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Developing partnership

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Allergan, an Irvine, Calif.-based pharmaceutical manufacturer, got onto the Web in 1997 through an ad hoc task force formed two years earlier.

In 1996, that task force began interviewing more than 20 Internet developers, says team member Ira Haskell, who was then a marketing manager at Allergan's in-house ad agency, Pacific Communications, and is now Allergan's director of corporate communications.

He remembers the day Los Angeles-based Internet Outfitters showed up for its presentation.

"After they finished, we still had several more presentations scheduled for that day," he says, "but I remember one person asking: `Do we have to go any further? Do we have to see these other companies?' "

Mr. Haskell says the team was impressed by the complex electronic-commerce sites that Internet Outfitters had already brought up by 1996, practically Paleozoic in Web time. And there was a quick rapport between his interdepartmental team and Chris Paine, Internet Outfitters president. Acquired March 27, 1999, Internet Outfitters is now a subsidiary of Bethesda, Md.-based technology company AppNet Systems.

He says Allergan didn't hire a consultant to help choose because "back then, I'm not sure there were any."

Hans Peter Pfleger, director of global marketing for the recently introduced Allergan product Alphagan, says there are "pluses and minuses of hiring a search consultant. If you have a fairly strong internal team, consultants may not make sense. We have an information technology group here that has done some very innovative things, so we didn't think hiring a consultant was necessary."

Need for creativity

When Internet Outfitters got Allergan's Web site up, Mr. Haskell says, it was a disappointment at first --something he blames on his own team, not on the Web developer.

"Probably the biggest mistake we made -- and we were kind of aware of this going in, but it didn't matter -- is how much energy every department of the company would have to put into thinking about this new area and how we would use it," he says. "We thought at first we'd just take sales aids and scan them in. We never thought we'd have to be creative."

Mr. Paine says clients need to be aware that a Web presence isn't a static document but requires constant care and feeding.

"They have to understand the physical requirements of updating after a site is launched -- this isn't a brochure -- and if they don't have the staff on their end, they need to have effective resources on the developer side," he says.

Mr. Paine says developers "need to immerse themselves in the client's business," realizing that how objectives are accomplished is often as important as what is accomplished.

Mr. Haskell says Mr. Paine "knew the technical side, but we were the only ones who really understood our message. We had to learn that we really had to be partners in this."

That understanding was behind the relaunch of the site last November.

Mr. Haskell says individual Allergan product teams developed Web-specific materials for each product on the site. An example is an animated display of how Alphagan works to cure glaucoma, which is excess pressure inside the eye.

Tough to gauge ROI

There may be nearly 100 million people on the Web, but Allergan is interested chiefly in a mere 10,000 of them: ophthalmologists and optometrists.

Overall, the company spends slightly more than $1 million a year on its Web marketing effort -- a little more than half on its public Web site, the rest on its internal network, Alphaweb.

It's tough to calculate return on investment for the public site, Mr. Haskell says.

"We do a hits analysis, but it's very difficult to figure out," he says. "Some of the domains they're coming from are easy to identify: our competitors and the government. But so many of them come from places like AOL it's hard to tell who they are.

"The only objective way, if you can call it that, is we do have comments, people calling us or e-mailing us, saying they saw something on the site and requesting more information."

Register visits

Preston Dodd, an analyst at Web marketing consultant Jupiter Communications, New York, says the only certain way to determine who's visiting a site and what they're viewing is to require registration.

"That's a barrier to some people, but if you have the proper privacy policies and the content is compelling enough, people will register," Mr. Dodd says.

The refurbished site was not launched with registration, Mr. Paine says, because, for the most part, "they know who their target market is. The number of doctors prescribing this stuff is not that big."

Paine-ful tips

Mr. Paine offers some suggestions for corporate marketers and Web developers to work together effectively.

He recommends a single contact person on each of the client and Web developer sides, both of whom are responsible for "coordinating many voices" on the two sides.

There should also be an understanding of "feature creep," the tendency for clients to demand more of a Web site during its development. "Sometimes these things are doable, but sometimes they require just huge changes," Mr. Paine says.

Finally, he says, "clients must understand prioritization of time, money and functionality. If the most important factor in a site is the launch deadline, the total budget or functionality may have to change. All of these have to be prioritized because something has to give."

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