Interactive Agency Blogs and “the long and the short of it” Podcast

At the Forrester Consumer forum David Armano successfully goaded me into doing a podcast, with his promise of creating a logo for me, and the condition that he can be my first guest i acquiesce. His suggestion was to call it “The long and the short of it”, which I kind of like, it plays nicely off my last name, and seems like an appropriate homage to one of my favorite podcasts, American Copywriter. The connection is of course the infamous American Copywriter drinking game which is you take a drink any time someone says “The long and the short of it” amongst other things.

The topic of my first podcast will be interactive agency blogs. I chose this because it was really apparent at the Forrrester Consumer forum that the big agencies have really woken up to the power and importance of social media and all seem to be jumping in with both feet. It seems to me they have been a little slow, certainly lagging PR and marketing consultancies, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to see how they are doing. Here are a couple of notes which I plan to elaborate more on in the podcast, but it looks like a pretty rich source of conversation. Basically these are the headlines from me doing a search on the agency name and blog in google.

Searching for Agency.com and blog produces a slideshow suggesting agency.com should start a blog :-) But no sign of the Agency.com blog yet (any agency.com’ers blogging let me know).

A search on google for “Digitas blog” uncovers two bloggers David Armano and Greg Verdino who have both left Digitas. This is especially unfortunate because Digitas has done a good job of encouraging blogging. Is this a case of blogger brain drain or is there a better way?

Avenue A/Razorfish reveals a couple of blogs, one by Shiv Sing called theworkplaceblog.com and the digitaldesignblog.com. Razorfish is certainly trying to avoid the kind of brain drain that Digitas experienced, but in having “official blogs” they have lost some of the personality, “rough edges” and conversational nature of more personal career blogs like Armano’s and Verdino’s.

The Organic Three Minds Blog is one of the more mature interactive agency blogs and they do a pretty good job of talking about new and interesting things that are happening in interactive design. It is the agencies blog but it balances the personality of the people writing it (real names), talking about design, and you don’t feel like it’s a big pitch for them.

A search for Sapient blogs produces an unfortunate quote from their CTO in 2005 which characterizes blogs as the equivalent of the Pet Rock:

Ben Gaucherin, the CTO in question, says blogs “are a fad fueled by pop culture’s desperate search for the next big thing.” When I spoke with Gaucherin he was even more emphatic than he was in his news alert. He told me that blogs are the digital equivalent of the pet rock.

Luckily Melissa, a Sapient employee dropped me a note to point me to the Sapient CMO’s blog at CMORants.com. My first impressions are that this succeeds in balancing corporate branding, personality and a little edge. (Melissa also points out that Ben is no longer at Sapient)

Critical Mass has a blog called Experience Matters. Yes David Armano is involved in this as is vetran blogger of the Experience Planner Scott Weisbrod. These guys are doing a great job of balancing the personality and while still being a clearly branded Critical Mass “joint”. All the authors are identified, author headshots on every post, down to earth writing style and you don’t feel like your being pitched every other post. (full disclosure, I’m probably biased as i know David and Scott through blogging, but i’m sure their experience has helped them guide the direction of this essentially corporate blog).

Molecular has a blog called Molecular Voices that combines some perspectives on experience design, technology and marketing. Great start but eems like they could have several blogs on those various topics rather than trying to fit them under just one blog. As I read through the topics swung wildly from deep ajax, Java to viral marketing to business strategy. I guess the question is here “who is the audience”.


RGA
, AKQA, Whitman Hart, Blast Radius are all big interactive agencies that seem to be MIA in the blogosphere.

And what about the smaller interactive agenices? They seem to have been active from the beginning, Adaptive Path (sort of an interactive agency, no?), Jeffery Zeldman‘s The Happy Cog, Coudal Partners, others?

Anyway, no schedule on the podcast yet, but i’ll probably just be hosting it here, and attaching it to posts at ExperiencecCurve, cheers.

Potential questions that arise from this:

  • Do big interactive agencies need blogs?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How do you balance personality and corporate brand?
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13 Comments

  1. Posted October 15, 2007 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Karl,
    Wow! Can’t wait to hear number one podcast. As I read your post and imagined all the good stuff that you already point out… I couldn’t help thinking about what could maybe be the subject for a next show : traditional agencies blog (?). Are there good blogs from agencies like wieden kennedy london, etc. Well, just food for thoughts naturally.

  2. Posted October 15, 2007 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Good idea Luc, that could certainly be a topic. I think as more and more companies desire help navigating the new and emerging world of social media they want help from companies that are walking the walk. I don’t think all these agenices need to be blogging experts but until they have dealt with the politics, conflicts, controversy and other risks that surround social media they are not going to be very effective at helping their clients navigate those issues in regard to web/interactive design.

  3. Posted October 15, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Right on Karl. I’m sure that bringing that kind of conversation to the surface could help point the very specific issues these “more traditional agencies” are facing right now. I think they are conscious that something is happening. They’d love to show the lead, but the lead (from a good ‘ol’ traditional “push” point of view) is gone. Question is are they ready to reposition themselves as “BETA” in front of their own client. Or will their own client be faster to embrace open conversation?

  4. Posted October 15, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Karl — This will definitely make for a very interesting series. I work for a small agency and we’ve just re-launched our blog. We’ve made some refinements to voice and culture (which may be the most important piece of any agency blog) to showcase who we are.

    I have seen some larger agencies create multiple blogs for specialized areas (planning, IA, UX, etc.). That’s certainly one hurdle to clear. How to you showcase the breadth of what you do, but stay focused. Smaller agencies will find this more challenging.

  5. Posted October 15, 2007 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Great Topic, Karl.

    The current state of interactive agencies and their lack of official blogs is a peculiar one. I’ve always wondered if they have their fears about editorial control, discussing client secrets – or perhaps have a conservative approach to “new media”. I think it’s probably a combination of that and the usual case of the “cobbler’s son has no shoes” syndrome. I’m interested in hearing what you guys have to say on that.

    At our agency, e-Storm, it is definitely the “cobbler’s son” syndrome, but this hasn’t stopped people at agencies to blog at an unofficial level like me. :)

    As for Agency.com, the SEO person for the SF branch does have a blog at bl.asphemo.us

    Cheers,

    Daniel

  6. Posted October 16, 2007 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Do big interactive agencies need blogs?

    I don’t thinks so. I think blogs are a great tool for challengers, it’s a way to get your name out there.

    Remember: One judges himself on what he knows he can do. One judges others by what they’ve done. A blog is a way around this, it’s a way to show potential. Here’s what I know, this is how I’d do it etc. Big agencies can be judged on what they’ve already done, they’ve walked the walk.

    I’m not saying big agencies shouldn’t have blogs, it just seems less critical to have one. However, if I’d be a big agency I’d encourage my employees to blog. They can only benefit from the reflected glory.

  7. Posted October 16, 2007 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    This sounds like a terrific podcast–I’m looking forward to it. I just did a live show two weeks ago “Web Design from a Usability Perspective” on wsRadio.com during the “Online Marketing with RSS Ray” show (which is of course posted as a podcast), and it was a great experience. I hope you enjoy yours!

    Regarding agency blogs, tomorrow is actually the one-year anniversary of Crimson Consulting Group’s http://www.achievemarketleadership.com blog site, and our CEO Glenn Gow, a prolific blogger, encourages everyone to participate. (Of course, Crimson partner Karen O’Brien has been a blogosphere personality for years.)

    We’re helping our enterprise clients develop social marketing strategies–how could we not ourselves blog? I think it’s important that agency blogging serve as a venue to share ideas and provide learnings, hopefully in an engaging and thoughtful way. We could certainly learn a lot from each other’s blogs.

  8. Posted October 16, 2007 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Until recently a lot of the larger Interactive Agencies forbid their people from blogging – and I personally know of one person who was fired from Razorfish years ago for mentioning a client name in her blog – without any conidential details.

    Truth is that there is a general shortage of truly experienced people in Interactive – a lot of people bailed during the dot bomb and those in the agencies are already working 60 hrs / week and traveling a lot – not sure when they would have time to blog.

    Adaptive Path – I read Jesse James Garret’s blog: http://blog.jjg.net/ and he has a lot of links in his sidebar to others. I also read the Workplace Blog: http://www.theworkplaceblog.com/ from 3 people at Avenue A Razorfish who work in the Enterprise Group.

  9. Posted October 17, 2007 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “Until recently a lot of the larger Interactive Agencies forbid their people from blogging”

    I can relate to this. Digitas was supportive in my blogging, but I don’t feel that I would have had those same freedoms in prior agencies.

  10. Posted October 17, 2007 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Hey Karl, thank you for your post and for everyone’s follow-up remarks. Your critique of Avenue A | Razorfish’s blogging approach is well taken. At Avenue A | Razorfish, we employ agency-wide blogs like the Digital Design Blog (http://www.digitaldesignblog.com) and The Workplace Blog (http://www.theworkplaceblog.com/) for members of a particular community of interest to share news, commentary, and thought leadership in a more immediate and interactive way. For example, we used our Digital Design Blog to publish a significant piece of thought leadership, “Fast Forward: Designing for Constant Change” (http://www.digitaldesignblog.com/?p=84). Of course, doing so made it possible for readers to have a conversation with us by asking questions, pushing back, or simply commenting on the report. Moreover – and this is key — the Digital Design Blog is a forum for user experience professionals who might lack the time or inclination to manage individual employee blogs. But on the other hand, our people do blog as individuals, especially in cases where someone is an acknowledged authority on a particular topic (and is willing to invest time in blogging regularly with a useful point of view). For instance, David Baker, head of our Email Solutions practice, blogs regularly on the Email Insider Blog (http://blogs.mediapost.com/email_insider/?author=3), and Reo Watanabe, CEO of Dentsu | Avenue A | Razorfish in Japan, maintains his own Reo blog (http://www.dentsu-aarf.com/reo/). But, the bottom line is that we appreciate your comments on how we can inject more personality into our community blogs. This is a great discussion.

  11. Posted October 23, 2007 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Karl – great idea. I’m looking forward to following the series.

    Incidentally, Digitas does have a blog: The Digital Hive, from their Account Planning group http://digitalhive.blogs.com/digiblog/

  12. Posted October 30, 2007 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You don’t really need or want that lifestyle, it might hurt y’all slowly more…….Just tell him you
    don’t wanna repeat something your not too proud of z7uas.

  13. Posted October 31, 2007 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Great article.
    We are an agency with a four sibling media arms. Hmmm sounds kinda like a marketing Shiva.

    Anyway, we write about what its like to be an interactive agency within a larger traditional PR/Marketing/Advertising environment. at first it sounds a little schizophrenic talking about SQL injection attacks one day and the GAP child labor fiasco the next.

    Its different in that it more reflects the way our interdisciplinary firm thinks and less about structure and rigidity around a medium.

    blog.capstrat.com

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