These days, you're more likely to find an agency without a fax machine than without a website. But when it comes to agency websites, you won't find much in the way of uniformity. That's a good thing -- variety being the spice of life. Because there's nothing worse than a bland agency website. After all, if agencies can't present their own companies in a compelling way, why would anyone think they're capable of doing compelling work on behalf of clients?
But there are some similarities across websites. One feature that is common to many agency sites -- and one that I check routinely on my first visit -- is the agency's blog.
Wait. We killed our blog a few years ago because blogging is so 2006.
Yes, you are correct. Blogging doesn't have the allure of being new anymore. Yes, a lot of agencies have given up on their blogs. So what?
Here's the deal. At the moment when every agency had to have a blog, blogging was probably the least useful thing you could do. It's hard to believe, but there was a time when I got press releases announcing that Agency XYZ had just launched a blog. Whoop-ti-doo, right? Well, everyone was doing it, and nobody wanted to be left out. But the trouble was, a lot of those blogs were ill-conceived, unsupported, and just plain crappy. Thankfully, those days are gone. Or, at least the impetus behind rushing out a crappy blog is now gone; sadly, the crappy blogs remain.
The truth is that nobody really cares if your agency has a blog or not (unless you're telling a client that they have to have a blog, even when you don't -- that's lame). There are great agencies without blogs, and there are awful agencies with blogs. And then there are a lot of blogs that are really just dumping grounds for the agencies to promote their most recent campaigns. (There's nothing wrong with that, but I just wish they wouldn't label those places as blogs; otherwise, when I click on those sections, I can't help but judge the agencies because they haven't posted in months.)
But among all the agencies, there are some blogs that are real gems. And what is a real gem when it comes to agency blogs? Well, for my money, it's a blog that makes a great first impression by allowing the reader to test drive the agency's culture, thought process, and style. It's a platform that gives me a sense of the agency's persona. But unlike a static website, the blog has the advantage of being current. I can read an agency's blog and understand its philosophy in concrete terms because the blog forces the agency to articulate its style on an ongoing basis. Whereas, a static website really just tells me that you were [insert defining adjective here] for the period of time necessary to conceive and build the website. With a blog, what the agency chooses to comment on -- and what its comments say -- help me understand what the agency is all about far better than any "about us" section could ever communicate. In short, it's as if I get to have a drink with the agency whenever I want.
Of course, personifying your agency in a blog format isn't easy. We've selected a handful of really strong agency blogs, both to give them recognition (because that's always nice) and to inspire agencies with less-than-stellar blogs (or no blogs at all) to think about how they can better market themselves to the industry.
Enjoy! And if we missed one of your favorites (or many), we're sorry. It's a big internet. But you can help us make this roundup better by posting comments. And if you write to promote your own agency's blog, that's fine too. But before you post, we suggest that you ask if other people (excluding your clients, and your mother) think your blog is worth a read. If the answer is yes, let's see it!
The Barbarian Blog is sick -- in a good way. We'll let the agency explain. And just FYI, "sick" is an acronym:
"Soundbites. Inside. Commentary & Content. Kickass! In a word, 'SICK!' Here's the breakdown: Soundbites gives you a bite-sized breakdown on the latest industry news. Inside offers an exciting chance to whet your appetite for the Barbarian culture and people. Commentary and Content? This is our weekly offering of food for thought. And of course, Kickass work is what we're all about at The Barbarian Group. We're about having a good time and doing awesome work. This is The Barbarian Group. It's gonna be awesome."
Is it awesome? Well, I suppose that's for the reader to judge. But I found the agency's posts insightful and -- if you like the irreverent tone -- entertaining. One post that stuck out was a year in review. Rather than commenting on every single big story, Barbarian summed up 2010 thusly:
"Without a whole lot of research or looking back, I can probably label 2010 as the year of over-sharing, right? Beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare... we've got the Like button and share buttons, and other buttons showing up all over the place. We've finally figured out that the next step to creating a bajillion bytes of content is to help people share it with their friends, and they can tell their moms, and then they can forward it to everyone else they've ever met."
From there, Barbarian looked at the downside of this trend, and the kinds of positive responses we'll see to over-sharing. But we'll let you read that for yourself.
It's hard to think of an agency as a news source, but Organic's Three Minds blog actually blurs the line -- in a good way. There are six dedicated "channels" that cover everything from creativity and culture to analytics and strategy. There's also a "seventh" channel that allows readers to customize the news they get. Pretty cool, right?
Channels have dedicated "owners," as well as contributing editors. And each channel has at least three minds contributing on a regular basis. Not only is that an impressive look at the agency's roster, but it's also a very deep look. Put it this way: If you're the client, you usually hear a lot about what the agency thinks from one or two key contacts, and you usually don't get much input from the lower-level employees who often put your campaign into action. What's nice about Organic's blog is that contributions seem to come from various levels throughout the agency.
The other big advantage to the Organic blog is that it's a sound forum for industry thinking. For a number of reasons, many great agency blogs don't get a ton -- or any -- comments. But that's not true at Organic, where readers aren't shy about sharing their opinions.
Humongo's Brand Flakes for Breakfast blog has a pretty straightforward pitch: "We read the internet so you don't have to."
Maybe that's a bit of an overstatement -- the blog's tone is a little cheeky after all -- but the truth is that if you want to sound like you're up to speed on web culture, you can't go wrong with Brand Flakes for Breakfast.
But don't get the wrong idea; this isn't the sort of blog that's going to scoop Wired magazine on some underground technology you've never heard of that will either change everything or fizzle faster than you can say "dotcom." Rather, reading Brand Flakes for Breakfast is more like having breakfast with the cool kids before school. Their posts are good inspiration for creatives, but they're also good fodder for chats, random tweets, and funny Facebook posts because they seem to have a knack for finding something cool, like this post about a rather funny Christmas video.
If you watch "Mad Men" (and who doesn't?), you might recall that last season Don Draper sneered at an idea of Peggy's because it was more PR than advertising. Well, Don doesn't know about the internet (yet), but these days the line between PR and advertising is awfully blurry, especially online.
As the name implies, the blog takes a more holistic look at digital messaging. As you'd expect, that means there's lot of emphasis on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. But the value of the blog is that the posts aren't limited to a specific doctrine. Instead -- and in keeping with the circular reference in the blog's name -- the content is outside the box. It's not simply a case of "flack says" or "marketer thinks." Instead, what you get are posts like this one on ways that people share opinions in real-time on Twitter. What's great about this post -- and much of what you'll find on this blog -- is that it draws insights from a diverse pool. In this case, the examples come from politics, retail, religion, sports, and entertainment. And what's great about posts like this is that they let you break out of a myopia that can plague any industry.
It's hard to pigeonhole the Traction blog. Sometimes you get funny posts that are somewhat related to the industry, like this one in which the agency's creative director explains why he isn't Don Draper for the digital age. Other times you get posts that aren't related to advertising at all, like this recipe for garlic mash potatoes.
We'll chalk those two posts (and others of that variety) up to Traction's unique culture. But if your boss wants to know why you're reading a blog that seems a little off the wall, you can always show them this.
Every few weeks, Traction goes back to school, getting a primer on some aspect of digital. But the great thing is that you don't have to work at Traction to learn something new, because the agency shares the slideshows from its "Learn Phase" series. And because it's coming from Traction, the slides are anything but dry. So when I clicked on its recent SEO series, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the presentation 1) didn't put me to sleep and 2) dramatically increased my knowledge of SEO.
Honestly, I can't tell if I come for the distractions and stay for the knowledge or vice versa. But it really doesn't matter. When I check in with Traction, I'm always entertained, and I usually leave the blog with some extra knowledge. Not bad.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
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