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Web project managers in demand at ad agencies

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Many resumes are floating through New York's Silicon Alley and other centers of Web site development.

But analysts say that's not a sign of weakness in the market for these skills, it's a sign of strength.

"The USWebs and iXLs are going in [buying small development companies and] keeping a third of the people," said Ken Boyle, VP-business development for Macquarium Intelligent Communications, an Atlanta-based Web development company. "The others are going elsewhere."

As a result, one-third to one-half of the people in new media today are independent contractors, said Eric Goldberg of Crossover Technologies, a New York Web site and game developer. "They possess high skills in certain areas and take them from project to project," he said.

The skills are in high demand. Howard Greenstein, a New York-based "technical evangelist" for Microsoft Corp. and founder of the World Wide Web Artists' Consortium, said he is often asked how to find people.

He said the first step is to find a project manager who has many of the attributes of a good college basketball coach, who can recruit both technical and graphics people, then keep them happy.

"These people have probably worked up the ranks," just like good coaches, he said. "They should have a resume with multiple projects at multiple levels of depth."

A candidate who has handled multiple projects for a client is likely a better prospect than one whose resume lists 30 companies. "You want to see some consistency across jobs they've done," Mr. Greenstein said.

Redefining agencies

Matching technical and artistic skills to Web projects has proven difficult for traditional ad agencies, said Mike Leo, co-founder of Avenue A Internet Media, Seattle.

"People find out much more quickly than before who's doing a good job," he said. "Traditional agencies have had to buy Internet agencies to get the expertise and to prove to their clients that they've taken measurable steps to change the way they were doing business."

Mr. Leo's agency is hiring one or two people a week to work on projects for clients such as Eddie Bauer and Kmart. Most big companies are signed to agencies, he said, and agencies are now hustling to serve a broader market.

The biggest Web development jobs are mainly technical in nature, Mr. Leo said, involving the linking of companies' existing computer systems to their Web sites. "It's like a construction project," he said.

As those jobs are completed, attention is shifted to marketing, Mr. Leo said, which is where agencies such as Avenue A earn their keep. "We make the business profitable after you build the Kmart, getting people to walk down the aisles," he said.

A result has been a shift in focus, Mr. Leo said. "The project manager before was managing creative people and strategists," but those aren't the skills needed to succeed in Web marketing. It's data and technology resources that must be properly harnessed to get the job done, he said.

Another result has been a division in the Web development market. Marketing excellence is found in small firms, Mr. Leo said, while the big technical teams are working for larger companies.

Merging tech, creative

Cynthia Hollen, president of Knowledge Strategies, New York, said she is trying to square that circle by combining her technical and creative people in small, mobile teams so people on both sides can learn from one another.

Ms. Hollen's 4-year-old agency has just 30 employees, but has already lined up clients such as Bloomingdale's and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Ms. Hollen designs her teams to nurture the interdisciplinary skills she said the market now demands.

"It's very difficult to translate between a designer and programmer," she said. "So we don't have an account exec role. We're run more like a consulting firm." Artists could lead some projects, while working under technical people on others.

"A programmer will say, `I don't think I should write this until a designer works with me on user concerns,' " Ms. Hollen said. "Likewise, a graphic designer will say he should talk to programmers about feasibility before going forward. We really are growing and teaching project management skills within our teams."

Ms. Hollen said her flat organizational structure could prove a model for others. "We don't put programmers and designers in separate rooms," she said. "They sit beside one another. They're responsible together. They teach each other regularly."

Ben Isaacson, acting executive director of the Association of Interactive Media in Washington, said many of the people whose resumes are floating throughout the Web development business will land on these smaller, specialized teams.

"Most production companies are specializing in one area or another" in e-commerce, technology or cyber-savvy design, he said. "There are many different categories now."

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