Feature

Media: Opinion - Agency websites: not bad, but nothing to write home about

One thing that becomes immediately clear when you start writing a column is that you won't get anywhere if you don't make stuff up. Just rely on the news and you'll have nothing to write about.

I'm not suggesting anyone makes up "facts" or invents agencies or anything like that, but you quickly start manufacturing opinions you don't really hold and start doing things just so you can write about them. Which is how I found myself armed with a copy of Campaign's Top 100 Agencies and a Google search bar, researching agency websites and trying to find some scandalously old-school agency behaviour that I could wave a digital finger at before lecturing about Web 2.0. I have to tell you, gentle reader, I failed. I visited every one, and while very few of them were very good, none were laughably bad, which leaves me slightly columnless.

But we shall plough on, because there's enough bad out there that there's fun to be had. For example, there's a Top Ten UK agency whose website only loads four times out of ten. There's another where the link from the global site to the UK portal just takes you back to where you started, in a pointless circle of despair.

Many of the 100 have sections marked "news" that would be better labelled "last time we won something" - most of these were last updated in December, when said agency won "something of the year".

Clearly no one regards losing an important person or account as newsworthy. More broadly, there's just an antiquated, unregarded feeling to most of the sites; they're sad little shrines to once-fashionable technologies, mementos of the annual drive to "do something about the website". One digital agency proudly points you to its podcast, but when you explore the archive, you discover it has done precisely two, both in the summer of 2006.

We can all guess what happened there: someone left, a pitch got in the way, energy just ran out, and no-one seemed to mind. These sites live in a land where "skip intro" is an acceptable term, where what you actually want to find (a map of the offices, the name of the recruitment person) is buried deep below award-winning animation, and the opportunity for interaction is limited to e-mailing the managing director about giving them your account. Like I said, it's not terrible, it's just not very good.

The bright spots are the media agency sites. Many have decided to offer something useful to the visitor, so there are loads of great opinion pieces, some helpful information and some smartly written case studies. More testament to the fact that some of the best communications thinking these days is happening in media businesses.

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