Love at first site

Adam Woods rates the top 10 media agencies' websites to find out if they practise the strong digital communications they preach

Love at first site
Love at first site

Picture the scene: "I have a media account I am thinking of giving to someone," says a potential client to an agency's new business director. "Can you think of any reason I might give it to you?"

The agency man replies: "I am a global marketing organisation with combined billings of $19.7bn and a presence in 750 international markets." He then tells the client about an account win in another country, muses on a burning industry issue from 2007 and volunteers a business card with a switchboard number and generic e-mail address, but no name.

If agencies' new-business heads behaved in person just like their websites, clients would walk away in frustration and plan their own media. Every self-respecting media shop markets itself as a digital expert, but few agencies demonstrate that expertise on their own website.

Matthew Don, technical director at Skive, which overhauled CHI & Partners' website to improve its search performance, says: "It's the case of the cobbler's children's shoes. When you are in the communications business, very often your own website is not the priority."

But if a site fails to distinguish a media agency from its competitors, does not describe what that company does well or fails to make a good impression on potential clients, job-hunters and journalists, then it is at least a missed opportunity and, at worst, a serious own goal.

Scanning the online homes of the UK's top 10 media agencies, guided by three digital and web design professionals, there is evidence of bad practice at every click of the mouse.

Some agency websites don't try very hard; others have tried hard and then given up; and a few have got it almost right.

However, they all fall short of perfection and at a time when clients' money has never been fought over more fiercely, agencies cannot afford to misjudge their critical first point of communication.

 

Carat

Web address

 www.carat.co.uk

Search engine ranking for "Carat" on Google

Second.

Is it easy to find a new-business contact?

No: the first point of contact is an e-mail contact form.

Carat's website knows it should be for the benefit of potential clients, prospective employees, staff and press - structurally, at least.

The news and careers sections are positioned prominently on the homepage, along with the Academy webzine, which makes room for blogs and reader feedback, and there is also some online video dotted around.

But the site's news and blogs need a good update - nothing has been posted since June for the former and July for the latter.

Meanwhile, the Academy's A to Z of jargon only has four entries and, of those, Mediatel is filed under "A". The FAQs section has a good amount of content, although there isn't much sense of the people who work at - or run - the agency. In fact, there are only two contact names on the site, one for new business, the other for press.

Michael Johnson, creative director of design agency Johnson Banks, says: "The Carat website functions okay. You can find things; it's clean and simple; and it has some video. It has what looks like a blogs section, although I couldn't actually work out how to use it and it looks ‘bitty'. But at least the agency is trying."

Website rating: **

 

Initiative

Web address

www.initiative.com

Search engine ranking for "Initiative" on Google

Second.

Is it easy to find a new-business contact?

No: interested parties are invited to e-mail Katja Fisher, who covers Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Initiative has opted for a global site and there is nothing automatically wrong with that, as long as you can find a way to talk to everyone.

While the Initiative site doesn't exclude anyone, it could be described as taciturn. The contacts are there - one for each region, giving names - although it is not clear what role those people fulfil.

The site also features global executive profiles, statements about vision and culture, and some sparse case studies from around the world.

However, once you get into the site, the content is "drab and unexceptional" in Johnson Banks'Michael Johnson's eyes. "How Initiative persuades anyone to use the agency with a site like that is beyond me," he says. "I presume the agency must be great in a pitch, because electronically it is a graveyard."

Website rating: *

 

Maxus

Web address

www.maxusglobal.co.uk

Search engine ranking for "Maxus" on Google

First.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

Yes: the "Get in touch" bar leads to a direct telephone number for Mark Robinson, marketing director.

Maxus, which relaunched its website last month, is included in this feature as a stand-in for PHD, whose site is under construction.

The fact that the smallest agency in the list has arguably the best site, tells us something about the relationship between ambition and web presence. Finn Taylor, director at web design agency Liquid Light, says: "Maxus is obviously a smaller agency and perhaps that means it has to try harder."

The site is crisp, direct, rich in content and is the work of a proper designer, in Taylor's opinion. The agency's Maxus Mouth section has a Twitter feed and recent blog posts from staff at all levels, making Maxus that rare agency that demonstrates its engagement with new technologies.

Taylor says: "Maxus comes out on top in terms of new-media credentials. It has Twitter and a blog - it is giving a nod in that direction. The Maxus Mouth section is neat, but they could have positioned it higher and made a bit more of it, because there is some great content in there."

Website rating: ****

 

MediaCom

Web address

www.mediacomuk.com

Search engine ranking for "MediaCom" on Google

First.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

Yes: "Contact us" leads straight to a list of senior management, providing e-mail addresses and direct telephone numbers.

MediaCom's site gives the strongest impression of being written by people who work in advertising, leading with a gallery of musings on business and marketing.

Further down, there is an industry-leading contacts page - including direct telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, favourite songs, favourite films and self-portraits - and an admirably direct "What do we do?" section, which doesn't assume the reader is already in the industry.

The news is up to date and the content is well written and targeted at the right people. If the "What do we do?" section shows a clear awareness of the need to attract graduates, "Why MediaCom?" cuts through media agency jargon for the benefit of prospective clients.

However, the site falls down on its design, which changes from page to page and masks the true volume of content.

Liquid Light's Finn Taylor says: "MediaCom's site is bigger than it first looks, but the content is hidden away. It looks as though the agency has grown the site by bolting bits together, rather than scrapping it and starting again."

Website rating: ****

 

Mediaedge:cia

Web address

www.mecglobal.com

Search engine ranking for "Mediaedge:cia" on Google

First.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

No: visitors must scroll through a long list of countries and clicking on the United Kingdom brings up "page not found".

Mediaedge:cia's site really is global - when you search by the full agency name, the text in the Google link comes up in Romanian.

Peter McCormack, founder of digital agency McCormack & Morrison, likes the design of MEC's site, but isn't a fan of the agency's logo, which he describes as "a bit of a mess". "I can't really read it," he says. "Also, it should be positioned on the left as it is a natural home link."

A map on the homepage gives global addresses and phone numbers. There are no contact names, although elsewhere there are pictures and profiles of global executives, and the "What we think" section leads through to various up-to-date blogs. Case studies, online video and a Google link on the main page complete MEC's online presence.

McCormack says the site is "attractive and boldly done" - perhaps even a little too bold. "If anything, everything is designed slightly too big, as most of the good information is below the fold," he explains. "But the inner pages are fairly good - there is not too much text, with strong images and videos."

Website rating: ***

 

Mindshare

Web address

 www.mindshareworld.com

Search engine ranking for "Mindshare" on Google

Third (below a holding page for the UK site).

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

No: there are biographies of the global management team under "Our team", but no direct telephone numbers - visitors must go through the main switchboard number on the homepage.

Mindshare's UK site, www.mindshare.co.uk, is updating. In the meantime, it is providing a phone number, a fax, an address and an e-mail address - but no names - and linking through to the group site.

The agency also offers evidence of global clout, with a link to an American profile piece, dressed up with a photo of worldwide chief executive Dominic Proctor and chief strategy officer Nick Emery.

Over on the Mindshare World site, users are immediately confronted with news, opinion and case studies from around the world, including the UK. Regional contact details are easy to find, although there is no reference to the management team of the UK office.

Liquid Light's Finn Taylor says: "Mindshare's site is well-designed: a proper job has been done. There is a lot of content and, in fact, they could have made more of it. On the flipside, although the agency has plenty of blogs, some of them haven't been updated since March 2008."

Website rating: ***

 

OMD

 Web address

www.omd.com

Search engine ranking for "OMD" on Google

Third: www.omd.uk.com belongs to a site for synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

No: "Contact us" on the global site gives the name of Debra Isaacson, business development director, EMEA, but the telephone number provided is the main switchboard for the EMEA HQ.

OMD is the only agency to have "strategic business units" as the second item in its homepage navigation bar, but it also features thorough sections on its people, work and key contacts.

As with many agency sites, the main issue isn't a lack of content, but a tendency to tuck it away and make visitors come and look for it.

McCormack & Morrison's Peter McCormack says: "OMD shows good staff profiles and examples of clients' work on the ‘Our current work' page. If I were OMD, I would lead with the client work on the homepage."

McCormack also rates the news on the homepage, but wishes there was less about corporate wins. Hiding in the bottom-right corner of the same page is an excellent 36-page online magazine called The Insider, which includes a pop-up video interview with UK managing director Jonathan Allan.

However, the site gets the thumbs-down in design terms. McCormack says: "The design is poor, the site is boring, there is far too much text and no signposting to lead the user through their journey. It is also difficult to tell what the agency does from the homepage."

Website rating: ***

 

Starcom MediaVest

Web address

 www.smvgroup.com

Search engine ranking for "Starcom Mediavest" on Google

First.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

No: a search brings up either a switchboard number for the Whitfield Street office or a user-unfriendly interactive location map.

The group's UK site is being overhauled, so if users want any more information than the main phone number on the holding page, they must head to the global site.

Certain design elements are shared between the worldwide and local sites, so users can tell the two are related, but the Flash intro is a turn-off for Johnson Banks' Michael Johnson. He says: "You only have to see the words ‘skip intro' and you know you're in trouble."

However, once inside, things settle down. The site does not have a great deal of personality, but there is a limit to how much users can expect to find out about the character of the UK agency from a global site. On the plus side, EMEA chief executive Iain Jacob is at the top of the regional contacts list, including a personal e-mail address.

The news section focuses exclusively on the US and, unless the network has won no awards since 2006, that section needs updating. The case studies are globally diverse, featuring Mexico, Lebanon and Russia.

Website rating: **

 

Walker Media

Web address

www.walkermedia.com

Search engine ranking for "Walker Media" on Google

First.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

No: "Contact us" brings up the name of Tanya Webb, but does not give her job title or direct telephone number.

Liquid Light's Finn Taylor is dismayed by the look and feel of Walker Media's site. "It's as though they haven't bothered," he says. "If you look at the bottom of the site, the copyright is 2007, and that should be a warning sign to clients that the agency doesn't get digital media."

He adds: "Walker Media needs to be more up to date. And the design is dated and poor - you wouldn't think a designer had done it."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Walker Media's web presence is the billings of more than £300m mentioned in the Google link text.

The site displays photos of key staff, although clicking on them leads to quotes, rather than biographies or direct contact details. There are also case studies, but Taylor says they are "brief and un-illuminating".

He concludes: "The site doesn't tell you anything about what Walker Media is like as an agency."

Website rating: *

 

ZenithOptimedia

Web address

 www.zenithoptimedia.co.uk

Search engine ranking for "ZenithOptimedia" on Google

First - although the top two links are for the global site.

Is it easy to find a direct new-business contact?

Fairly: "Our people" on the homepage brings up switchboard telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for the management team, including Christian Lee, new-business director.

ZenithOptimedia's global sites hog the top two places on the Google rankings, relegating the UK site to third place.

The local site offers direct contacts for management Gerry Boyle, Derek Morris, Christian Lee and Tim Neligan, illustrated with fun pictures, and a scrolling graphic allowing you to browse through other staff members, although not all the people featured still work at the company.

McCormack & Morrison's Peter McCormack baulks at the site's "basic" design, but praises Zenith's content. He says: "I like the fact the agency has a featured campaign and shows its press opinion from the homepage."

Unfortunately, the press section hasn't been updated since March 2007 and the agency's most recent press release dates from April 2006.

The case studies are visible and well presented, although Zenith can probably take the MFI case study down, now the retailer has been in administration for a year.

McCormack thinks the case studies could have been given more prominence in the "Our work" section, rather than the content about insight and ideas. He says: "I don't think people really read the fluff about how people approach work."

Website rating: **

 

 

 

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