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How to staff up Web departments

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pullq: Until recently Web graphics were often created by technical people with few formal design skills or by graphic artists with scant Web experience. oldclass: 5 For thousands of companies looking to develop new Web sites, or upgrade existing ones, the decision on how to staff a corporate Web department has leapfrogged in importance.

Should Web managers assemble a complete department filled with programmers, designers, writers, plus a Webmaster to manage it all? What kind of pay range is appropriate? And how can you attract and keep the best people?

No clear models exist yet, as different companies pursue a variety of strategies. But some ideas come from agencies that handle Web sites for corporate marketers.

For example, Cincinnati-based marketing communications agency Hensley Segal Rentschler has a Web staff that includes client service executives, copy writers, programmers and designers. Each of these people could run a medium-size site within a company, says Richard Segal, one of Hensley's founders.

Add to that basic list a consumer research/marketing specialist, says Chan Suh and Kyle Shannon, co-founders of Agency.com, a New York-based Web design firm whose clients include GTE Corp., American Express Co., and British Airways.

WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED

Another possible addition: A customer service rep to handle online correspondence and order taking.

What skills should these people possess? Phil Growick, managing director at Jerry Fields Associates, a New York-based search firm specializing in the advertising field, looks for writers who can distill complex information into bite-size pieces.

But don't mistake that talent for what ad copywriters do, warns Hensley's Mr. Segal. On the Web, he says, "The character of the writing is more like PR than advertising; it's more rational and logical."

With programmers, Mr. Segal says he looks for technical skills, but also an "appreciation of aesthetics," which will enable the programmers to work comfortably with writers and designers.

As for designers, Mr. Growick says that until recently Web graphics were often created by technical people with few formal design skills or by graphic artists with scant Web experience.

More people are becoming able to combine the two talents, he says. "Now you've got these kids who are eating, sleeping, and dreaming the Web."

Likewise, Mr. Segal says, the job of Webmaster, once held by people with strong technical backgrounds, now demands a greater marketing emphasis.

"The lion's share of first-wave Web pages were not developed by marketing people," he says, while companies now increasingly are asking marketing-oriented agencies like Hensley to rethink those early efforts.

HOW MUCH TO PAY

Salaries for Web-adept employees more or less match those for people in traditional creative fields. Mr. Growick says he recently placed a Webmaster at a large New York publishing house for $45,000.

Designers might receive anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000, entry-level programmers from $20,000 to $30,000, with writers' salaries falling somewhere between programmers and designers.

But money alone won't keep the best talent on board. People involved with the Web tend to be very entrepreneurial, Mr. Segal says. "They're liable to leave and start their own boutique Web design firm."

Hensley uses top-of-the-line hardware and software as a lure to retain talented employees. In other words, instead of money, throw high-tech toys at Web-oriented employees.

When Web staffers request a new hardware or software package, says Mr. Segal, "We don't say no to them."

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