SURPRISINGLY enough, it is often virtually impossible to discover who commissions designs for commercial websites. Every consultancy seems to have a different experience of the process. But this relatively new medium is maturing quickly, and positive patterns are already emerging.
Zoe Black, head of production at AMXstudios, which was behind the development of the Pepsimusic portal and Saatchi and Saatchi’s Innovations site, is optimistic. “We’re getting more and more new media champions within client companies,” she says.
However, these champions are likely to come out of a variety of departments within the client company: “There really isn’t much of a norm when it comes to [the commissioning of] commercial websites,” says Black. “It really tends to come down to a job-specific situation. They may be part of sales or marketing, or be a brand manager, but it works best when they see it as their idea, their project, their baby – not just a chore. Generally, we’ve found it tends to be a marketing initiative.”
This ad hoc approach to site commissioning is confirmed by Alex Barnett, managing director of Bluewave, which created the GlaxoWellcome, Reebok Europe and TNT sites. “We tend to deal with the client’s account manager or brand manager, then a project manager takes it on from our side. The design is where it’s at, so their role is critical. Ultimately though, it changes from project to project,” he says.
There are others who sense that the position of new media projects within client companies is already settling down. Jason Goodman is managing director at new media agency BMP Interaction. There was a time, he says, when it was a struggle to convince brand managers that interactive marketing offers are worthwhile, but this situation is changing: “There has most definitely been a shift over the past 12 months. They now understand that it requires a different approach to traditional media. As the medium grows in stature, the Internet will move up the communications plan from below TV, radio and print campaigns, to become integrated with the overall marketing approach.”
BMP Interaction worked on the Pepsi portal with AMX, creating another link in the commissioning chain for the designers. “Pepsi wasn’t the client for us, BMP Interaction was,” says Black at AMX. “Everything was well discussed, there was a lot of input from all sides – and Pepsi was very open to ideas – and that made it a more fun and successful project to work on.”
The Pepsi portal, which launched earlier this year as a combination of music content and search facilities from Q Online, dotmusic, CDNow and Lycos, has a well integrated team. The process was managed by Simon Cope, brand manager for Pepsi at Britvic.
“Fmcg client marketing departments will not necessarily set up dedicated new media teams. More likely there will be a personality within the brand team who is responsible for enthusing and educating other members of the company – much like Simon Cope has done with Pepsi for Britvic,” says Goodman at BMP.
A spokesman for Heinz, which launched its Heinz Direct e-commerce site at the end of last year, agrees that client companies need to appoint staff who can bring the rest of the marketing team up to speed on new media strategies and e-commerce. “For an fmcg brand,” says the spokesman, “we’re probably slightly ahead of the game, in the sense that we have a more dedicated resource in new media. Within marketing departments, companies need to have people who are fully conversant with the technology and its possibilities. In the future, companies will need at least one person in marketing who is passionate about e-commerce and the Net, who can communicate that passion to other members of the team.”
This process is complex, and clients are still coming to terms with the potential of this new medium. KP Foods has launched four brand sites on the Internet – McCoys, Brannigans, Discos and Hula Hoops – all of which were designed by Lightmaker Internet Publishing Services. According to Richard Cattell, senior brand manager at KP Foods, “You have to be involved constantly and find a consultancy which will educate you on how the Web works, and how it appeals to your target audience.”
Cattell says that KP’s understanding of the Web has come on in “leaps and bounds”, with the relationship becoming much easier. The process of commissioning new sites is more efficient due to the long-term nature of the arrangement with Lightmaker. “At KP Foods, we became aware of the importance of the Internet a couple of years ago,” he says. “We were involved all the way with Lightmaker in terms of how the site developed – the group had a full briefing of our brand process and market position. But we did give them free reign to start with, and then worked constantly with them on how the site evolved.” He adds that the relationship with Lightmaker evolved during the creation of the Discos Chat website. By that time KP had learned about branding on the Internet and the old site no longer fitted in with KP’s brief.
Sophie Walpole, website editor at Channel Four, agrees that it is important to maintain strong relationships with the production team during a site’s evolution. The site was originally designed by Online Magic in mid-1996, before Online Magic offshoot Bomb took on the account. “Extending a brand on-line is always complicated,” says Walpole. “It’s not just a case of putting your logo on the page, especially with Channel 4, which is also making a statement about the channel. You have to ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Walpole says that many brands underestimate the complexities of going on-line. Channel 4, like many others, has become more involved in the commissioning process only by dint of experience. “It’s key, though,” she says, “to put your trust in the designers. Our key designer at Bomb is entirely trusted. With the best designers it’s important to listen and understand what they want, as they often know more about taking your brand on-line than you do. So it’s key to keep the core people with you as you all learn and gain experience at the same time. You have to realise that commissioning and launching a website is the beginning, not the end.”
Twentieth Century Fox has a slightly different relationship with the Web than most clients: all its new media work in the UK is handled by Foresight New Media, which offers new media design, on-line marketing and events. Matthew Hampton, marketing manager at Fox, says a more hands-off approach can sometimes have its advantages, as long as it’s within the long-term relationship between client and consultancy. “We don’t have a new media arm to speak of – activity is handled by the individuals responsible for overseeing the other media promotions and creative activity,” says Hampton. “This works well because it ensures homogeneity and a campaign ‘feel’ across all elements of the mix. We’re quite intimately involved in the commissioning and day-to-day of the site, but we do give Foresight a free hand, which has often had very interesting results.”
But this integration should extend beyond new media itself, says Marta Swannie, creative director at design consultancy Zone Group, whose clients include Sony Playstation Europe, Orange and The National Portrait Gallery. The client’s new media projects must be integrated with its traditional marketing, says Swannie. “Some of our large clients have new media departments,” she says, “which are surprisingly isolated from the marketing department.”
Bob Scott, director of e-commerce at CapGemini, Europe’s largest computer services and business consultancy, acknowledges that although a lot of clients have generally become more Internet savvy in the past few years, he still thinks some require additional focus. “Clients fail when they create their own standalone sites which don’t integrate with their off-line business. Sometimes we get clients coming to us with completely blinkered viewpoints and so we run workshops to educate them on the potential of e-commerce,” he says.
Daniel Bieler is a new media consultant at Ovum, which provides a bespoke consultancy service. He thinks it is hard to predict what clients want and has noticed that few research consultancies offer strategy planning as a separate package for new clients. “Most [companies which come to us] tend not to know much about on-line branding, marketing or e-commerce, and have no idea how to use or even offer multimedia to their customers. We help them to understand how to exploit different applications on the Internet, which customer groups to target and how to set up on-line networks,” he says.
Mudimo Okondo, executive director at Zone Group, highlights a common problem. “The majority of our clients clearly do not have specific new media departments. Marketing managers are commissioning work, and they often have little experience of the structure or requirements for delivery of a successful interactive media project,” he says.
So while there is still a long way to go for on-line commissioning, it is only a matter of time. “Our experience is that it’s definitely moved out of the IT department now into marketing, but it’s still an uneasy co-existence,” says Andrew Pinkess, strategy director at Rufus Leonard, lead consultancy on sites including Mercedes, Lloyds TSB, Royal Mail and BT. “The level of investment into Internet marketing teams is still quite small, and those teams are having to pitch to the marketing director to resource projects properly,” he says. “But it’s definitely moving up the decision-making hierarchy and there’s now board level interest, though not quite board level involvement – that’s the next stage of development.”