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August 03, 2009


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Matthew Mamet

David - I've been in violent agreement with the ideas in your blog post for awhile, as well. The "traditional" portfolio-centric websites that most Agencies employ is tired, repetitive, and does not really provide the correct information to potential clients. Another agency site to check out is BooneOakley, who have created their entire website using clickable YouTube videos. You can check out BooneOakly who I covered (along with Modernista) in a blog post at http://www.internettechboston.com/2009/07/20/there-are-no-more-websites-just-content/


Agencies don't care about SEO, and why should they? Huge brands don't choose agencies by Googling them.

What Crispin did is pretty cool, but at the end of the day, its never about the agencies website.

Marc Meyer

I don't know David, from an agency standpoint, why can't they focus on aesthetics over information? Their websites are windows to their world. I agree about the Flash aspect, but when you're one of the top 10 agencies, search almost seems like a moot point. In the ultra competitive world of digital marketing and all things social, standing out from the next guy seems to be as much about the art of self promotion, as it is about one's ability to articulate solving real world business problems.


Great term. It's unfortunate that firms don't often practice what they preach. But, to be fair, it can be difficult to be highly creative in an SEO world. It's certainly possible, but, if you promote yourself as a high end design firm only, and you don't do SEO, then knock yourself out.

But if you want to do both, then maybe you should rethink the all-flash website, the fl(sp)ash page and too much self-promotion and just don't hold on too tightly to your website.

Guy Blaskey

You're spot on with this...
all these agencies use their site to show you their TV reels, when we all know that TV is dying.

I recently went to a talk with Trevor Beatie who spent the whole night showing his TV ads (which are very very good, or were in the 90s) and about 2 seconds talking about things such as the ipint application made for Carling, which is a brilliant example of a modern marketing technique.

Once agencies stop thinking about their TV commercials and embrace the 'New Rules of Marketing' they might start to improve their own online image.

PS. The CPB is extremely good

Kathleen Bagley Formidoni

Agree with every word you printed here. And, I think that the Modernista! web site strategy should be applauded. so creative, risky and avant garde - love it!

David Esrati

Back in 06 I attended a diversity fair in NYC. Before I went, I scanned all the sites of the participating agencies- I had more pages in Google than all but 4. McCann had a whopping 1 page.
I posted about it here: http://www.thenextwave.biz/tnw/?p=263
Leo Burnett's site is absolutely useless- I've tried finding work they've done that I liked- can't.
It's amazing how bad their sites are- and then they direct clients to do horrible sites as well. Ever tried to find a simple menu from one of the major fast food joints?
Digital masturbation.
Great post.

Omar Halabieh

I believe that the focus is explicitly not shined on information itself but rather aesthetics for a simple reason: these media firms are trying to portray an image that their business is about "creativity" which in their opinion words don't describe (information after all is more or less a commodity). These agencies are being artificially kept alive (in their current size) by the big companies who still believe in traditional advertising. I would like to see a detailed study on the ROI of ads produced by these ten companies as compared to some of the more modern approaches (such as Modernista! etc.)


John Assalian

The only universal rule of websites development is to align your website with your target customer. In this sense, I would say all ten of these websites do a very good job at it.

Take, for example, search marketing. Why would it be important for large advertising agencies, that have a small number of big clients, to have a page optimized for search? They get zero customers from search, so investing in optimized search for their web property would reflect poorly.

Or you argument about information over aesthetics – agencies sell creative and story – not information.

There is a bit of irony in criticizing an advertising agency site as Egocentric. Yeah, there is nothing egocentric about your site :> Sites ought to be egocentric – focused on what they love about their companies to reflect how they are different. Isn’t that the basis of differentiation and marketing?

As far as providing information about solving customer problems, there are examples and case studies on these sites if you want information.

Similar? Well of course, all industries (check law, medical, enterprise software,etc.) have a similar look and feel per category. That’s just the way design works, that is a more anthropological question, versus a criticism of advertising agencies.

There is a reason why big brands still rely on the CP+B’s of the world and give them 100M+ accounts – because they do creative work, and tell interesting stories. It's easy to criticize - but you are going to need some better arguments.

Jonathan Kranz

I'm struck by the number of comments to this post that have defended the big ad agency websites on the following grounds: they don't need search; aesthetics trumps information; egocentrism demonstrates differentiation (boy, that must be a powerful platform for picking up members of the opposite sex...).

But they all miss a crucial point: on the Web, a site serves as the virtual representation of an organization, a digital metaphor for who the organization is and what it does. As consumers increasingly make more purchasing decisions -- and form brand opinions -- based on their experiences on the web, websites become comparably more important.

And for agencies, the stakes are even higher. You expect that their own sites represent their best work -- their most evolved thinking of what a website should be or can do.

The sites David has punctured certainly send a message, many of them in fact: your time means nothing to us; your needs hardly figure in our calculations; "creativity" is a matter of pretty pictures, not well-imagined market places.

At least these sites are honest -- they truly reflect the emptiness of the organizations they represent.

John Assalian

My firm has partnered with a lot of agencies on the list above, and in our experience they are very solid to work with (not empty organizations as one critic above claims). CPB in particular does very creative work.

David Meerman Scott

Wow - thanks all for these great comments. This topic is generating as much interest as two years ago.

John, I appreciate your perspective. You've given me a lot to think about.

However, what I keep coming back to (in my own mind) is that the ten agency sites are very, very similar. It seems to me (from the sites) that these firms are in a commodity business.

Is creative a commodity?


Joe Ray

Digital masturbation! Great term and still applicable a couple of years later.

I've viewed a number of large agency sites and have been pretty bored with what they do, even though I think they do good work, have great clients, etc. But then again, as someone else commented, when you're that large and in that playing in that type of arena, it doesn't matter.

Clients want safety, they want the status quo and don't mind if they get Barbie and/or Ken doing the account service for them- they're all billable yeses, right (for the most part)? At that stage, SEO probably doesn't matter much either, sort of like creativity...save it for TV or more same old, same old.

David Meerman Scott

Joe - If it doesn't matter, maybe they don't need a site at all...

John Assalian

Yes, awesome discussion -- a lot of interesting and subjective issues!

David, somebody might look at your site and wonder why do all those social media blogger sites all look the same. You might explain that you use typepad -- which while customizable results in a similar structure. This doesn’t mean that an astute observer can’t recognize the difference between your brand and another social media blogger. The agency sites are all very DIFFERENT in terms of look and feel, but very similar in terms of structure (big brand statement, limited information, work samples, etc.).

In my mind, creative is the polar opposite of a commodity – but then I’m not sure how you mean the question.

David Meerman Scott


Yes, I agree with you that creative is the polar opposite of a commodity.

However, when I look at those ten ad agency sites, they are remarkably similar in structure and tone. from the flash opening to the displays of slick creative. Yet nobody has decreed that this is the only way to display your firms creativity on the web.

So what makes me fascinated about this and why I have written about it several times and why reporters like Becky at AdWeek are interested too is this:

If the agencies are selling creative and these sites are used to showcase creativity, why don't they get creative with the sites themselves? I just don't understand that.

So as someone who advises clients all the time on marketing strategy (I am with 40 marketing & PR people from Microsoft today for example), my only conclusion is that the creativity that these agencies sell is a commodity, and it doesn't matter which top agency you choose because they all think and act the same.

John, what am I missing here? I really want to know.


Marc Meyer

What you're missing is that the cobbler rarely makes shoes for his own children...

Shashi Kapoor

Perhaps part of this boils down to everyone needing a site! Even if it's only to put on a business card, or because it's weird not to have one. It's a case of matching expectations I guess, and perhaps this is what they percieve their target market expect from them.

It wouldn't suprise me if they don't view the web as being particularly important for attracting their target market, so perhaps it's more of a 'just in case' thing rather than one they pour a lot of time, effort and creative energy into, in which case, who can blame them for having bland and poorly functioning sites!

J Stdy Rockn

Simple as this: walk the walk and talk the talk. How are ad agencies not going to be creative with their own sites and still refuse to change with the times. Creativity show be the forefront of their advertising and should be showcased on their own web site.

But you know what's funny, I took an advertising class this past summer and the section about creativity was so short. To summarize the whole creative section, everyone has their own creativity, can't be learned and you should always express it. Maybe these agencies need to rethink what being creative entails.

Daniel Keller

I agree, too many PR firms over-indulge in "look at me" tactics. But in a sense that's part of the conflict of being a PR person/agency....one of the basic tenets of what we do is that it's not about us, it's about our clients. We spend our time tooting other people's horns, and when it comes time to toot our own, many companies don't seem to know how to do that without OVERdoing it.

But David, not sure I fully agree with the premise that commodity and creativity are polar opposites. I spent many years in the record industry, where creativity essentially =is= (or at least drives) the commodity. And the same holds true in PR/advertising: creativity is the commodity we are selling.

No, I think your point about the cobbler's kids going barefoot is the essence of the problem. Many of these companies seem to struggle with the idea of stepping back and looking at their own image and what they're projecting on the web. It's a lack of objectivity.

Hey, maybe BBDO should hire me to do their PR. :)

Bruce Nunn

"Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love."
- Woody Allen

social marketing services

A lot of PR firms are stating that they have social media capabilities and can help develop your strategy in this arena. So I thought, how many are actually practicing what they’re preaching?


Joseph Ratliff

In my opinion, as it pertains specifically to the Internet and online marketing...

Do people make buying decisions based on the "most creative" site they find? Or do they make buying decisions based on the information they can access quickly?

These agency websites might be effective so long as their market (bigger company execs) keep looking for "how creative" their site is as a part of their decision process.


I firmly believe that if these agencies don't begin to "wise up" and begin connecting with people on their websites, their time is limited. Might be a year, 5 years, even 10 years from now...but their time is limited nonetheless in my opinion, because eventually "creative" won't produce results, even at the "big company" level.


The media companies are trying to portray an image that their business is "creative" in their opinion not from the description. Thank you for sharing


Please take a look at JWT Manchesters website. I think you'll be impressed www.cheethambelljwt.com . 0 Accessibility errors, created in Wordpress, with no structural issues whatsoever. Several articles have been written with SEO in mind but yet they are still very informative.

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