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Agencies Get Social

Take a look at the typical agency Web site and you'll find a 60-second intro seemingly created by Industrial Light & Magic, a portfolio full of award-winning work and staff photos that make you want to grab a beer with every person at the shop. The look is fun, sophisticated, the information helpful. But is it enough? For some, the answer's no.

Agency sites, once a sea of client work and clever copy, increasingly are experiments in social media and other Web 2.0 technology. The goal of an agency is not only to show potential clients its ability to create state-of-the-art experiences with site navigation, aggregation and customization, but to create forums for consumer insights about the shop and its work.

"For clients searching for an agency and doing their own research, the Web site is very important," says David Beals, president and CEO of new-business consultancy Jones Lundin Beals. "It's a first peek of what the agency is about, what they stand for. … If a client is very into social media or networking, an agency can send out that signal through their own Web site."

Crispin Porter + Bogusky's beta site has gotten the most buzz, but other innovative agencies include Ignited, Modernista!—one of the first to dive into social media—and BooneOakley. Alex Bogusky, Crispin's co-chairman, refers to his agency's site, which integrates live Twitter feeds and blogger posts, as a "giant digital fishing net." Winston Binch, vp, managing director of interactive at Crispin, adds that "with tools like Twitter you can see what conversations are happening about your brand [and are being said] about you. We wanted to embrace [social media] to see what our work is doing."

The site, according to the agency, gets approximately 1,000 visits per day, with visitors staying an average of 8 minutes.

David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist and author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, says he believes other agencies will follow suit, and that most sites will be "much less like a brochure, more like The Wall Street Journal-places people can instantly see what's going on at an organization."

At modernista.com, users will find a menu—Modernista!'s "home page"on the left-hand side, an agency blog, a user-generated wall and a call to connect on Facebook. A navigation bar links to work at sites such as Flickr and YouTube, and to Google for news.

Ignited's site was designed as a mosaic with extensively tagged fields that provide recommendations based on user searches. Visitors can share stories via Facebook or subscribe to an RSS feed.

As for BooneOakley, its URL redirects visitors to a YouTube channel where the agency is introduced via a comic, cautionary tale about Billy, a stick-figure marketing guy who picks a traditional agency and pays with his life. It's embedded with links to other videos that tell the agency's story by showing off work, bios and other info.

According to BooneOakley co-creative director David Oakley, their Web presence has generated 15-20 client inquiries and one confirmed project from a company he says contacted the agency based solely on its site.

Web-design experts note that agency sites should have prime search engine optimization; it's a service clients expect agencies to provide them, so what better way to demonstrate expertise than to code correctly and come up on top in Google searches?

And Benjamin Palmer, co-founder and CEO of The Barbarian Group, cautions that social media-aware sites need "to make a commitment to maintaining" the content to avoid becoming static.

One thing that's on the outs in these new sites: the flashy Flash intro. "It's really dropping off and that's a good thing," says Binch. "Flash can't take over the experience [because] people want things quick."

"It comes down to somebody looking to find a key piece of information on a deadline," says Palmer. That's a point echoed by Beals, who says research shows marketers sometimes want only basic info, so sites should include easily tracked facts and recent work.

Agencies looking to update their sites might skip asking Palmer. "If there's one job we turn down on a consistent basis, it's redesigning an ad agency Web site," he says. "It's the worst fucking job in the world! You have 15 creative directors and everybody has their own idea of what's cool."

--Nielsen Business Media