Glancing at major agency Web sites that went up in late '95, the majority retain much the same look, with occasional added Shockwave touches. The excuses for not creating a site or letting an existing one go stale pile up faster than tires in a landfill. They run the gamut from "agencies are too busy working for clients" to "Why spend time on something that's not billable and isn't likely to attract new business?" But for every excuse, there's a new-media person who'll argue for
a Web presence, and ask, "How likely is it that a client will place a Web project with an agency when that agency can't muster up a site up for itself?"
"It's a Catch-22," says Blake Robin, director of digital media at Margeotes Fertitta & Partners, New York. "If you don't have a Web site, you won't get more Web sites," he says. But at the same time, energy spent on the agency site could result in missed opportunities to work for clients. Additionally, if this medium is going to be a major component in future advertising, then where in the Web are agencies like Wieden & Kennedy or Goodby Silverstein & Partners?
"We talk about it all the time," confesses Jeff Goodby, creative director at GS&P. But there is such a divergence of opinions on the subject, Goodby explains, they haven't been able to agree on anything yet. When they finally put up a site, Goodby predicts, "it'll be something democratic and weird," like a "bulletin board with graffiti." Goodby isn't underestimating the im-portance of the Web; its design division is already immersed in sites for Hewlett-Packard and Porsche. But he believes the technology has yet to evolve. "There isn't a Charlie Chaplin in interactive yet," he says.
Jack Supple, creative director at Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, shares Goodby's view. "The phone still seems to work and clients call us that way," says Supple, who likens the rush to get on the Web to the Oklahoma settlers, who were just concerned with making it to the frontier, and not caring if they had to live in a jerry-built sod house or, in Web-speak, an HTML hut. As soon as the technology speeds things up and improves creative expression, Supple says, their interest will pick up. Already he says they're contributing to the site for client Harley-Davidson, which was created by VSA Partners in Chicago and San Francisco's Organic Online.
Even some agencies that have separate new-media units, like San Francisco's Hal Riney & Partners, whose Saturn site was recognized in Wired as a premier example of Web advertising, don't have an agency site; nor is Riney planning one, aside from a private Intranet. They're too busy churning out work for clients, explains Erik Radock, interactive project manager, adding, "We don't advertise ourselves."
But is self-promotion the only reason to have an agency Web site? "The mad rush to build something has changed," says Steve Klein, director of media and interactive services at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in New York, who admits that updating KB&P's site has often been shelved in favor of client work. "How often do you find agencies doing house ads? When they happen they're rare things."
But Klein still values Kirshenbaum's site for its ability to recruit staff. So far the site has saved the agency from paying hefty headhunter fees on two full-time hires, as well as attracting "bucketfuls" of interns, according to Klein. He also employs the site as a programming think tank to test ideas for clients. For instance, they created an interactive map of Soho to show a local client how they could apply the map to their site.
"The more you play the more you learn," adds Vicki Niemiec, creative supervisor of new media at Martin/
Williams, Minneapolis, explaining how they also test ideas on the agency's site. In one area they have something called a Concept Generator, which, working off a Martin/Williams database, plays a game around the idea of automated advertising. Site guests can input certain advertising ideas, and wait for the computer to output an ad execution.
"If you don't do some of that on your own, you're going to be losing money doing it for clients," Niemiec asserts. "There's a constant research and development thing going into this-it's not like doing a TV spot where everyone is experienced."
Still, some will argue that having a site is a waste of time. Shannon Mullen, interactive communications director at Lowe SMS, New York, says they discussed a site briefly in '96. "We don't advertise for this agency in any other medium so why should we advertise in this one?" Mullen asks. In addition, because Lowe hires out most of its
production for projects such as an upcoming refresh (Webspeak for re-design) of Smirnoff's Web site, there's no need to tinker with programming concepts in-house, she explains.
But Mullen does see some relevancy in using the new media for research or to develop an electronic leave-behind, such as a CD-ROM or a Web page, which a potential client could peruse after a sales pitch. Developing an entire agency Web site though, she says, "is misspent energy."
But while potential clients might not be perusing the Web for ad agencies, they might be more likely to consider a shop if they have a Web presence. For instance, Nat Whitten, co-creative director at Weiss Whitten Stagliano found that their (www.wwsworld.com) site helped them attract clients like Prodigy, which wanted an agency with design and Internet experience. He admits that they've scaled their site back considerably from last year. "Rather than being this huge super link, we're focusing on ourselves more," Whitten says. Keeping the site updated is major task, he adds, explaining that 40 Web pages is the equivalent of 40 print ads. "It's like writing a book-you have to make sure you don't lose your shirt doing it."
The seductive thing about a Web site is that "it's easy to launch it," agrees Anthony Manson, senior VP-group director at Y&R New Technologies, which was formed in '96. "It's the maintenance-if you're not ready you're better off not doing it at all. Why would you go to an agency Web site that's old?" Point your browser at the Team One Web site (www.team-oneadv.com), for instance, and you'll find agency contact information along with: "How many ways can you say the work speaks for itself?" in big type at the top of the page. Click on the word "Speak" and you'll pop up at its client's Lexus Centre of Performance Art site.
Margeotes' site adheres to a similar principle. "We went with a bare bones approach," says Robin, explaining how they tried to squeeze a little philosophy up there along with contact info and examples of work for clients. "It's what we could do."
However, sometimes not having a Web site masks an agency's overall reluctance or fear to venture into the interactive medium. For some shops it might not be a priority, seeing that they've done fine without it so far. For instance, Wieden & Kennedy isn't in the running for the creation of Nike's upcoming Web site. Or it could be that there's still a lack of consensus on the official paradigm for creating a Web site. Is it a close-knit relationship between in-house Web programmers and a creative team, or do agencies hire out for programming, like they would with a commercials director? While places like Lowe argue that it's not up to them to keep up with programming technology, Manson at Y&R argues that that's precisely why agencies should keep programming in-house. "You need your own team of specialists to stay on top of it," he says. "I call it the velocity of change. You have to prepare because every week it's something new."
To Manson and many others it's not a choice of whether or not to learn interactive advertising; "In our minds this is the future of communicating to the consumer, and some agencies are watching the work walk out the door." And most importantly, if ad agency interactive units want to compete on an equal footing with the small Web savvy shops that are sweeping up many of the Web assignments lately, Chris Hess, creative director at DDB Interactive in Dallas, believes it's essential they have sites of their own. "It's your business card," Hess says, explaining how most of these small outfits have cool image-driven sites that sell the company like nothing else can. "As a developer, it's important that we're up there with the rest of the boutiques."
Not everything turned up stale on agency Web sites this year. A recent check of Weiss Whitten Stag-liano's site revealed that it was poking fun at the Presidential elections, but it also offers some fun contests and games. The design is fresh, with bouncing icons moving around colorful boxes.
Directing Web surfers through low and high bandwidth versions has become standard, but at Anderson-Lembke the choices are creatively illustrated. After choosing Fun over the Serious route, you can find your way into entertaining essays such as the Daily Dose of Advertising section, which contains the Sellout Auteur du Jour where the Coen Bros. are flagellated for a Honda spot.
While many agencies do a sloppy job of spreading their wares around a site, DDB Needham interactive has come up with a clever and clean way of compressing its work by highlighting cool screen shots in an animated slide show with a scrolling client list down the side of the page with their brand logos and names.
TBWA Chiat/Day's Idea Factory has a clean design that uses Shockwave sensibly, for once. It also weaves a theme throughout the site, using the Idea Factory concept to navigate users through sections labeled Raw Materials, Manufacturing and Products, all of which explain the agency's philosophy. In Raw Materials you can read about the inspiration behind the ads, aided by an online research department that offers essays on subjects like Mythology and the Internet.
At Periscope Advertising, Minneapolis, the interactive group, known as PING, leads users through a comic strip about a submarine ad-venture to get across its new-media pitch. While a tad corny, the site is so intriguingly offbeat you may find yourself filling out a message-in-the-bottle e-mail to the site's Captain.
AGENCY WEB SITES
l Arnold Advertising www.arnoldnet.com
l The Ad Store www.the-adstore.com
l Anderson-Lembke www.anderson-lembke.com
l N.W. Ayer & Partners (interactive division) www.blue.marble.com
l Bozell www.bozell.com
l Clark Goward www.clarkgoward.com
l Crispin Porter & Bogusky www.crispinporter.com
l Dahlin Smith White www.dsw.com
l DDB Needham Interactive www.ddbniac.com
l Earle Palmer Brown www.epb.com
l Eisaman, Johns & Laws www.ejl.com
l Fallon McElligott www.fallon.com
l Farago Advertising www.farago.com
l FCB (interactive division) www.fcb-tg.com
l Frankfurt Balkind www.frankfurtbalkind.com
l Greenberg Seronick & Partners www.tiac.net/users/gsanp
l Heater Easdon www.heater-easdon.com
l HHCC www.hhcc.com
l Ingalls Quinn & Johnson www.iqj.com
l J. Walter Thompson www.jwtworld.com
l Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners www.kb.com
l Laughlin Constable www.laughlin.com
l Leagas Delaney www.leagas.com
l Leo Burnett www.leoburnett.com
l The Leap Partnership www.leapnet.com
l Margeotes Fertitta & Partners www.margeotes.com
l The Martin Agency ww.martinagency.com
l Martin/Williams ww.martinwilliams.com
l Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer www.mvbms.com
l Mintz & Hoke www.mintz-hoke.com
l Mullen www.mullen.com
l Ogilvy & Mather www.ogilvy.com
l O'Keefe Marketing www.okeefe.com
l Pagano Schenck & Kay www.psk.com
l Periscope www.ps-mpls.com
l Poppe Tyson www.poppe.com
l The R&D Group (The Richards Group) www.x-ads.com
l The Richards Group www.richards.com
l Richardson Myers & Donofrio www.rmd.com/pub/rmd/home.html
l Romann & Tannenholz www.cyclops.com
l Rubin Postaer & Associates www.rpa.com
l Saatchi & Saatchi (New York office) www.saatchiny.com
l Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications www.saatchibuscomm.com
l TBWA Chiat/Day www:tbwachiatday.com
l Team One www.teamoneadv.com
l The Weightman Group www.weightman.com
l Weiss Whitten Stagliano www.wwsworld.com
l Williams & Rockwood www.wr.com
l Winkler McManus www.winklermcmanus.com
l Witt/Rylander www.wra.com
l Woolward & Partners www.woolward.com