An agency Web site isn't merely a brochure; it can benefit current and prospective clients.
A recent Web Marketing Association report asserted that PR agency Web sites ranked among the worst in the online world. While judging consumer sites against professional service sites is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, agency sites certainly can be improved.
Success is probably best measured by how well a site focuses on and serves its primary purpose, and according to GCI Group CEO Jeff Hunt, content should depend on that primary purpose. Is it for business development, recruitment, or maybe to target journalists?
GCI Group's Web site is used as a marketing vehicle. Jeff Hunt says, "It needs to talk about who we are, our business philosophy, our approach to measurement, accountability - our core attributes. That's the dominant reason it exists."
Unfocused and overcrowded sites are counterproductive. Sites that spotlight an agency's identity and strengths, and provide examples of its value, are the most productive.
"We get into a trap where we talk to ourselves, trying to impress peers versus providing information that is educational," says Andy Ernsting, VP business development Barkley Evergreen & Partners. "The perfect [professional service] site should [show] attitude, personality, and expertise in a couple of clicks. [People] want to find what's there, and what's relevant - things cannot be buried."
Last year, Ogilvy PR Worldwide won a Standard of Excellence award from the Web Marketing Association for the redesign of ogilvypr.com. "As agencies get smarter about using their Web site, it's going to go in the direction of content," says Rohit Bhargava, Ogilvy VP interactive marketing. "Thought leadership distinguishes the site."
Tech Image launched its fourth-generation site in January after rethinking the site's purpose from its audience's point of view. Says COO Dennis Collins, "We reinforce that we do tech, and that we're unique philosophically in that a lot of PR firms don't link themselves to sales activity. We lead with results and philosophy. People, resources, and how we do it, is a couple of levels down."
Ogilvy has included blogfeeds, an RSS-friendly index of blogs Ogilvy staffers feel are of interest to clients and potential clients, and in-house blogs on its site. "The challenge with [marketing-focused] sites is to create something to bookmark," Bhargava says. "As blogfeeds change, that page changes. It's great for them to see headlines aggregated in one place, and it's a familiar medium because they are used to seeing media monitoring reports the same way. It's been a successful way of engaging clients, and it's creating something they can share with their colleagues."
Two Ogilvy clients asked the agency to create the same kind of Web site for them. "The most successful of our Web sites show a prospective client how we would work with them," Bhargava says.
Sites can be used as research tools via visitor surveys. For about a month, Barkley Evergreen has used a survey to determine who is visiting and what they want. The agency also tracks people based on outreach efforts by directing them to specific URLs.
"It helps with thought leadership and expert positioning and gives me names and numbers of people interested in [our] services," Ernsting says.
Many agency sites suffer simply because they don't receive the same consistent attention as client sites. Updating is critical and requires dedicated resources.
"[Your site] needs to be a living, breathing, evolving picture of who you are and the personality of your company," Ernsting says. "If I was a client and the most current information on your site is [dated] 2004, that would be an immediate red flag."
Tech Image decided a couple of years ago to take its own medicine by becoming its own client, complete with budget, in-house team, and external contracts. Barkley Evergreen also dedicates hours each week to itself. Blogfeeds have helped Ogilvy deal with update and resource challenges.
"Blogfeeds [are] self-updating, so you don't have that team requirement," Bhargava says. "We feel like the content is starting to reflect what we are capable of, which is always tricky because of the updating cycle."
Dedicate resources to your own site
Illustrate thought leadership
Track users, address their needs, and keep them returning
Bury pertinent information
Let your site get outdated or make it difficult to update
Crowd your site with information that's irrelevant to users