Some marketers identify or develop basic interactive competencies within the company and use an outside agency to supplement advanced areas. They reason that company employees are better able to understand their own business and marketing goals, while interactive agencies are better able to afford the development curve and keep pace with technology.
Still, the biggest concern marketers have about using internal staff is that employees underestimate the depth of skills needed for Internet marketing while overestimating their individual ability to contribute.
"It's unusual to find internal people who have as much experience as we do. We're an agency that's done nothing but Web development for the past few years," says Nick Rothenberg, CEO for W3-design, Los Angeles.
Mr. Rothenberg finds his company supporting a client's efforts by supplementing either their technical or marketing activities, but rarely both. How does W3-design deal with do-it-yourself clients?
"We never dissuade clients from using their internal resource base," says Mr. Rothenberg. As a result, sometimes their clients will ask them to train an in-house person.
Many advertising and marketing agencies are still experimenting with the interactive side of the business, deciding whether they want to get into the game. Deborah Reinert, marketing communications director at NETdelivery, Boulder, Colo., says marketers have to be careful during the selection process, exploring what an agency is able to do as well as what they are willing to do.
Full devotion needed
"Some agencies aren't fully devoted to the idea of Internet marketing. They aren't willing to invest time in the learning curve required for understanding the media and all its idiosyncrasies," says Ms. Reinert. "They are still trying it on to see if there's some money to be made."
The best interactive agencies make it their business to evaluate the latest opportunities and tools, to experiment with how to leverage them for selected interactive goals, and to gain hands-on experience in using them on behalf of many different clients.
Above all, Ms. Reinert says marketers should follow up on client references, evaluating an agency's interactive capabilities as they would an offline marketing expertise.
M. H. "Rip" Ripley, account supervisor with I/O Communications Network in Denver, advises clients to look for two things when deciding who makes the best Web team member.
First, he says, look for both internal and external people who bring perspective and come from different disciplines.
Second, enlist those who are demonstrably interested and passionate about the opportunity that Internet marketing presents. "You cannot be a closed thinker in this environment," he says.
Internet advancements will continue to force marketers to attain a level of understanding that reflects a balance of both technical and marketing talent. In turn, business marketers should expect their Web team to meet or beat the capabilities found in the most sophisticated of their competitors' Internet marketing programs.
Kim M. Bayne is author of "The Internet Marketing Plan: A Practical Handbook for Creating, Implementing & Assessing Your Online Presence," John Wiley, New York, 1997.