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September 21, 2007


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» How good are agency websites? from Business of Marketing and Branding
There are two types of businesses that almost exclusively use Flash websites: advertising agencies and architects. Why? Does it work? I.e. do their audience want this? Are these the most effective websites for agencies and architects? I a... [Read More]


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Dianna Huff

Amen, brother. This is a GREAT post. All companies should print it out and post it on the marketing bulletin board.

David Koopmans

David, thanks for the follow up post. You answer the question very well indeed. There is another group of professionals who insist on having pure flash, hard to navigate, information poor website: Architects and Designers...but at least they are not advising other people on the use of the medium.

Graham Jones - Internet Psychologist

You say that people don't want TV commercials on the Web. What Ad Agencies still haven't realised is that people don't want TV commercials on the TV either. Just ask the power supply companies when consumption rises - it's in the ad breaks because that's when everyone goes off to make coffee or visit the toilet. Ad Agencies may produce beautiful stuff they can boast about on their web sites and it may impress a few people. But ego massaging doesn't work online; content does. People "read" web sites, not "look" at them. Ad Agencies who create beautiful sites appear not have realised this.

saul colt

Great Post David!

One small point that you didn't touch on is that heavy flash sites ,while look nice, don't show up so well in search engines. If your goal is to be found you either avoid the flash or go real light on it.

Powerhouse agencies should know this :)


p.s. Loved your book!

Chad Ludeman

Excellent post! I know someone who recently asked an agency to put content and SEO as their top priority and ended up with a full flash site!

As a RE developer I also agree with Dianna regarding architects. All flash, no substance...

Chris S.

I could only make it to the JWT site and I think it gave me a headache!

Guillermo Zambrano

David is so right again.

The new rules of marketing are very hard to get for the old establishment. The reason, I think, is the fact that substance is overcoming form as the way to communicate commercial messages. In slots of 30 and 60 seconds is very difficult to communicate any message, so advertising, in broad terms is the science to impress people in the shortest amount of time possible. The ad industry doesn't seem to realize that times are A - changin.

Flash is so 2003 ... sounds like Quarterflash; old and wimpy.

Bert Mahoney

David's comments are spot on. Digital Ego Stroking is rampant among Ad Agencies, Architects, and Designers web sites. I own a design firm that specializes in website design and development. I can attest that a massive majority of these organizations have the logic of their own websites in reverse.

The focus of their websites should be on answering potential clients questions about their firm and what it can do for the client--giving the client substance. Not stroking their firms ego and trying to make their website look "cooler" than others.

People want content, substance, and answers from websites. They do not want animations, music, and other distractions standing in the way of what they want and need--information.

Don't get me wrong, art and design have their place but it needs to be tempered with client objectives and goals. It is possible to design great looking websites that are information focused.

David Meerman Scott

It would be great if someone who works at one of the larger advertising agencies could jump into this thread.

Brad Shorr

Bravo! You and the commenters are spot on. Ad agency sites drive me crazy - I'm always thinking, "where's the beef?" If an agency wants to showcase its creative brilliance, why not just have a section of the site with work samples and commentary about the results? That would sure make it easy to evaluate the agency's capabilities.

Rachek Clarke

I always have an issue with flash sites. Promotional campaign sites, or a section in a site for specific reasons are great in flash - can provide a great interactive experience. But for the strategic baseline, for information driven sites, you need it to be manageable, have great SEO, be accessible (ie information can be accessed through a screen reader) and be quick and easy to load and navigate. With flash, it is very, very difficult to achieve this and often even the things that can be done are not. It's been a perpetual argument of mine ever since I've been involved in websites -sometimes I win, sometimes I don't


Great post David, thanks! Not only the creative designers, but even copywriters too don't understand the web. Writers do not have the 'flash' but they have the same attitude. Most of them are allergic to the 'information' and basic salesmanship so fail to convince the visitor.

Greg Ramler

David, excellent post. The other thing that strikes me about agency websites is this. They call themselves marketing professionals, but there's not one lick of public relations content on their site. No press releases or general PR content. They fail miserably with key words and effective SEO content. I hate Flash. It has its time and place, but it doesn't impress me. I think the only thing that agencies are concerned about is...how creative can we make websites so we win awards - failing to take into consideration the target audience and the needs and objectives of the client.

John McGrath

I went to the JWT site. It took me to London, not NY, so I asume that London is now the world headquarters but that may or may not be so. When I got to the miserably dark NY web section it emntioned careers but tehre was no way to scroll down to the application instructions.

Yikes! These agencies are lost.

CErtain web pages are great - some NY publishers have great, beutiful, graphic sites with LIGHT backgrounds.

What is it with black? Those of us in the adult phase and not into the hard metal look. Being a disturbed kid from the 60's is cool? Ugh!

John M

Trevor Young

Great post David. I've had a running battle with a number of my peers over this very issue i.e. what 'looks good' versus 'what works' - and while I love a cool looking website as much as the next guy, you've really got to understand why you're developing a website in the first place.

I checked out the 10 agency websites you listed and basically lost interest as I waited (and waited) for the Flash to download. What used to be cool is now just old hat.

Mind you, for all its wank, I did like the Leo Burnett website (maybe I'm still a sucker for cool websites after all?) -- and at least DDB contained several white papers (although being an ad agency, they had to call them 'yellow' papers!).

All the above said, it would be a pity if really cool and flamboyant websites disappeared from cyberspace altogether. I agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that ad agencies should be brought in not to develop major websites but rather campaign-specific microsites.

Great stuff!

David Meerman Scott

Hey Trevor,

Imagine you are a VP marketing at a company and want to hire an agency. (I've been in this position many times).

Would any of those sites help you to learn enough about the agency that you would want to hire them?


Victor Cheng

The premise of the entire advertising agency industry is severely flawed.

The biggest award you can win in advertising is the CLIO for the most creative television ads run in any given year.

As a CEO, entrepreneur and business person that violates every single bone in my body.

Who cares if an ad is creative? All I really want to know is did it increase SALES period.

Also look at the compensation model of most agencies. They charge the client a commission based on what they SPEND on behalf of a client.

Wait a minute... who are they working for? Are they working for the ad sales reps or for the advertiser?

It's the equivalent of giving your teenager an allowance equal to 15% of whatever he or she charges on your credit card.

The more money the kid wastes, the more the kid gets paid.

There is no incentive.

I'm a big believer in only two kinds of marketing. 1) Direct response marketing and 2) Publicity

The benefit of direct response is a rigorous tracking and split testing of what works and what does not. You run two versions of an ad, a telemarketing script, or an email and you figure out which one worked better.

Stop doing what doesn't work. Start doing what does work.

So in response to Scott's question of which site is better... my initial reaction is what's on the site is largely irrelevant.

Rather than look at the sites, I'd rather see the prospect to client conversion metrics.

If that happens to be a flash site, so be it. If it happens to be a long copy text site, so be it. If it happens to be a blank page, that's fine too.

I vote for whichever one works. The answer is not in the browser it's in the numbers.

Traditional advertisers don't track their results -- which is probably because they fear their advertising doesn't work (or is exceptionally cost inefficient) and their client would find out.

I like publicity (and I'd include various social media efforts in this category) for it's ability to help a company to borrow the credibility of the publications and people providing your company with exposure.

The clearest traditional example of this is Oraph. She says she loves your company, the next day you got 750,000 people hitting your website and calling your office. You can't buy that kind of response via direct response.

A new media equivalent would be getting your company picked up by bloggers or appearing on the digg home page.

So I like a mix of the two and it's something I advise my Silicon Valley CEO clients whenever the topic comes up.

David Meerman Scott

Hi Victor, Many thanks for stopping by my site and leaving this thoughtful comment.
Cheers! David

james whelan

Most ad agencies are nothing but a bunch of stupid order takers. They never think out of the box.
There is no flash on my agency website.
Jim Whelan
The Joan Randall Agency


I really love telling people about www.cleansheet.ca. When I first saw the intro, it made my cry a bit. Rather emotional. But the rest of it sort of god on my nerves - the whole "flipping page" thing. Grr. Whatever happened to text you can highlight and links and all that. I don't want to read websites like books. Not to mention, if there is a typo (which I found a few), it makes it that much harder to fix.

Marc Rapp

I think it's important to understand that an agency, technically, can not claim a style or look. Many struggle to remain neutral regarding their personal brand positions.
Because, we are in the business of ideas. To take a position ( visually inferred through design ) might mean the lose of a potential prospect. Granted, there are niche-based agencies across the board. But then, that's exactly the excuse used when the client isn't happy with the creative. ;)

Ideas are not tangible products and it is very difficult to reference something that is 'new' without an existing context to reference ( pop culture or other agency's work ). As many of marcom folks have stated above, "we care about the ROI." Fair-enough. Who doesn't? –well, the consumer doesn't. And your ROI is dependent on the consumer being able to relate, understand and be informed about your products, services or ideas. The means by which these things are communicated are, as you know, media. And media must look, act and interact in a certain way in order for campaign to be successful.

You are not personally there for every purchase and neither are the agencies. That's why communication by design exists.

Advertising is an end-result. It has no initial, true form. Research on the culture dictates the immediate form. And in this brand landscape, those matrices and plans are being circumvented more and more by the x-factor. And if your truly providing something new to the marketplace, then a lot of that stuff doesn't matter.

Six years ago, someone on the agency-side might have mentioned using Craigslist as a means to promote something. Sure, at the end of the day, you could have told anyone in your office to dedicate their day to filling out profiles and responding to the inquires. But then, how would the agency charge you for the idea? How much was that knowledge worth to your RIO? And for all that it was eventually worth, how long did it take us to convince you that it was an emerging medium.
And then how long did it take you to educate yourselves or other decision makers on the idea.

As for the concerns about agencies creating websites. Come on now, apply the life-cycle of the medium to the agency model from ten years ago. Now look at integration of the technology, new employee cycles, acceptance of the medium as a tool throughout the world and the ability for you, at any given moment, to review and learn about whatever is being pitched to you.

Perhaps some of these comments reflect personal experiences with agencies? If you bought into their hype, then shame on you. ;)

Still love this blog. :)

David Meerman Scott

Hey Marc,

Many thanks for adding to this discussion with your perceptive ideas. I really appreciate you taking the time to weigh in.

I've never worked at an agency, so it is easy for me to criticize... Yet, clearly everything that is done is for a reason.

Take care and thanks again.

Best, David


Well, that was an interesting read. While I agree that most ad agency sites are a form of digital masturbation, I disagree that ad agencies are not a good place to go for Web sites.

I have worked at both ad agencies and interactive shops. Ad agencies are more concerned about remaining true to the brand. Interactive shops are actually much more about the aesthetics of the site.

A major client of ours has taken the Web site design away from our agency twice, thinking that an interactive shop would do a better job. Each time, they've come back to us to fix the damage that was done.

Recently, our client gave a major product launch to an interactive agency. The result was a site that was edgy and cool, but with actual content that was poorly written and not true to the brand.

That's the problem. When you're a major company and you give part of your account to an ad agency and part to an interactive shop, you don't end up with a synergistic product. You end up with something completely different. And that weakens the brand.


The new distributed viral forum/blog/wiki/classified/etc advertising engine is here. We can spread the word about your site in short amount of time to millions of people and help with your SEO process by using backlinks. Start your campaign today! http://widecircles.com

Forex Advisor

advertising agencies are way behind in web promotion


David, I can totally relate to your post! I wrote a post about ad agency websites on my blog, too. Personally, I get frustrated a lot because, most of the time, the people in agencies who decide what their website should be like are the ones who have absolutely no understanding of how a website works or how the user experience is supposed to be structured. The decision-making is usually done by mainstream folks who are totally out of depth when it comes to building websites, yet command a lot of respect because of their ATL experience. Oh well.


Couldn't agree more! Great post! We're a small web design firm that focuses heavily on usability (i.e staying away from unnecessary flash, confusing navigation, and pointless content). Most of the big guys in the industry are too busy trying to justify their huge fees by getting way too "creative," rather than creating an effective site for their client. You can read about our philosophy and see our work at http://www.newmediacampaigns.com

Andy Lawson

In response to -

My answer to David is that most agency sites suck. As David suggests, part of the reason is the heavy use of flash and a focus on "cutting edge creative."

My argument would be that you're trying to hire so called experts rather than looking at what is succeeding in the market. For example, I recently caught a company try to sell AdSense to a client they had built in Coldfusion using iFrames as SEO - there is hilarity in this.

The point is some digital agencies get the broad spectrum of media on the web, in print and on mobile phones (etc.) and others don't. Have a look at -


Finding a digital agency that understands the global spectrum of their medium and who are prepared to work with other companies will put you in a much better position to create a thorough and well targeted promotion then using a single digital agency or expert.

Alma Gray

If you speak of strictly the 'big boys' of advertising, then I agree fully.
They are in the stratosphere, so could care less about practicality in a site's design.

I own a freelance ad agency, penchantadvertising.com, and find it necessary when first meeting with a prospective customer to let them talk so I can LISTEN and later fit the expressed needs in the best interest of the client.

If these big agencies would shut up and actually listen to the client, we'd have more functional/practical websites that actually inform and sell the client's product/service, and perhaps less flashy sites and ridiculously irrelevant ad campaigns.
It seems the bigger the agency grows, the more they lose touch with reality and focus solely on aesthetics. What exacerbates this phenomena is that the clients actually allow it to happen.
Apparently these big clients have money to waste.

Richard Cranium

There are agencies that are not even in the game. Cadient is an interactive agency that has a pathetic website that hasn't changed in years. It is sad and funny at the same time that companies like Cadient cant get it together. They call themselves the premier healthcare interactive marketing agency......yeah right. If that is how they market themselves, I would be very afraid....

Ima Smartie

Cadient Group has a website that is embarrassing for an interactive agency. It probably explains why they have been fired from a number of high profile projects this year. Cadient Group should take a long look in the mirror.


Great post! Totally agree. Digital agencies --not Ad agencies -- should build Web sites. Period. Those big agency's big wheels turn way too slow for the digital age. And funny re: Cadient's site -- I was thinking the same thing! Scary Scary Scary. They do work for our company in another division and I have been hearing horrible things about them lately in the halls

Mandy Porta

Yes, I can't tell you how disappointing it is to see clients pay so much for flashy sites with no good content! It's very hard to convince my potential clients that my websites are different, simple but better. Brochure sites are a thing of the past.

Cheap Web Design New York

An interesting and informative article... thanks for sharing this post.


so which sites have you seen that are good? that do match the criteria you have mentioned in your article?

Anton Stoyanov

Very useful for us, as we do quite a bit of work with various agencies
. thanks so much indeed.

Steve Wrong

Cadient relaunched a terrible website. I am in shock..... Cadient has lost more clients and staff this year than they won in their first 2 years combined.


Advertising is about SELLING THE SIZZLE, NOT the steak. 9/10 times the product being sold doesn't have a USP, or just sucks in general. Same goes in advertising, there is almost no difference between them.

Big ad agencies don't rely on hits from Google to maintain their business, they rely on word of mouth, current relationships, the perception they are the most creative and deliver the most results etc. If you're going to choose an ad agency over which one has the most useable site, then you're most likely going to pick the one that's going to deliver the least in terms of creativity.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that Flash isn't suited to every project and I understand its pit falls, but an agency site is like the feathers on a peacock, the more extravagant the better. And yes, it is masturbation but what the fuck is wrong with making yourself feel good?

David Meerman Scott

When I choose a car, it is not the one with the flashiest rims and the brightest chrome.

Michael Burchill

I definitely see your point.
But how about a recommendation on who you think DOES understand the web, what it's users want, and uses the medium well? How about a list of sites you think work well (for whatever the reason - doesn't have to be in favor of commerce)?

David Meerman Scott

Michael - I wrote this post three years ago.

I have talked about many companies who have done things that work well in the several hundred blog posts and three books I have written since this post.

Here are some:


Advertising Agency

We chose not to use Flash on our website even though we are an advertising agency. But then again, we're not a big time name such as Ogilvy or JWT.

P.S. David, your books on marketing are always within arm's reach!

AL,@ Websiteadvertising...

This thread is cool and very helpful indeed! Just by reading I can sure tell you guys have been doing this a very long time. I just started managing several ADVERTISING WEBSITES and if I do as half as well as you guys it's a blessing. David, keep up the great work and thanks!


This thread is cool and very helpful indeed! Just by reading I can sure tell you guys have been doing this a very long time. I just started managing several ADVERTISING WEBSITES and if I do as half as well as you guys it's a blessing. David, keep up the great work and thanks.


I got the information that I was looking for.Thanks for sharing a great info.You have written a nice post.You have done a great work.


Great points but not all agencies are like this. Please take a look at the below Manchester based agency. It is an SEO managers dream.

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