The tentacles of an online effort stretch across a com-pany's entire enterprise, including distribution, sales, customer service, manufacturing and marketing. No one resource has all the different skill sets-technology, marketing, sales, design and writ-ing-needed to take you to the Promised Land of clicks and orders.
The following criteria can help you determine the best combination of resources for your project.
Writing skills. Many interactive shops are staffed with graphic designers and programmers, maybe even a few project managers. But ask to meet their writers and you might see some squirming.
Writers understand your site is a customer service tool, a prospecting tool and, ultimately, a selling tool. No matter how fancy, your site won't sell anything if it doesn't effectively communicate your product benefits and corporate brand. That's why good Web-specific writing is critical. Writers also help organize content so the site is easy to navigate and read. Ask to meet the writers who will be working on your project. If your prospective vendor doesn't have writers worth their salt, go elsewhere.
Integrated efforts. Whatever vendor or agency you choose, make sure they're skilled at developing a site that comple-ments the message, look and feel of your other marketing promotions. This can get tricky. Integration requires your vendor to think strategically, yet free-lancers or interactive specialists may only be focused on the task at hand rather than the overall marketing goal.
Pertinent experience. It can be difficult to determine which agencies and vendors have the right experience for your needs. Don't be misled by big-experience claims. Ask them to define "experience"-does it mean building flat HTML sites for lemonade stands or complex b-to-b e-commerce sites? Even marketing agencies with "interactive divisions" may only consist of graphic designers who double as programmers. Make sure there are true interactive experts involved.
Staff expandability. Working with an agency or interactive firm that out-sources the programming aspect of Web design can save you labor costs and speed the development process for your project. Because free-lancers can be hired en masse, and only for the duration of the produc-tion phase of Web development, you won't have to pay high overhead for your vendor to maintain a huge staff.
There's no mathematical equation to determine what combination of resources is right for developing your Web site. There are simply too many aspects involved in the process, from pre-production (mapping the site, determining objectives and identifying scalability issues) to production (designing, programming, linking and writing) and post-production (hosting, establishing security, adding new functionality, updating content and design).
Marketing agencies are a good place to start for strategy, creative and inte-gration, but you might also want your agency to consider partnering with interactive specialists to leverage their technical expertise and free-lancers to reduce expenses and speed development.
Lisa Barbadora is copy director at Downingtown, Pa.-based Schubert Communications, a marketing communications agency. Her e-mail is email@example.com.