Most of my career, I worked for Ad Agencies. In an age of many of us looking for more honesty and authenticity in what we do, I grew weary with the "we only sell what we make", or as a deeply experienced medical colleague said, "I just we could tell our clients the truth about what they really need."
My version of challenging my own Tribe was when I sent a former client a list of 20 questions to ask their Agency before they hired them. Don't get me wrong, everyone sells what they make. There is nothing hypocritical or wrong about it.
But the real rubber-meets-the-road of honesty is: do Agencies eat their own cooking? Does the communications work they promise so brilliantly in PowerPoint to clients and prospects actually come through in their own communications. One way to measure this is to review 4 Agency desktop/mobile sites.
Let's focus on the digital expression of some Agency Brands: Digitas Health, Dudnyk, CDM and Cement Bloc.
Take Digitas Health. http://www.digitashealth.com/
From a UX perspective, they do a good job in keeping you on the Home Page and making the content very "prospect" oriented. Very straight-forward. If the primary audience is fact-gathering, well done. But they are known as a great creative shop and that and their portfolio is absent. The content seems like a celebration of Bios and clever methodologies. Black type on grey pages does not shout "WE'RE CREATIVE!" The conversations between UX and Design must have been, let's say, dynamic. Clearly, it feels like they created a strong, simple User Experience, but dropped the ball on demonstrating what they do — Strategy & Creative.
Their mobile interface (Responsive on a desktop can be fun — just shrink the browser to a mobile size) was well done and reminded me of a Doctor's mobile experience — give me the facts, and fast! Not creative, but highly effective.
All their real content is on their Twitter, Facebook, etc. It is very good content. What is odd to me is that it seems like they hid their content in a bunch of different closets and left the main room rather spare and grey.
As Agencies go, DH is very big. So, let's take an Agency that is more mid-sized — shouldn't they have to work harder to get their Brand across? And what if their Brand is about doing great Branding? That would be Dudnyk (http://dudnyk.com/). They just refreshed their site.
The Home Page grabs and direct you. The use of parallax scrolling is well done — mostly because it allows their story to unfold in a one page visit. They state a big promise and then work very hard to deliver it. You quickly get exposed to their culture and the great creative work they do across all channels. One problem: The navigation is not intuitive once you leave the Home Page — you kind of lose the Home Page and move into a traditional, though beautifully designed, tab-based User Experience so you can get deeper into the content. Since they made their Home Page so effective, a prospect or a client would get it all in 2 minutes and be impressed.
I have heard many people debate the Best Practice that with multiple platforms, you pick one to design from as the base and go out from there. I sense they made two strategic decisions: make the desktop Home Page tell the story beautifully but simply; but let the mobile Home Page be the core.
The headline and the pull-down menu are very effective in delivering rich content and yet you do not lose your "anchor", the menu at the top. If I were in a room hearing them pitch and wanted a sneak peak on my mobile screen I would listen harder. They eat their own cooking as a Brand shop. They speak loud and back it up. It feels powerful.
Back in the Big Leagues, you have CDM (http://www.clinedavis.com/). Their Home Page is noisy…not quite cluttered, but close. And with a prominent Super Bowl reference they are already out-of-date, an example of Brand benign neglect. The design is modern, iconic, visual but the content it aims at is…dull. It feels like it was designed and inward-facing, feels like a community site. It also feels like they are working really hard to be cool to satisfy either a committee. Design by committee is a non-starter, if that is the case.
And their mobile site?
…is much better than their desktop experience. But from a message perspective, they feel insecure — if you have to tell me you are being honest, I immediately doubt it; likewise if you are CDM telling me about being "inspired to do something brave", well, you get my point. Insecure.
Last is one of the larger independent Agencies, Cement Bloc. (http://www.thecementbloc.com/) They keep the visitor on the one page using a curated tile aproach. Fun to play with — and the Belief experience is quite moving as content that speaks to their brand.
Here is the Belief experience:
What I think is admirable is that they speak of their Values and then prove it. The design at first glance stands out, but then you have to squint to read the knock-out white type and try to navigate what grabs your attention — not good! So, A for ideas, D for design. But where they most disappoint is their mobile page…try shrinking yourdesktop browser down to mobile screen size…
They state they are multi-channel, but this is clearly disappointing. Has anyone discussed the Mobile Revolution with them yet? I hate to be harsh, because I do like the content, but this is not well thought out at all.
There are so many Agencies to review, but I wanted to pick a range of big, huge, mid-sized and independent (in that order) not to diss and dismiss but rather to inform and help clients frame how they review their Agencies. Are they eating their own cooking? Are you, a client or prospect, getting what you need from their site and fast? This falls under my "20 questions to ask an Agency before you hire them." Visit their site, play with it; go with a specific task(s) and see how satisfied you feel or if your patience runs out.
Don't get me wrong, everyone sells what they make. There is nothing hypocritical or wrong about it. The fact is, clients should check out Agencies and ask hard questions — including about their own self-promiting materials. I once wrote a client "Top 20 questions to ask your Agency." Why did you chose this approach to your digital Brand — that would be high on my list. (Right behind: who really is going to work on my business?)
I will post my 20 Questions another time. For now, we see that even Agencies doing great work can fall down on their own self-promotion.