The perfect match: How to select, brief and work with a digital agency

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In-house or external agency? This question often comes up as web managers are planning their online activities. Budgets are approved, objectives agreed, priorities set. A long list of projects is put together and timescales and resources are noted. Then – inevitably – there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, days in a month, people in the team to complete them all.

That is, unless some of the tasks can be outsourced to an external agency.

Great agencies can bring inspiration, innovation and passion to an otherwise stale or daunting project. They can make things happen! (Sometimes even on time and on budget.) They can bring specialised expertise and valuable insights which come from their exposure to other clients like you.

Yet agencies can’t and don’t do internal politics, they lack the intimate knowledge of your business and they require detailed briefs which take time to develop. They produce results and bring success in the short-term but take away the opportunity to develop your own skills and expertise in-house.

In this talk we will discuss:

Which projects are best suited for outsourcing;
Ways to select a digital agency: open tender, paid evaluation, pilot project;
Writing the perfect brief;
Protecting intellectual property;
Building a relationship with the chosen agency and working together as a team;
Challenges around social media – should you outsource your voice?

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  • most of the time you don’t have a choice but sometimes you do
  • agency will never understand the business the way an in-house member of staff can do. Agencies accept that that’s part of the game – they won’t have time to know the business well because they have to move on to the next project.
  • new challenges / skills – mobile, tablets, responsive design, cms developmentideas rather than implementation will give opportunities for internal growth and will limit design by committee troublesfor inspiration, to get out of analysis paralysisextra projects / pressures (? acquisitions)for ongoing partnershipextra projects / pressuresbing bang redesignnew challenges / skills – mobile, tablets, responsive design, cms developmentideas rather than implementation will give opportunities for internal growth and will limit design by committee troubles
  • innovation – core business isn’t web, they don’t invest in training stafforganisations expect coders to do business strategyA reliable bank of external resource can slowly turn into dependence when dealing with multiple projects ranging from large account work to small and quick jobs. The external resource is called on to complete the quick jobs leaving the internal resource to continue to work on the big account work because a hand-over is just not viable. The large account work is generally ‘the same old thing’, and the quick jobs are the ‘fun’ ones...Over time, I’ve seen it kill a whole team’s morale, causing key people to leave and ultimately reducing the value of the agencyThe Dangers of Outsourcing Web Design & Development: http://www.thesambarnes.com/web-agency-management/the-dangers-of-outsourcing-web-design-development/When to outsource web work: http://boagworld.com/business-strategy/when-to-outsource-web-work/
  • agencies help bring fresh perspective
  • innovation – core business isn’t web, they don’t invest in training stafforganisations expect coders to do business strategyA reliable bank of external resource can slowly turn into dependence when dealing with multiple projects ranging from large account work to small and quick jobs. The external resource is called on to complete the quick jobs leaving the internal resource to continue to work on the big account work because a hand-over is just not viable. The large account work is generally ‘the same old thing’, and the quick jobs are the ‘fun’ ones...Over time, I’ve seen it kill a whole team’s morale, causing key people to leave and ultimately reducing the value of the agencyThe Dangers of Outsourcing Web Design & Development: http://www.thesambarnes.com/web-agency-management/the-dangers-of-outsourcing-web-design-development/When to outsource web work: http://boagworld.com/business-strategy/when-to-outsource-web-work/
  • http://www.9xb.com/articles/working-as-a-team-with-a-digital-agency/new cutting edge techniques – developing for IE6 and out-of-date systems is not what they will be able to sell to the next client
  • http://www.slideshare.net/fourkitchens/no-rfps-why-requests-for-proposal-are-bad-for-business-and-how-we-can-stop-themWhat do clients look for? What were the things that helped one agency rise above the rest?They want you to talk about them. They want you to care deeply about them, their brand, their goals. It needs to feel personal. They want you to get along. They have enough intracompany turmoil to deal with -- they don't want to add your internal squabbles to their plate. They want you to be an explorer not just an expert. They want you to craft a custom solution vs presenting a canned product. all this takes time and effort !http://tommartin.typepad.com/positive_disruption/2012/06/ad-agency-rfp-strategies.html
  • extended network of talented professionals, not a single agency
  • when selecting the agency watch out for these thingsaggressively competitive business – internal politics and understanding business almost certainly don’t register on the radar of important thingsspeak directly to the designers and developers who will be doing their work‘customer is always right’ attitude – social media example!
  • If you can’t write the brief, you won’t be able to manage the relationshipThe brief needs to be agreed by decision makers (to lessen the pain of future design by committee sessions)
  • Once the agency is selected
  • the question is directed at people not at the designno wonder people become defensive and try their best to think something upchallenges people’s expertisewhat do you think – it’s not about is the website any good, does it meet business objectivesshouldn’t be about what you think, or how they feel – it’s about customer experience and how it helps (or not) achieve business goals---If you hand them a design and ask “What do you think?” they’re going to tell you what they think, which will more than likely focus on things like colours they do or don’t like, and whether their company logo stands out enough, instead of what really matters like users being able to find what they’re looking for.We need to guide clients (and bosses and colleagues) towards giving feedback that will be useful to us as designers. http://www.leemunroe.com/giving-feedback/ambitious plans lead to agency selection, it may be:mobilebing bang redesignnew copy requiredpersonalisation...Catherine Toole approach to collecting feedback:‘Here’s the new website. We’re really happy with it. Hopefully you agree and this won’t take much of your time. Please point out any inaccuracies in the product description by [date].’
  • Changing a photograph of one bowl of fruit to another won't convince someone to part with their hard earned cash and do business with you.Adding in some additional testimonials and improving the benefits of your products and services will. So try to focus on the important content of your website and don’t get lost in the unnecessary details of the site design.Great site design is what you are paying your website designer for, so please put a little faith in them and trust them when they say that the bowl of fruit photo is just fine where it is.Try not to get too distracted by the cosmetics on your site and focus in on what will add value and turn your casual visitors in paying customers.
  • No‘Your’ voice – do you have strict guidelines that are easy to follow? Would outsourced social media be helpful to customers? would they be knowledgeable enough to help? Depends on the industry...Most agencies aren’t mature enough and don’t know the ROI – are you sure this is a worthwhile exercise?No one understands or cares about your business as much as you do
  • who owns the developed product?email productionoften the website provider will develop proprietary in-house tools which are recycled in many customers' websites. There is no right answer to the question of "what rights do you need?", but you should carefully consider the alternatives. The rights to the developed work product may be most pointedly discerned by considering what rights you will need following termination, when the parties go their separate ways. http://www.ericgoldman.org/Articles/outsourcingpitfallsarticle.htm
  • can’t spend time on understanding the business - might know more if they have already had clients in the same industry in the past
  • The perfect match: How to select, brief and work with a digital agency

    1. 1. JBoye Web & Intranet Conference Aarhus, Denmark 8 November 2012 The perfect matchHow to select, brief and work with a digital agency Marianne Kay Web Strategist, Web CMS Consultant
    2. 2. The perfect match...• In-house or outsource?• Conflicting interests• Open tender, RFP• Behind the scenes• Pricing models• Writing the perfect brief• Design by committee• Effective feedback• Protecting intellectual property
    3. 3. in-house or outsource?
    4. 4. In-house• supports long-term vision, understands business objectives• full commitment• full control over time and quality• confidentiality, security• ‘emergency’ service
    5. 5. Outsource• covers temporary/short-term need• allows to pilot new ideas• adds new skills (mobile, responsive design, CMS)• inspiration• addressing sudden business growth or to cover peak seasonWhen to outsource web workhttp://boagworld.com/business-strategy/when-to-outsource-web-work/
    6. 6. Challenges with in-house teams• Understaffed• Breadth of experience and specialist knowledge not as good• Their opinion isn’t valued• Potential misfit between the skills and the roles of in- house staff• Inward focus (‘we love us!’)
    7. 7. Inward Focushttp://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/29/five-copywriting-errors-that-can-ruin-a-company-website/
    8. 8. Challenges with agenciesOutsource:• Outsourcing requires the right in-house skills• Finding an affordable and high quality service provider can be very time consuming• Good service providers tend to be very busy• Remember to plan for termination of the relationship• A threat to in-house team development and morale• Cutting corners syndrome• Not interested in internal politics
    9. 9. Conflicting interestsrequirements agency’s prioritiesproject completed on time and on budget enough time to produce excellent workfit/integration with internal processes new cutting edge techniquesand systemsownership/copyright of the finished a portfolio piece and publicityproductdesign committee happy (or at least no manageable amounts of feedback andone upset) amends; work that inspires potential clients, not a compromise.value for money fair compensationpower struggle between the agency and the in-house team for work, budgets andcreative freedom
    10. 10. Open tenderRequest for Proposal (RFP):• seeks best value for money• clarifies requirements• discovers unexpected value• controls the cost of the web project
    11. 11. Ways to select a digital agency• open tender• paid evaluation• pilot projectIs responding to RFPs a waste of time?http://gadgetopia.com/post/6597We dont hate RFPs, not reallyhttp://www.freeformsolutions.ca/en/we-dont-hate-rfpsRFPs: The Least Creative Way to Hire People http://www.alistapart.com/articles/rfps-the-least-creative-way-to-hire-people/Often maligned, RFPs are a valuable tool and opportunityhttp://blog.confluentforms.com/2009/07/often-maligned-rfps-are-valuable-tool.html
    12. 12. Behind the scenes • win project first, resource it later • junior team, freelancers, subcontractors • outsourcing to India / Eastern Europe • ‘customer is always right’ attitude • cutting corners • recycling solutionsMost Web Design Agencies Suckhttp://www.andybudd.com/archives/2012/03/most_web_design_agencies_suck/
    13. 13. Pricing models• fixed price project• retainer• hourly rateReinventing the Client-Agency Relationship:http://bigseadesign.com/blog/web-design/reinventing-the-client-agency-relationshipPricing Strategy for Creatives:http://www.alistapart.com/articles/pricing-strategy-for-creatives/Everyone Wants a Number:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7906
    14. 14. Writing the perfect brief• Background• Target audience• Business goals• Internal systems and processes• Timescales• Deliverables, measurable goals• Upcoming plans, future phases• Key people, points of contact• Budget (?)10 things never to leave out of a web design briefhttp://boagworld.com/business-strategy/web-design-brief/
    15. 15. How to Ruin a Web Designhttp://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-to-ruin-a-web-design-the-design-curve
    16. 16. What do you think?..Death to design by committeehttp://boagworld.com/business-strategy/design-by-committee/How to cope with design by committeehttp://www.ihm.co.uk/blog/news/how-to-cope-with-design-by-committee/
    17. 17. Visiontwo designs for the same project...
    18. 18. ...make the lack of direction more obvious
    19. 19. Effective feedbackFocus on whats important – link feedback to:• business goals• brand guidelines• usability findings• refer to previously agreed wireframes and mood boardsAvoid:• small visual detail, pushing pixels• providing advice outside your area of expertise• personal views (“It just doesn’t feel right...”, “I’m not a fan of...”, “I don’t like...”)How to give website feedbackhttp://www.clarkedesign.co.uk/articles/top-tips/how-to-give-website-feedback/index.asp
    20. 20. Social media:should you outsource your voice?
    21. 21. Protecting intellectual property
    22. 22. Summary• Recognise the value of in-house staff – select agencies for the right reasons• Consider alternatives to open tender process• Beware of de-facto standards of the digital industry• Learn to manage ‘design by committee’
    23. 23. Thank you!Marianne KayWeb Strategist and Web CMS ConsultantEmail: marianne@mariannekay.comTwitter: @marianne_uaLinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/mariannekay/

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