Web shops add services to rival traditional agencies

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Before Craig Gugel joined Organic Online last year, he said research was done on an ad hoc basis there.

"They didn't have formal research managers," said Mr. Gugel, a VP-chief research & media services officer at Organic Online, New York. "Now, it's been five months and there are three on staff and growing."

A former director of media resources and research at Bates Worldwide, New York, Mr. Gugel said he thought it was only natural that an interactive agency offer everything a traditional agency does--but modified for the Web: account management, media planning, strategic planning and research capabilities.


Adding those services is essential if interactive shops are to stay competitive, said Glenn Meyers, president-CEO of independent agency Rare Medium, New York, who recently hired Courtney Shore, the former VP-director of interactive communications at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, as managing director of client services. At DMB&B, Ms. Shore oversaw Procter & Gamble Co. brands, including Pampers. Mr. Meyers said in five months since joining Rare Medium, Ms. Shore has helped win business from Johnson & Johnson and managed accounts like Nestle.


Rare Medium has also recently hired Carolina Kuczynski as director of its newly formed professional services practice, which will focus on helping clients establish electronic commerce on their sites and integrate e-commerce with offline distribution.

Ms. Kuczynski was an executive producer at Icon CMT Corp., Weehawken, N.J., a consulting group, which hosts sites and publishes the zine Word.com.

Adding business services is "essential for us to stay ahead of the curve, as the [traditional] agencies try to align themselves with interactive developers or buy interactive shops," Mr. Meyers said. "Just being good at creative or the technology isn't going to be enough anymore."

Many of Rare Medium's clients are package-goods businesses that are "used to dealing with highly sophisticated agencies," Mr. Meyers added.


K2 Design, New York, which refocused its efforts two years ago as a full-service interactive agency, has also beefed up its account management services.

"We used to have seven people who went out and sold Web sites," said David Centner, CEO of K2. But a year ago, Mr. Centner said the agency realized it was working with big companies and "we made a concerted effort to strengthen our account services." It hired several account managers from agencies including Bozell Worldwide, Jordan McGrath, Case & Taylor and the Lord Group.

As more content clutters the Internet, there's also a demand for better media services at agencies.

"Online media planning two years ago was, `Create a Web site and hope for the best,' " said Rich LeFurgy, senior VP, ABC News/

ESPN Internet Ventures, and chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau.

"Now marketers are realizing [the Web] is no different from any medium--You have to spend some money," he said.

Some of the services clients need include media and account planning tailored for the Web. "It's a blend between account management and media, and figuring out the many different ways you can get in front of the right audience," Mr. LeFurgy said.

Mr. LeFurgy also thinks that big agencies are missing opportunities by treating the interactive shops they buy as strategic investments, rather than trying to integrate all the agencies' skills together.


I-traffic, a New York-based Internet media buying and consulting company, recently began offering a strategic alliances service to its e-commerce clients.

Myles Weissleder, i-traffic director of marketing, said this service is designed to help clients get their brands in the most opportune areas online--such as search engines or Web start pages--and then garner the biggest presence there possible.

"That could mean we're helping our clients negotiate the terms of exclusivity deals," Mr. Weissleder said.


And once those deals are signed, he added, i-traffic could track a client's ad units and make sure they're getting the appropriate click-through rates.

Clients like NetGrocer, which handles its online media buying in-house, came to i-traffic for its specialized service, he added.

Some of the services popping up in interactive shops hail directly from conventional media. For instance, Organic Online's Mr. Gugel said it conducts traditional focus groups--both offline and online--to test Web sites and banners.


Organic also conducts usability tests, which are one-on-one interviews with users as they test-drive a Web site.

"Many sites are becoming more complex, with more pieces of information and areas that users can go into," Mr. Gugel said. These tests are critical because "sites can succeed or fail depending on how easy they are to use."

But some interactive shops, such as New York-based Agency.com, argue they've included these business services in their agency offerings all along.

"We've had account services from Day 1," said Kyle Shannon, chief creative officer at Agency.com

"It's less of a sales function and increasingly becoming a consulting function," he added. "The scope and scale of the account manager is expanding as the medium matures."


While Agency.com does everything in-house--from strategic planning to creative--Mr. Shannon doesn't believe its model is unusual anymore. "I think we may have been unique in the early days, but less so now," he said.

Ultimately, however, he believes there's room for speciality design agencies, Web developers and full-service interactive agencies. "Some companies are getting [these services] through partnering," Mr. Shannon said. "I think we're going to see lots and lots of models as the industry evolves."

Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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