Guest Commentary by Anita Bloch, President, Red Dot Interactive

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Although the multimedia marketplace is beginning to swarm with interactive media production companies, we believe that only a few (at this point) stand out with the knowledge and expertise necessary to create a high impact application on time and on budget

If you are going to be responsible for sourcing and managing a multimedia vendor to create an online or multimedia program for your company, we recommend taking the following criterion into consideration:

1. Understanding Business Goals and Marketing Strategy: No matter what wizzy thing a vendor recommends incorporating into your multimedia application, it should absolutely tie to the overall marketing and/or communications objectives established by you.

2. User Interface, Navigation and Interaction: Successful interactive communications requires more than the ability to write copy or create awesome illustrations. It requires an understanding of how people interact with computers. Your vendor should understand what makes a solid, easy to navigate program. They should understand methods for optimizing text, graphics, video, etc. based on an assumed minimum target computer platform and desired distribution medium.

3. Tactical and Strategic Strength in Technology: Your vendor should be on the cutting edge, dabbling in technologies that are not yet mainstream. Do your homework, find out what these are and be sure to ask about them. Beyond the ability to create a program to fill immediate needs, your multimedia vendor should also know the appropriate questions to ask up front to repurpose or expand on technology and content in the future without having to reinvent the proverbial wheel.

4. Client List/Repeat Customers: Check out who the potential vendor has been doing business with. Find out how many clients are using the vendor for repeat business. Because these clients are generally contracted on a project by project basis, unlike ad agencies who are generally on retainer, developing multiple applications for clients can be a good sign. Finally, ask for references. Be wary if you are unable to obtain them.

5. Production Process: Generally with a brochure, datasheet or video, the message to be conveyed is quite narrow in scope. A multimedia program can be very broad incorporating several "high level" messages and drill deep into product or service information. The development process generally begins by gathering content which exists across many departments in many different mediums (videos, handbooks, brochures, annual reports, etc.).

The complexity of information, the number of people or departments who have a stake in the information incorporated (and therefore the approval process) combined with the standard challenges associated with software development, establish the need for a strong production process to meet your timeline and budget constraints.

Be sure to ask your potential vendor about their particular process. Is there a standard process in place? Ask the potential vendor how they keep timelines and milestones on track.

6. Vendor Demonstration: Make sure you get a live demonstration of a potential vendors work. A final vendor decision should not be made without understanding:

-- why a particular program was created (did it successfully achieve communications goals?)

-- the basis for the design direction and technology behind the program (was it appropriate for the targeted audience?)

-- what the production process was (what if a great program ran $100K over budget and was 6 months late?).

7. Vendor Assessment of Your Needs: Listen to the questions being asked of you. Is the vendor hearing you? Does their proposal or recommendation reflect your communications goals, both short and long term? The questions being asked should carry a balance between content, design and technology and the recommendation should tie three together to achieve communications goals established by you.

8. Price: It is impossible to provide a price for a multimedia application without understanding communications goals, existing content verses content to be developed, the distribution medium (CD-ROM, WWW, etc.), required timeframes, etc.

Be wary of a vendor that quotes a price without knowing these thoroughly. The chances of the vendor correctly assessing their costs without knowing exactly what to build is nil. Either you or the vendor will come up short. In either case, it will not be a smooth, successful working relationship.

The range for creating a high quality piece can range anywhere from $70,000 - $1,000,000. It is important that your vendor is able to articulate, based on your communications goals, what is feasible given your budget constraints. In general, you tend to get what you pay for so be careful not to base your decision on price alone.

It is also important to prepare on your end for vendor selection. Before sourcing a vendor you should know and be prepared to discuss:

-- your communications objective(s)

-- target audience(s)

-- existing media assets and their available formats

-- timeline (3 months is a minimum for most jobs)

-- budget (it is pointless for a vendor to quote a $250K job when a budget is only $75K)

The interactive and multimedia industry adds another exciting dimension to the whole communications process. It provides new opportunities for marketing, selling, educating, training, recruiting, entertaining, etc. The sky is the limit.

Choosing the right vendor - one who can successfully move your communications goals forward within your time and budget constraints - is the most important step. Good Luck!

(Red Dot Interactive is a multimedia strategy, design and production firm headquartered in San Francisco.)

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