12: Agencies

The author suggests that it is not feasible for businesses to have internal employees who have the required skills to do a complete job, and that most firms will need to hire an outside agency (specifically, a web agency or interactive agency) to handle much of the work pertaining to the company's Web site. Companies whose Web sites are central to their operations may need to have an ongoing relationship with an agency; others can hire agencies on a project basis, as they need work done.

(EN: My sense is that this is true of most small to medium companies whose Web site is not mission critical. Larger companies, companies that make more extensive use of the channel, and companies for whom the user experience of their Web site is a competitive advantage, can and should have internal staff. This could be an extended argument, but my intention was to indicate that, while the author would encourage anyone to hire an agency to do the work, it is not the only route, nor in all cases the best one.)

Finding an Agency

Finding an agency to handle tour site isn't difficult in the current economy. In many instances, they will come looking for you before you have to look for them. (EN: I would add to this a note of caution - usually, the best agencies don't have to hound people to do business with them. That's not a hard-and-fast rule, as a good agency may be proactive, especially if it specializes in a niche - but based on my own experience, the more aggressive an agency is in drumming up business, the worse it is at providing the level of service that retains clients long-term.)

The author also suggests touching base with your advertising agency about finding a good web agency, as many companies hire both, and they may have encountered several who serve their other clients. (EN: Another warning is about advertising agencies who want your interactive business as well - even though they don't have experience or competency in the channel - or who collude with other agencies to swap clients.)

Word-of-mouth can be useful, but should also be taken with a grain of salt: if the reference comes from someone in another line of work, an agency that does well or them doesn't necessarily mean it will do for you ... and asking a firm with whom you compete for recommendations is simply foolish. You might have some success asking internally: another department might have used a firm, or someone might have a connection from a previous job or a professional association. Even that is happenstance.

Considering the flaws in the various approaches above, the author suggests doing some research: check the publications of industry associations, use search engines to find them, try to discover which firms built sites you admire, check web and media industry publications, attend industry events and tradeshows. This should give you quite a list.

You can also screen agencies by asking a number of questions. You might prefer a small boutique or a large agency; you may need someone who has experience in international markets; a agency may have (or lack) competencies in areas you need; the agency may specialize in a certain type of site or a certain industry; the agency portfolio can be considered; and you may want to investigate their pricing model. Much of this information cab be gathered online, from the agency site.

Creating an RFP

(EN: I'm not taking notes, because the coverage in this book is egregious - suggesting that an RFP is "an art and a science" and "a little like an online personal ad". Speaking from personal experience in both writing and responding to RFPs, most of them are thoroughly rotten, and this source does nothing to remedy the problem. For now, note that an RFP should document the requirements of a project in sufficient detail to enable a vendor to submit a bid, and it is usually circulated to several vendors as a step in the weeding process. Some will decline to bid at all, others will send a response that makes it clear they are not a suitable vendor.)

Mutual Objective: Success

The author provides some anecdotal evidence to back the advice that a company should seek an agency whose focus is on helping the client succeed. Any agency wants to sell its services, and they tend to be focused on getting revenue from clients in exchange for performing tasks, regardless of whether those tasks help the client accomplish the goals for which they hired an agency. The implied advice is to seek an agency with an appropriate focus (they help you achieve goals) and, where possible, to tie their compensation to the same.

(EN: An interesting perspective, and a valid concern, but this may lead you to the opposite problem of having a vendor who tries to run your business for you and trying to redefine your goals rather than serve them. Vendor management is delicate, and I don't believe there is a simple answer. Neither do I sense this to be the author's area of expertise, and it seems like filler content in a book about analytics, so I'll skip much of what follows).