This article outlines how to get the best from an interactive agency, and the things you need to consider. When we think of an interactive agency we typically think of a company that creates websites. However, the services that an interactive agency provides can vary.
What is an interactive agency?
So let’s start off with a working definition of an interactive agency – an organisation that provides some or all of the following services:
- Internet strategy;
- Website design and development;
- Usability and accessibility services;
- Online marketing (including banner advertising and search engine optimisation);
- Customer journey modelling;
- E-business/Internet consulting.
With so many interactive agencies providing web services there is a huge range of skills and capability – how do you get the best from them? The most important factor is making sure that before you begin a project you have covered all the bases. Below is a project checklist that provides a framework for driving success. The list may vary on a project by project basis depending on the objectives set; however, it will guide decision making and help to get the best result (or best return on investment).
Set clear objectives and metrics for success
Every successful project starts with clear objectives. Set SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed) and ensure that a clear strategy is developed to deliver on these objectives in the short and long term. When considering websites, examples of typical success metrics may be:
- Increased conversion rates in the new site’s sales journeys;
- Meeting key accessibility criteria, such as ‘Double-A’ compliance;
- Positive feedback from internal people responsible for creating and maintaining content on the website – for example, the Content Management System must be easy to use;
- Increased number of repeat visitors to the site;
- Providing a uniform website experience across different web browsers and systems.
Ensure the correct skill set exists in the project team
Often a multi-disciplined team is needed, with specialised skill sets, to achieve the project objectives. Check the agency’s CVs to ensure that the skills needed are present in the project delivery team – there is no value in an interactive agency previously delivering excellent websites, online sales journeys or accessibility audits if you are provided with the ‘B’ team that is still coming up to speed. In addition, the agency should also demonstrate how they will complement existing in-house skills. For example, you may have a strong technology team, and want to use them to integrate the new website code, created by the agency, into your Content Management System. In this situation, you want the agency to plan a clear and effective handover stage of high quality web page templates, supported by suitable training and ongoing support during integration.
Agree a detailed and realistic project plan
Both the agency and the client need to be singing from the same song sheet in project planning. It is essential that a realistic and detailed plan is developed which clearly defines the responsibilities of all parties involved. The plan should include:
- All key elements of the project, including kick-off and close – even small projects such as accessibility audits should require the agency to hold a kick-off meeting in some form;
- Dates when approval (sign-off) is required for deliverables, including realistic and agreed time scales for sign-off – common problems in website projects are sign-off delays for new page designs, such as due to availability of senior management to review the work, or requiring sign-off from a project board that only meets monthly (or worse!);
- Most importantly: timescales, including suitable margins for dealing with risks and issues, and agreed understanding of any immovable delivery dates. As an example, in a website project, the creation, updating and migration of content is one aspect that is consistently underrated in terms of time scale and effort – a good agency will advise on time scales based on solid experience.
Supporting project documentation should also detail:
- Risks and issues, including realistic recovery actions – for example, what if an accessibility audit reveals that more than just a few small changes are required to your site, and that you need a new stage in your project to develop new web page templates?
- Team member roles on both sides – ambiguity in points of contact or sign-off procedures can cripple a project, especially in fast-turnaround projects that are the norm with interactive work;
- What the agency requires of you, such as required team members for meeting dates (such as for stakeholder interviews or storyboard reviews), assets to deliver (such as online branding guidelines), and provision of access to systems (such as to an Intranet area holding required documents or prototypes of work).
Foster a strong spirit of collaboration
Any project’s success is dependent on how well project team members work together. It is essential to appreciate that for an agency to do well that they will need to collaborate, and this will require sufficient time to be factored-in in terms of meetings and – most importantly – a project kick-off meeting.
Integrate and embrace usability and accessibility
Usability and accessibility should be factored into a project from the outset. Conducting usability testing on a website prior to launch may not uplift ease of use that much, and it may become cost prohibitive – the issues discovered cannot be resolved without significant redesigning, and therefore project delivery time scales slide and costs quickly spiral out of control. Make a mental note that any time you think of usability or accessibility as a tick in a box for a project, this introduces severe risk to the success of the project deliverables. Equally, if an agency just has a part of a project that ‘covers’ or ‘does’ usability, the deliverables will not provide an excellent user experience – it’s that simple. Accessibility is very similar to usability in that it requires specialised knowledge and experience. At the start of the project (or ideally before selecting the agency!), check the agency’s accessibility credentials. Review CVs for experience, check the accessibility of the sites they have delivered, and again move beyond the ‘tick box’ mentality to ensure the agency sees accessibility as part of the user experience and therefore a key factor in the project’s success.
Projects with interactive agencies are, by their very nature, fast-turnaround, demanding, and crucial to the success of your online strategy. Whether selecting an agency or dramatically improving the quality of work with your current agency; bear this checklist in mind. Scrutinise experience, investigate claims, and get their best team members working for you. Demand flexibility – get the agency to provide the components of work and skill sets to complement those you have in-house. Finally, and most importantly, user experience is everything – get your agency to deliver an excellent user experience in all online projects, and then see the resulting benefits to your bottom line.