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‘Surprising uptick’ reported in Web site designers’ workload

Ad agencies with interactive design divisions and standalone firms may not have experienced the growth projected in 2000, but their in-boxes are filling up fast now.

“We’ve had a 75% to 100% increase in Web site design work in the last 12 months,” said John Broderick, president of Broderick/Bates Advertising Inc. in Jackson. “It’s a surprising uptick, partly because we have more technology-oriented clients.”

Statewide, Web site design probably accounts for up to 20% of business for full-service ad agencies, said Broderick.

“In general, ad agencies aren’t structured to be that style of studio,” he said. “We have a great deal of other overhead to bear, so it would be hard to charge what it would take to cover that.”

Jackson-based Maris, West & Baker established an e-strategies division in 2001, said Eric Hughes, senior vice president/creative director.

“Before we made this move, we sat on the sidelines for a couple of years and observed the way interactive services were being offered,” he said. “We looked at how standalones and other ad agencies were doing it and watched the national trends.”

In Advertising Age’s 2002 annual listing of top interactive shops (May 27, 2002), many big names were missing. The roller coaster year of 2000 accounted for a 31.7% drop in interactive revenue among the elite 100, bumping heavy hitters and forcing cash-cutting and downsizing strategies among the survivors.

“About two or three years ago, the rage was for ad agencies to bring in a few people and create this funky corner of their agency and give it a different name, like e-bomb,” Hughes said. “Then we watched a lot of standalone shops shut down and a lot of agencies that created their own little wing figure out they were pouring money down a dark hole. We wanted to figure out a way to make it unique and profitable. Ours is a very fast, streamlined, quickly ramped- up combination of business consultation, Web design and full-service agency disciplines combined. We almost waited too long, but we got the right people and it ended up almost perfect timing.”

Casinos, longtime builders of databases via the Internet, are relying more than ever on Web site inquiries to determine how to spend their marketing dollars, said Laura Hasty, president of the Biloxi-based advertising agency, The Ad Group, which represents several Gulf Coast casinos. Today, roughly one-third of the agency’s business is derived from Web site design.

“Casinos want to know whether to spend their dollars on promotions, entertainment or tournaments,” she said. “They find that out through the Internet.”

Skip Aaron, executive vice president of G. Williams & Associates Inc. in Jackson, has been busy building interactive e-commerce storefronts for clothing and trucking companies.

“Trucking companies use their Web site to help recruit drivers because they know it’s a low-cost way to advertise,” he said. “E-commerce storefronts are clearly industry driven.”

Clients seldom request the creation of new Web sites, said Hughes.

“Just about everybody has a Web site,” he said. “The question is: are companies using it to provide information or as a true marketing tool?

We try to give value-added services by converting what the client already has or starting from scratch to build something that works with the company’s overall business objectives, using the company’s culture and marketing branding, and converting that information into a much more usable marketing tool for the client and a much more usable Web site for its customers.”

Companies are also looking for customer feedback and a return on their investment, Hughes said.

“They know now that a Web site shouldn’t be a money pit,” he said. “Even though it may take only a small portion of a marketing budget, it should and can give you a ROI externally and internally if done properly.”

Some companies simply want a graphics overhaul or streamlining pages, said Broderick.

“Often, a lot of sales collateral material is posted in PDF format, which is very much how we live and breathe at this moment, and how we conduct approval of our own work with clients,” he said.

Bells and whistles not withstanding, Web sites must be easily navigable, said Hasty.

“If it’s a site that people can’t easily maneuver, they’ll get frustrated and go somewhere else,” she said. “Our advice: keep it simple.”

Even though the last 18 months have been slower than predicted, business is picking up, said Aaron.

“People are realizing that the ‘net is another medium of advertising, but it’s been a slow transition period because it’s something new,” he said. “The ‘net hasn’t been around that long. It’s still in diapers, so to speak.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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