Offering web development services has been problematic to many advertising agencies and design firms. Technical difficulties have certainly created barriers, but there have also been barriers with regard to design, strategy, and making money on these projects. In some cases these problems have been so severe that the agency has made a conscious decision to avoid web work altogether. Some agencies have not given up and continue to include web design services among their capabilities. In these cases, technical complexities have forced agencies to limit themselves to creating simple static HTML sites, Flash sites, or limited database driven sites. Agencies are scrappy; they will usually find a way to get things done. They are used to solving problems, and managing their clients' needs. Nevertheless, web projects are typically among the most problematic, and ultimately least fun projects for most agencies, and they often lose money. As a result the web is usually not an area where agencies aggressively solicit their client's business. At best it is a service they're willing to provide, but on a limited and cautious basis.
Caution is always called for when discussing a client's web needs. It's certainly better to under promise and over deliver than to promise capabilities that end up being impossible or too costly to build. Such failures can be costly not only financially, but also to the very delicate agency - client relationship itself. I have heard more than one story where a very bad web experience contributed to, if not caused, the loss of an agency's client.
On top of all these issues, many agencies have found it difficult to compete for their existing clients' web business. They often find themselves pitching against other specialized web development firms who offer design as well as the advanced development services that the agency doesn't provide. Sometimes the agency can keep the design piece, sometimes not. The irony of competing for the trouble, risk, potential danger, and limited if not negative financial gain associated with web projects is hardly lost on the agency. What's the point? And so, most agencies and design firms struggle to keep their hand in the game. They have become passive with regard to their client's web endeavors, or simply avoid it altogether.
Stop the music
This trend has got to change. The problems are real, and the current state of affairs does not have a simple answer. However, the web is a strategic marketing and communications tool. Its importance and centrality to your clients' businesses is growing every year (especially in light of local search). It cannot be isolated from everything else your client does and remain an effective tool. The knowledge, experience, insight, and perspective you have, that your client recognizes and pays for, is often completely lost when it comes to their website. An agency that cares about their clients' marketing, branding, and positioning cannot afford to be out of the loop when it comes to their web site. Forget the simple needs of maintaining a consistent look and feel, that's the easiest and most basic influence an agency will bring to a web project. What about, integrating web content with ad campaigns, email marketing, online surveys, and analysis of site usage that might influence offline marketing efforts or generate new ideas. What about lead generation through search engine strategies, and interaction with the press? There are many reasons why the strategic planning and overall marketing guidance that an agency brings to the table is essential for maximizing the client's use of the web. More often than not, this influence is missing when a site is being planed and ideas are being generated.