Shift away from “that’s not my job”… embrace “let me figure that out for you”


*Name Changed

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nikhil Dey
Nikhil Dey is Executive Director, Adfactors PR.

A trusted coaching and communications professional, Nikhil Dey is a certified life and leadership coach (International Coach Federation - ICF). Nurturing talent and helping clients achieve their goals is what makes him happy. He loves learning from students of communication, teaching courses and guest lecturing at various educational institutions. When he is not working you will find him on the tennis court or out for long walks with his family and four legged friends.

Previously he has held senior leadership positions at Weber Shandwick and Genesis BCW.

He can be reached on twitter @deydreaming

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