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In 2014, there were no less than 120,000 agencies in the US alone and over half a million worldwide. These numbers are likely to have grown quite a bit in the last two years, making it even harder to choose a good, let alone great, marketing professional to work with.

No, today I’m not going to pick on marketing and advertising agencies. Today, I’m going to pick on the marketing people they employ, the freelancers and all-around opinionists out there and try to help you pick the ones worth your while and money.

The Jack of All Trades

You can typically find Jack or Jill blanketing the entire array of social media networks, broadcasting their unparalleled skills at everything from social media, content marketing and copywriting to brand management and shoe-shinning. Their extensive list of competencies is immediately obvious thanks to their lengthy, hashtag-filled bios that easily rival your average Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s list of patients.

Online marketing is not a hobby you pick up on the odd Saturday afternoon. It’s an entire industry with highly-specialised positions that require a solid set of skills which one applies and fine-tunes with practice. A lot of practice. Now, sometimes, Jack/ Jill may have this massive list of skills because they were forced to become a one man/woman show, being employed by smaller companies, with tight budgets and little to no understanding of the value of online marketing and how to do it properly. This, however, does not mean that they’ve acquired anything more than a superficial understanding of all these focus areas.

To dispel the fairytale and figure out whether someone is or is not a Jack of All Trades, look at how their experience and skills correlate. Someone who indeed has not just experience with multiple focus areas in online marketing but is also competent in those areas, is likely to have quite a number of years of experience backing them up. The positions they occupied are also probably diverse but compliment each other. Otherwise, the Jacks and Jills in question are likely to have dabbled in many trades but have truly mastered none.

The Guru

There’s no sense in easing you into this one – unless it’s in the context of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism or Jainism, people have no business calling themselves gurus. Besides it being pretentious, it makes it sound like they’re the keepers of the mystical secrets of online marketing, imparting them with only the most deserving of students, following a test of self-discovery akin to those of Doctor Strange. ( the animation not the movie – but do watch both if you get the chance).

They overtly self-identify as these scholars, versed in all the arts of online marketing but it’s almost always all flash and no substance. As a rule of thumb, if someone calls himself a guru, walk the other way.

The Fellow with Dissociative Personality

You know those people whose LinkedIn profiles read like short biographical pieces that belong on the back of their latest hardcover books? I’ve briefly touched on the topic before and, although on LinkedIn you tend to see this in the profiles of baby boomers and gen x, you can spot it on Twitter in the bios of Millennials too.

When a marketing professionals doesn’t know better than to use distancing language to communicate with their audience on a social media network, it’s very likely they are way too important to provide you with any meaningful help in building a personal, authentic and long-lasting relationship with your own brand’s audience so much like the gurus, I would strongly suggest you stay away from them.

The One Who Knew Too Much

Ah, the bane of being too knowledgeable for your own good… This digital marketer makes very frequent appearances at small business conferences, sharing just enough generic wisdom to seem smarter than everyone else in the room for at least 5 minutes.

They deal in truisms and provide little actionable information but thanks to good networking skills are able to enter a clique of similar know-it-alls promoting each other in a vicious cycle of incompetence. They’re often in charge of either teams or agencies that embody the same level of shallow expertise and skills, building their reputation on start-ups and small businesses that buy into the outside sheen and patiently wait for the results of their campaign like UFO enthusiasts for little green men.

These people are pretty difficult to distinguish from the real thing because the one thing they’re good at is building a reputation on very little, which might seem like an asset unless you’re looking for results beyond awareness. When setting campaign goals, they tend to shy away from SMART goals and go for the abstract, easier to explain away ones.

The Guy Who Ate the Dictionary

A distant cousin of the know-it-all is the guy or gal who seems to be on a steady diet of The Oxford English Dictionary. They roam all over the Internet and engage in the most axiomatically flattering verbal jousting sessions you can fathom. These people use the most complicated and pretentious words to express the simplest of ideas, often because the idea itself has no value and they have to daze and confuse people instead.

They’re not always incompetent but are terribly difficult to get along with, because they’re not just hard to understand but come across as very condescending. Sometimes, however, people tend to use overly-complicated words and idioms because they mixing up professionalism with being formal. If you’re relaxed when speaking with them, 2-3 conversations in, these people will also chill out and you’ve got a chance at an effective collaboration.

The Bottom Line

The one thing that’s not in short supply on the Internet is experts, opinions and cats so it can be hard to find an actual professional. Aside from the usual LinkedIn and website snooping, I would recommend you sit down, so to speak, with the person you’re thinking about working with and have a good, hard look at whether they have both the skills and the experience to support your business needs, whether you speak the same language, you are able to set SMART goals and, just to be on the safe side, run a small pilot campaign to see whether all of these can work together.

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