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Managing your Web developer

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No one company is irreplaceable, There's got to be constant daily communication. It's like maintaining any other relationship. Email from Net Marketing reader Managing a Web site is like the proverbial phrase about too many cooks in the kitchen. Except worse: In this case, one cook might be great at flipping burgers, while the other is a French chef.

Managing a Web site gracefully is often difficult to do, especially when two parties with differing agendas share the responsibility.

The meshing and clashing of cultures is often the biggest stumbling block to Web developer/marketer relationships.

Blowing bubbles with chewing gum, nonchalance in meeting style, "fluid" deadlines and very casual attire have all managed to come between a Web developer and its client.

CLEAN-SHAVEN FACES AND REGULAR BATHS

"There are certain expectations within Fortune 500 companies "One of the instructions in a job bid called for clean-shaven faces and regular baths," said Andrew Frye, president of Free Range Media, Seattle, which has done more than 150 interactive projects for there are some cultural differences, but most developers have tremendous work ethics. Ultimately, we're a service provider and they're a client."

Because problems begin to surface when too many people try to control the same thing, many marketers recommend appointing one person from the Web developer and one person from the client side as the points of contact between the partnership.

TEAM INTERNET

General Electric Co. and its Web developer, Meta4 Digital Design Jersey City, N.J., created Team Internet, a group whose members include representatives from each of the 12 business units of GE, Fairfield, Conn.

"Trying to keep that many people in that many divisions happy is extremely difficult," said Al Blanco, president of Meta4. "Team Internet was our filter to the company; once we presented to the key players on the team, then they'd turn around and sell our ideas within GE and vice versa."

For David Creagh, electronic publishing manager for The Christian Science Monitor, managing a site with a developer is like "sharing a baby without being married."

"It feels like sharing a baby, but not being anywhere near mar ried," said David Creagh, electronic publishing manager for the Christian Science Monitor."

Although the newspaper is based in Boston, Mr. Creagh chose Free Range to create its site, which went live in June.

Even though it would cost a little less to hire a full-time Webmaster to handle the maintenance of its Web site, the Christian Science Monitor has tapped Free Range on a retainer basis for maintaining its site because the developer "takes as much pride in our site as we do," said Mr. Creagh.

"The key to working with your Web developer is to become partners and to actually behave like partners. It's a very collaborative effort," Mr. Creagh said.

Often, that collaboration breaks down when problems arise within a site, and the marketer, not knowing who to blame, automatically assumes it's the developer's fault. A problem that occasionally surfaces, however, is when marketers don't understand the nature of problems that may arise on the site and automatically blame their developer for them.

"There are times the problems are out of the hands of the developer it could be a router problem or an access problem," said Dominic Tassone, president of Streams Online, a Chicago-based developer that worked with Hal Riney & Partners, Chicago, to create a Web site for Subway Sandwiches & Salads. "Sometimes the copy reads wrong, and that's the client's fault. There's got to be constant daily communication. It's like maintaining any other relationship."

CULTURE CLASH

Other clashes between clients and developers can spring from differing corporate cultures that exist at Fortune 500 companies and the typically younger, more informal start-ups.

"Our principals are older and have more expertise in business and marketing communications," said Anita Bloch, president of Red Dot Interactive, San Francisco, which has worked with DHL Systems, Burlingame, Calif., among others. "It's my observation that culture differences are a factor in some of these relationships. "We have plenty of young people working at Red Dot, but only account managers talk to the clients."

Although Vanessa Lea, program manager for network services at DHL, is quite satisfied with the work Red Dot is doing for DHL, she says that marketers should realize there are many Web development companies out there.

"No one company is irreplaceable," she said.

MONEY TROUBLES

Most developers, however, feel they've been dished a bad rap re garding their less formal work cultures.

Still, Mr. Creagh at the Christian Science Monitor admits he acts as a filter between developers and oth ers at his magazine who he says may be "much more conservative."

Money is frequently at the root of problems that arise between developers and their clients.

Whether it's not having enough money to cover surprise expenses or underestimating the cost of maintaining the site, most marketers end up spending more than they originally expected.

"You need to buy into the technology and the medium, and that often translates into more money," said Ted Meyer, a GE spokesman. "The Web site is not a one-shot deal; it's a living, breathing document which will require effort, resources and time to maintain and develop."

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