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Death of the 'Expert'
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Ah yes, the Subject Matter Expert (SME), where art thou? When studying to enter into the world of AdLand, we were taught how important it was in business and in advertising to position yourself as an SME. That's how you got attention. That's how you beat your competition. 

That's how you win business.

In our early professional life as an AdLand resident, the teaching was confirmed. In our first agency we worked to get our principals on radio shows and chalked up ideas for white papers and media appearances. In our second agency we were pushed to the task even more; not only did we look to get our leadership media appearances, but we applied for countless awards, industry-specific, city-specific, wrote white papers, conducted surveys and insight reports, hosted webinars, and ghost wrote articles that would appear in leading business magazines in the city.

In both scenarios, did it win business? The return is hard to quantify.

With a market that is so segmented, and segments that are fragmenting it is difficult to see who is paying attention. For example, can you name the shop that just won AdAge's Small Agency of the Year? Without looking it up? Remember who won it last year? Or the leadership of either agency? 

And with shops that leave the generalist concept and specialize in digital, experiential, Hispanic, social media, crowdsource, whatever;  those shops have strengths, weaknesses, and best practices that cannot successfully be applied to the industry as a whole. Then we have the monolith agencies, the small agencies, and the holding companies.

Do we need SMEs anymore?

We all read "best practices" articles and blog posts, "insight" from those who have done very well in the industry, but how many times have you seen yourself actively applying the tips they provide? 

We are in an industry that thrives on the sharing and gathering of information. Advertising builds on the work that precedes it. Maybe we need to re-examine our use of the term "expert." It is commonly accepted that if you have performed a single task or activity for more than 10,000 hours, you could be considered an expert. That is 417 days non-stop. Or 250 40-hour work weeks. If we apply that to the ever-changing world of advertising, how many people can honestly consider themselves "experts"?


As humans we feel the need to hoist someone up as an example, as a leader, and someone for us to imitate. It's natural.

But in AdLand, is it realistic?

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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