I had a wonderful lunch yesterday with a very interesting lady. She's been part of a team that built several iterations of an agency. She's bought in, sold out, restarted and built the current agency into a multi-city operation, so she knows a few things about the agency world. But one thing she wasn't sure about was her agency's website.
I could see why. It wasn't that it wasn't well produced. (It was.) Nor was it that it didn't impress. (It did.) The reason it failed was as simple as my jaw hitting the ground when I walked into her shop. Nothing and I mean nothing on her website had prepared me for the scale of her operation. From office to scope of work, I had no idea. It was truly impressive. Her website had conveyed none of this effectively.
In hindsight, their online effort clearly stated what they did. Trouble is I'm jaded. I've seen one too many lies or fluffery on an agency website to believe anything I read on them anymore. So I was shocked by how grand it all was.
So she asked me to tell her who is doing it right. She wanted to see examples. Who was clearly presenting their capabilities and work in a manner that made it genuine and believable. And for my part, I added in the need to find sites that were proving through their thinking that the portfolio was truly a testimonial to their capabilities and not a memorial to folks who have long since departed.
Some interesting side note before I go to my list. Nearly every agency I visited started with "About Us." For a business that preaches it's about the customer, this struck me as odd. Also, while I reluctantly agree that a portfolio is important, I found portfolio examples much more interesting if they were married with content pieces like blog posts or research papers. (Case studies counted, but were not nearly as impressive as tying the work to thought leadership pieces as examples.) The work attracted me, but the thinking made me stop and consider what the work meant. And finally, only one site (R/GA's) had a mobile optimized page and it really wasn't that good. That speaks volumes about the mobile expertise we all crow about.
That aside, here's a list of 3 agency websites that I personally like, along with a couple honorable mentions. This is not a "top 3" or definitive list in any way. These are just some examples I have found so far and I'm still willing to accept more for the list. Thanks to to Rupal Parekh, Chris Houchens, David Horne, Shawn Hartley and Scott Crawford for their help on this.
Best of The Best
Mullen.com - Clearly they get it. They have the usual portfolio and capabilities, but the most prominent emphasis on the site is an ongoing stream of thinking. You see clearly that the work being show is not just memorial, but testimonial. Examples of work flash up at the top and then below are recent news, blog posts, thought leadership pieces and more to back it up. It's not flashy. It's just clean, informational, interesting and engaging. It looks easy to update and the content always appears fresh every time I go.
BigSpaceship.com -- Big Spaceship's site is very similar to Mullen's in function and yet you can't say they are the same. People read, engage and are comfortable with these WordPress style layouts that automatically update and sort news. I like how they took this knowledge and made it their own. Clearly this homepage is being fed stories actively and sorting them based on if they are news or a blog post. This clear demarcation allows the site to function both as a destination for agency information and as an interesting content source to repeatedly visit. The rest of the site then clearly communicates what they are about without fluff. Very effective and engaging.
RGA.com -- There was some debate about this site. I personally like it. In one page they offer everything you need to make a decision. There's no need to navigate through the site. You get all your questions answered here. I also like the wall of video presentations about capabilities. It's an interesting and fun approach to meet people expressing ideas rather than just reading about those ideas. But some felt it hyped the agency too much without impressing. Debatable.
CPBgroup.com - This is a great idea that is being poorly executed. They presented a site that is constantly changing content and revealing the conversation going on around the agency. Rather than them telling clients what they are about, they allowed the online chatter (good and bad) to be displayed on their site. It's bold and risky, but effective. Trouble is the content is not pushing thinking as much as fluff PR. But I like the concept very much.
Hookusa.com This one is very cool and interesting without losing sight of the information. I have trouble recommending such a Flash-intensive approach since it dies on most mobile devices, but I have to admit that it delivers on the eye candy in terms of navigation. I would want to see more abilities to refresh the homepage every time you see it so that it isn't such a one-and-done experience. I also don't want to have to dig so hard to get to what is essentially some good content.