}

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Are Most Advertising Agency Websites So Dreadful?

There, I said it.  

In September, 2011, I wrote about agency websites, but at that time I was being tactful.  Many months have passed and I cannot hold back any longer.

I assume that the first place any potential account, search consultant or potential employee looks for information about a company is its website.  The website should make people want to work there, hire the company or at least think positively about it.

Instead, the essential information people are looking for is almost never there.  Once upon a time, the only source of agency information was the Redbook.  This essential reference is still published and contains most of the information that anyone would want to know at a preliminary glance.

scratching_head.jpg image by Pangaea_Interior_Design
When I look on an ad agency website, I want to know the following:  Who are the principals?  What are their accounts?  How big is the shop?  If it is a big firm with multiple offices,where are their offices, what accounts and what people are in which office?  What is their address?

Sadly, most web sites are missing some of this information.  I came across one well known agency where there is none of it.

Ad agency websites should be easy to navigate. Yet when one logs on to the sites of most ad agencies, at 99% of them, their essential information is either buried or, if it is there at all, it is almost impossible to find, often hidden behind some obscure reference.

                                                           

Typical of the issues:  One agency lists its principals, but one cannot determine which offices they are in. Another, lists its accounts under "key players", but doesn't tell who the principals  (I presume they are the "key" players).  Sometimes, I have found agencies that don’t even bother to list their address; they merely give an email address to get more information so that you have to contact them to get simple facts. Why don’t most agencies list their senior executives?  Are they worried about headhunters like me recruiting them? (Don’t worry, I am professional and experienced enough to find anyone and I don’t need the website to point me to them.)

I went on one website of a creative New York agency today and found mostly gibberish.  It contained quotes with irrelevant personal rantings by their unidentified executives.  But I could not find the name of the CEO.  I finally found what I think are their accounts, listed as partners. Nice to call clients partners, but they aren't and might even cringe at the thought of being called partners.

I have been trying to find out why there is a disconnect between the website and the Redbook listing and I think I have figured it out.  The Redbook information is delegated to either the financial or the HR department.  Those people simply answer the questions provided by the publisher and fill out the appropriate Redbook supplied forms.  On the other hand, the website design is generally given to the head of digital or, worse, an outside design company.  These people have no idea what the site is really used for or how it is used so they become “creative”. The result is that site design overwhelms content.

Websites, if I may say so, should be exciting, loaded with usable information and be a reflection of the philosophy and strengths of the company posted.  Instead, I truly believe they are mostly The Emperor's New Clothes.  If I were a client or potential client, I would think twice about hiring a communications company which cannot project itself in a cogent and easily navigated format.  After all, if they can’t sell themselves, how can they sell a client's product or service?

63 comments:

  1. I think we are still describing "digital brochures" rather than real websites.

    Current agency sites are not seen as that important to the success of the agency. Heck, that is how most agencies approach all of their marketing for themselves. "Doctors make the worse patients."

    I'm guilty as charged when it comes to a website, I refuse to put one up because I haven't gotten the look, feel and flow right. I understand it may be hurting our new business but I would rather make no impression rather than a bad one.

    There is a unspoken belief among agencies that websites play little or no part in the agency selection process. They don't see it as a tool as much as a necessity, which means they don't look to use it as much as check it off their list of things to have. Too bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All good points. Someone sent me an email and told me about a survey that says that clients don't believe that agency websites are important indicators. Wrong. See the comment from Chuck Myest below.

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  2. Paul, when you're right, you're right. I found myself saying "Right!" out loud quite a few times as I read this post.

    Mark

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Mark. Sadly, there are only a handful of really good and useful sites that I have seen.

      Delete
  3. Paul, with your permission I'd like to share this with our registered agencies in our next newsletter. We're on the same page ...

    In our agency search process, qualified agency candidates surface initially when the searching client (advertiser) uses our integral website search engine to identify qualified candidates. After we finish an initial telephone client interview (to confirm needs and budget), we let them see their initial candidates list - they're meant to study each agency profile in our database (created from more than 500 datafields).

    Within that profile is a link to the agency website. To your point, here's where the disconnect frequently occurs. So much so that we now view and evaluate each proposed agency website ourselves before sending the list. If they don't make our cut, the client never has to struggle with the issues you've described.

    If only our agencies could listen-in via webinar to hear what the clients have to say ...

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If I may riff off of your very fine comment, Chuck, I'll offer up a reason why this blog entry resonates so much with me:

      Fairly recently, I was speaking to a digital agency that's part of a sizable international advertising/marketing conglomerate (was I a potential client, candidate or on an awards panel? I'll never tell.) that is but one of several digital entities in their stable. I asked the head of new business to compare their core competencies with that of two other sister holdings in the same metropolitan area that served identical business verticals. His answer? "We're better." When asked to elaborate, he said, "Trust me--look at our bench."

      Not only were the bios for said bench out of date/incorrect on their website, but the UI made it impossible to find them readily.

      Perhaps it's a matter of "shoemaker's children," but I'm not buying it.

      Delete
  4. Chuck, you have my permission as long as you include me on your distribution. It is too bad that the agencies you referenced will never know that they did not make the cut because of their websites.

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  5. I remember years ago working for an agency that published an internal report of everyone in account management that worked on the given accounts. They never published it electronically (we got paper years after email was ubiquitous) precisely because someone what paranoid enough to think that headhunters would poach. I suppose this is the logic.

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  6. Well said. I would also add that too often they use jargon and goofy
    expressions to display their hip leadership and they seem actually
    foolish. What on earth is a "Lead Changeolist?" And does it sound more
    clever to have "bespoke" solutions when "individually tailored" is much
    cleared to more people? And, please, let us leave the "evangelists" on
    the dais where they belong. This is marketing, not the second coming.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dorothy: Thanks for your prescient comment. Of course, I fully agree. I can only assume that this kind of gobble y-gook language is to show people how "hip" the agency is. Once upon a time Strunk & White wrote a wonderful book called "The Elements of Style". It is as contemporary today as it was when it was written. In it they preach that simple language communicates best. I wish it were mandatory reading for every writer.

      Delete
    2. Love this. My mother gave me Strunk when I was in high school. After I got over my dismay that it was not about fashion I learned to love it and have it on my old fashioned book shelf to this day! It would benefit all business people who suffer from poor grammar juxtaposed with gibberish.

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    3. Ditto! I kept the last copies of "Elements of Style" and the Chicago Style Manual I used during college. They serve to this day!

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  7. This is a great example of the perils of poor communication. I've said on my blog that marketing is art with a purpose. If the artists don't have a clear idea of what the purpose is, it's almost impossible for them to create an effective message. Somebody needs to let those website designers know why they're creating a website.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Chris, that is exactly the point. Thanks. I suspect that the people designing (and approving) most agency web sites haven't a clue as to what they are for.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm a former copywriter of 30 years turned ad recruiter. Right off I can name three ad agency websites that too cool to be useful:
    - One is a local promotions company -- whoever did their site musta got paid by the word or was a former grave digger as the key info about the company was buried.
    - An old line, international ad agency, part of a conglomerate, that thinks a lot of black space is cool but not much info.
    - A too cool for words, uber hip international agency with lots of black space and a few dots to click on that all say pretty much the same but not what you want to know.
    I'd be happy to name them in private because two I want for clients.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Anoymous: I would love to know which sites you are referring to.

      Delete
  10. Might have you been inspired by this fab tumblr blog, featuring copy ripped straight from agency websites? It's a gem: http://agencywank.tumblr.com/

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I have seen the Tumblr website. they give no attribution and while it is very amusing, I suspect that none of their quote are from known agencies. But I did get a big laugh.

      Delete
    2. I am enjoying the blog post and the comments. Re: the Tumblr, I actually google-searched some of the lines and found they were on real agency sites. Then I spent another hour frantically looking and praying that nothing from our own site made the blog! Truth is funnier than fiction, apparently.

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    3. Paul - They were, originally, attributed via links to the original sites. These were eliminated, for reasons we can only (or easily) guess.

      Delete
  11. Unfortunately, agency web sites (and I have to say "we" since ours is among them) don't know exactly what they are there for. So, the poor UI and Nav is because of that. Imagine mapping directions, but you don't know your destination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jonathan: See my comment below to Dan Bollin. The articulation of the mission is up to the CEO or Chairman. But I know you are right.

      Delete
  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  13. A juicy topic, Paul. Some thoughts from inside the fence:

    Creating a brand is hard. Creating a brand for a company that creates brands is harder, because the attributes of the ultimate output (the creative work) are malleable. The only things an agency can legitimately sell with vigor are 1) an ethos and 2) a reason to believe the company can deliver against that ethos. Agencies can frame the latter with creative work, but selling the former is where it gets thorny: I think surprisingly few companies have articulated, no less widely embraced, an ethos. And boy-oh-boy, when writers, designers, strategists, and executives work on a project with such wispy foundations, things can get a little crazy.

    Secondly, groupthink is a major hurdle. Because a company website represents everyone, there's a tendency to involve a boatload of opinions in the process, especially when everyone in the company communicates for a living. There's no client to offer final word, and definitive answers are scarce. Likely the best course of action is to dedicate a small and trusted task force to create the site, and to provide them relative autonomy to create a badass result. Yet doing so requires a high degree of trust and a willful suppression of egos...qualities most agencies tend to struggle with...

    Finally, I think we are all a little bit loopy from years and years of a buyers market. Used to be that if you were a big agency that won awards, you got the RFP. Now, maybe you're too big. Maybe you're too small. Maybe you don't have enough social, maybe you're too social. When facing ambiguity about the expectations of our customers, it can be easier to say nothing of substance. Not better. But easier.

    None of those points excuse the oddities you mention like not putting an address on the page. Nor do they excuse lack of clarity about a company's ambitions. They are just some of the roadblocks. Our challenge is to blow those roadblocks to bits, say things we mean, take a few leaps of faith, and put a face on the company that both the agency and client can get down with.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dan: All good points and, unfortunately, all true. However, hopefully the last word is with the agency CEO or Chairman - that person should have the vision. If an agency cannot articulate its own position for itself, how can they do it for a client? Once upon a time, I visited a client agency. They presented their generic new business presentation to me. I thought their mission statement was elegant and perfect: Their mission was to accomplish their clients objectives. So simple. Surely one could build a great website against that.

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    1. Totally fair, Paul. As marketers we are forever promoting clarity and consistency, yet we are often willing to ignore those fundamentals when casting our gaze within. Talk about mixed signals.

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  15. Paul -- the tumblr blog now added the links to the websites. A bunch were from suprising places. And indeed all very wanky. Some of them made me laugh out loud because i know what REALLY goes on inside of them.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Totally agree and it's even more nerve wracking when the content on the website is dated. Speaking from a job seeker perspective, agency websites are the most unhelpful. How can some agencies claim to be good digital shops when they can't sort out their own websites IA and UX?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are many agencies, including the big ones, who assume that the posting of a website is objective. Because the websites are done by senior people or outside vendors, the agencies don't think that someone has to be assigned to constantly update both the site and the technology.

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  17. What I find most amazing about far too many agency executives is the total lack of understanding that their company website is - first and foremost - a SALES TOOL! Designed to provide detailed, accurate and truthful information to curious new business prospects that may have, at least, an initial interest in possibly doing business together.

    Which is to say, if new biz client-types can’t get the basic facts they immediately want to know directly from the horse’s mouth … you’re probably out at first sight!

    Fancy or creative digital design is good but it will never supplant a motivating “reason why” to buy; and ostentatious demonstrations of media delivery proficiency via the internet, mobile device or social media are now generic among most legitimate agencies.

    I hope one day to have the pleasure of representing an agency that gets all this before I die. LOL, Bill Crandall

    ReplyDelete
  18. Paul,

    I too am surprised by how awful ad agency sites can be. Then again, agencies can do a pretty sad job of communicating about themselves, both externally and internally.

    It appears that your topic is popular this week. Adweek wrote about the Agency Wank Tumblr: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/was-your-agencys-horrible-website-written-wanker-146718

    In addition to the random comment, and the insane hyperbole, I sometimes am surprised by the poor functionality. Today I tried to go to the "careers" section of one of the largest media agencies' sites, only to be directed back to the homepage.

    Thank,
    Scott

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    1. Scott: The functionality of the sites don't surprise me. Most are so poorly thought out in the first place. What gets me most is that in many cases the "contact" page does not list the address(s), phone numbers, or the critical people. Rather, it makes you send an email to the "info" box, which, of course, rarely is answered.

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    2. RE: "Today I tried to go to the "careers" section of one of the largest media agencies' sites, only to be directed back to the homepage."

      And a telling reflection on the current state of Careers in Advertising.

      Delete
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  20. "WARNING: This may cause discomfort, queasiness, irritability, and aggressive behavior. The subject? "Your agency Web site: Is it exciting anyone?" Because after viewing a ton of agency sites it's clear that The Agency Site is not at the top of many agency CEO's To-Do list."

    That's how I began my 2005 ADWEEK column on the topic after noticing that some agencies (ie: ex-partners) didn't even have a website. From your post it sounds like not a lot's changed.

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  21. Paul: Most website are not created by Creative Directors. Websites should really have the same unique creative, relevance and effectiveness as any work produced by the agency. Most website designers don't do TV, Radio, print, outdoor, packaging as creative directors do every day to promote client products and services.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Stan: You are partially right. It doesn't matter who does them, what counts is that they understand how and why websites are used. Creative people think in terms of design; web designers provide navigation, but can only respond to what they are told should be there.

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  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  23. Well, I would like to say that this is not a true thing as there are many companies who have developed their websites and given full information so that the client can hire them and flourish their business with their help.
    advertising agency miami

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carol: Thanks for the comment. But from the other responses, I would guess you are in a minority. However, I appreciate your thoughts.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please do not use this website to promote your agency.

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  28. interesting blog, i would like to see more post about Las Vegas Advertising Agency please post more information about this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jean: I don't post about specific ad agencies. However, if you have a question, please email me directly and I will try to answer it.

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  29. Hi Paul - Thanks for the thoughtful comments. As web editor for our association of smaller agencies (Second Wind), I frequently scour member websites for current member news. It is disheartening to see how few agencies update blogs, press pages (where they have them--most don't), and social feeds. I recently clicked on a Facebook button on a member website; it directed me to the main Facebook landing page, not to the agency page. Jawdropping. As for understanding the new business objective of an agency site, we see virtually no call to action buttons, email capture efforts or easy-to-find contact info. Same thing on social media pages, which could be tools for engaging prospects. Shoemaker's children.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Deborah, see below to see my comment to Bob Sanders. You are totally right. Unfortunately, the website seems to remain in the domain of creative directors who fail to understand its real purpose and see it as a an opportunity to show off their design. Bob Sanders commented in his post that so many sites are over designed. I couldn't agree more. In this case form should not trump function; it should be the other way around. To your point, I wonder how many agencies have NOT been hired because of poor websites.

      Delete
  30. Great conversation, and something I've been thinking about for sometime! Mostly as I wonder from agency site to agency site, something finding what I'm looking for, but most often not.

    So I wrote up a post, and as I was looking for a few points of view I found this site. Great job!

    Here is my take, and I hope you all enjoy:
    So Why Do So Many Ad Agency Websites Suck? http://www.sandersconsulting.com/many-ad-agency-websites-suck/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bob, Thanks so much for your fine blog post and for the link back to this. A creative director who saw this post emailed me privately to tell me how wrong I am. His contention was that his agency's site was to position the agency and leave a sense of how good they are. I told him he was missing the boat and just today sent him to your post. What a missed opportunity for so many agencies.

      Delete
  31. huh... the link didn't go through, so here we go again:

    Let's try this: Why Do So Many Ad Agency Websites Suck?.


    And thank you for letting me link, I've placed a link back to this page on my post as well!

    B

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Glad you left this link. I was just about to go and show it to my readers. Thanks for saving me the trouble. I hope your post gets read and listened to.

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    2. Thank you! I hope we all see some improvements out in agency land!

      B

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