How do you advertise yourself online if you're an ad agency? For the leading shops the answer must be unclear because half the top 10 agencies (ranked by 1996 gross revenue) do not currently have a real site of their own.
Three of the top agencies have pages that boast a full site will be coming soon, but two more have no sites to offer Web surfers. Young & Rubicam launched its site in late February.
We spent some quality time surfing with a critical eye through a sample of agency sites that do exist and found that many of the agency sites follow the "corporate pamphlet" model of Web sites that was common for marketers in 1995 and 1996.
Many of the agency Web sites seem to share similar goals. As Joe Mackin, Ogilvy & Mather's Web manager, summed it up for his site, "It works to communicate our brand to those interested in having us work on theirs."
EXPRESSING THE AGENCY'S BRAND
O&M tried to distinguish itself and create a site that's a brand of its own. It launched Brandnet in 1995 to help define its notion of "brand stewardship." It takes the unusual step of running ads that it created for its clients as well.
Of course visitors can also find a generous helping of pithy quotes from founder David Ogilvy--primarily to benefit students who have read his books in advertising classes, said Nora Slattery, O&M's director of communications. The agency responds to all e-mail the site generates, especially from students seeking help with papers, she said.
Other agencies, like TBWA/Chiat Day, try to create a unified theme within their sites. The content presented is much the same as with the other agencies. However, its tagline, "Industrial strength ideas," is carried out both in the starkness of the design and the ways in which it breaks down the information, including "raw materials," "manufacturing" and "product."
BBDO and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners imbue their sites with lighter details such as Kirshenbaum's "office e-mail" section, which sets the tone of its corporate culture by providing examples of actual inter-office e-mail memos. BBDO lists different places where its creatives find their inspiration such as at the bars and in the shower.
As for those that don't have sites? Wally Petersen, senior VP-communications at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, said, "Until now, our focus has really been on developing interactive solutions for our clients--primarily through [Burnett's interactive branch] Giant Step".
J. Walter Thomson is currently in the planning stages of re-launching its site. Vivid Studios, San Francisco, created a site more than two years ago which JWT has now taken down and replaced with a "Coming Soon"|page. David Riemer, president of JWT| West explains, "There are new directions the company is going in and new things we want to say about it. [Web sites] are a living, breathing communications vehicle and they need to be evolved."
JWT has no launch date set, nor are they sure whether they will develop it in-house or through an outside vendor, according to Riemer. Burnett plans a June launch for its new site at www.leoburnett.com.
PULLING IT OFF WITH STYLE
Web design firms seem to have the same goals for their sites as traditional agencies. They just communicate them with more personality and often with extra features not found in the brochure-like agency sites.
For one reason, the design firms' sites become more important sales tools. Nathan Shedroff, chief creative officer for Vivid Studios, said that prospective clients almost always go through Vivid's site before approaching the firm. He sees the Vivid site as "an initial conversation between the company and clients."
Most of the agency sites are also tools for prospective employees as well. Both interactive and traditional agencies tend to list updated job openings. Vivid's site goes beyond listings with its "Become a multimedia hipster in 12 easy steps." This humorous section details the office, its surroundings and a list of movies and books that employees should be familiar with if they want to fit into the office culture.
Streams Online Media Development, Chicago, finds that the approach it takes with its site helps attract the kind of employees it's looking for. "It inspires creative people to respond and be creative in their responses," said president and creative director Dave Skwarczek.
TATTOOS AS A SALES TOOL
Streams shows off its lighter side--granted with a tech-savvy backend--through the Internet cult classic, Piercing Mildred. The game allows users to pick a character and give it body piercings and tattoos using the in-game currency. "It's an unlikely sales tool," said Mr. Skwarczek. Streams positions itself as a creative-focused Web shop. "We get a lot of press for [Mildred]. In a world of client-driven design, it allows us to go out and show in an extreme way what we're talking about."
Still, not all Web companies have a strong Web presence. One of the industry's founding fathers, Modem Media, Westport, Conn., has only a page linking to its clients' sites--allowing its work to speak for itself.
Overall, the agency sites are disappointing. Most fail to show the boundary-breaking creativity in marketing themselves that we expect in the work they do for their clients, who clearly believe in having strong images on the Web.
Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.