A case of Style over Substance? Can an agency website do both?

The inspiration for this post comes from Steve Earl at Rainier PR (who looks like he could do some damage with a bottle of champagne) where he asks an interesting question..

Why are most PR agency websites a pile of turd?

Definitely recommend a read at the link above, brings up some great ideas for further debate.. eg whether the PR industry has when it comes to web design, learnt anything in recent years.. or whether an industry at the sharp edge of comms should be doing better.

What’s my favourite agency site? It’s a toss up between Mischief and Frank. Check them out for yourself, it’s definitely a wow moment when you visit for the first time, and every subsequent visit for that matter. Other notable agency sites I admire include Bray Leino, Cow, Diffusion, Freud, Hotwire, Kazoo and Nelson Bostock.

I believe an agency’s website should be attention grabbing and captivating from the off (see above for a few agencies who I think do that) along with pushing the envelope and getting a whole lot of positive press (like this perhaps) on the back of trying something different and separating themselves out from the rest. Their website is their promotional tool. In recent times the agency that most comes to mind is Lisa P Maxwell (whether it’s seen an uplift in client interest as much as it’s seen an uplift in hits from curious types like me is a question that remains unanswered though) More noise about them here and here.

From a tech point of view I think it’s a fantastic site which allows them to be more transparent in their business practices whilst also successfully breaking down the barriers of communication in such a way which positively encourages you to engage with everyone on the homepage, from top to bottom. I don’t know whether I should admit it but I’ve been checking back at ungodly hours just to see whether there’s anyone still in the office, not for any other reason than because I could! As Lisa P Maxwell’s site goes, some critics could argue that it is perhaps a bit of a win for style over breadth of content but this begs the question..

Should an agencies homepage be a championing of quality over quantity? Stripping down to the very bare basics, LPM still answers the same questions (About, Contact and Jobs) but in a unique and more personal way (WTF, Connect and Jobs) Have LPM shown the way in which all agencies will be heading in the near future or is it merely a short term ‘gimmick’ before resuming with something more ‘conventional’ ?

It’s been introduced most similarly yet not on such a scale by 10 Yeti’s and their YetiCam (which is pretty cool and I did also just have a look on a Sunday afternoon whether there was anything going on!) It’s quite well hidden though in comparison, almost as if they think it’s a great idea but are not sure where it should go. Something like that should be a showcase piece to be proud about on the homepage, it’s a USP when asking the question, Why 10 Yeti’s? (We have nothing to hide, you can see us doing our work, that’s why!)

However, and there’s always a however isn’t there?

Let’s contrast LMP above with an agency like Weber Shandwick (left) of which I’m a great fan of due to the monstrous breadth of content on site that is all readily accessible from the homepage. Interestingly, a recent article under their ‘What We Think’ section of the site is entitled ‘Less Flash, More Substance’ Maybe I’m on to something here!

Which agency websites do you admire the most and who do you think is achieving the best balance of Style Vs Substance?

4 replies on “A case of Style over Substance? Can an agency website do both?”

Hi Michael,

Great post, I’d not seen Lisa P Maxwell’s site so it was good to see how someone is doing something similar.

It’s an interesting point about our YetiCam – we are trying to work out how to fit it into the site so that it doesn’t just look like a gimmick and we have some ideas floating around. We want to be innovative in our website but not to the point where it detracts from our work.

The feedback we’ve had from clients has been great and they love being able to check in with us and see what we’re up to 🙂

Thanks for the mention Michael, and glad you like the site! Sadly we’re taking it down before the end of the year, as it turns out not everyone was a fan of our use of flash.

From a practical point of view it also wasn’t easy to update, our news section is woefully behind.

As a result, it really will be a case of less flash more substance: We’ve got a new site in the pipeline, which we’re developing with our colleagues in South Africa (we’re using the same coding and navigation, but slightly different designs.) The idea is that it will be a lot more functional and – bearing in mind you are only ever as good as your last campaign – a lot more up to date.

Michael your post makes a lot of spot-on points. Boiling it down to the bare essentials, I think an agency’s web site must:
– sell its wares/approach to prospects
– create a positive pereption amongst existing clients
– make clear statements to help it attract staff

If content or structure does not support those goals to the best of its ability, chuck it out. And most important in execution for a PR agency is content – is your web words are plop, why would a client want to pay you to write in its behalf?

It’s really nice post Michael – well done! A lot of websites could do with a face lift – there’s nothing worse than being greeted by a homepage that looks like it was built pre-historic times, or on the other hand of the spectrum, a flash download request!

Agencies should ask themselves the following question – what does my brand stand for? What message are we trying to convey? What image does our website convey to potential customers?

I think your blog layout represents you very well – a guy who likes tech, but there’s also this feeling of building your brand in the process (paperclips, cellotape etc…)

I really like the Frank website – I really like the handwritten feel to it although the site might be a little confusing to some.

I’ll have to get back to you about my fav website at a later stage as nothing comes to mind at the mo! That’s a finding in itself I guess!

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