Net Trawl

Nearly 1 million people in the UK access the Internet at home – equivalent to five per cent of households – and the figure is still rising, according to the Office of National Statistics.

If growth continues as it did in 1997, it’s going to be a busy year for UK-based Internet and new media agencies, as companies increasingly use new media as a marketing tool.

Unfortunately, the techno-babble behind Web, database integration, intranet, CD-Rom, interactive kiosks and Java is very intimidating. But technology aside, the process behind buying new media is the same as for any other marketing project.

The reputation of companies in the Internet industry ranges from those who will quote 50,000 for Web research to those “entrepreneurs” just out of university who have set up a design agency in their attic with a couple of friends. Then there’s the plethora of advertising agencies, PR consultancies and design and publishing houses all jumping on the new media bandwagon.

Striking a balance is key, as the agency you choose will be sending a message about your company to a potential audience of millions. Look for an impressive client list, visit the Website addresses, ask for referrals and question everything. Was the application developed on time and within budget? What was the feedback and how recent were the projects? If you’re dazzled by something that appears particularly innovative, remember that by the time you see it, technologically it’s already yesterday’s news.

And regrettably, given the dramatic closure not so long ago of high profile Internet agency WebMedia, it wouldn’t hurt to check financial credentials as well.

Another point to note is that many agencies are much stronger technically than commercially or vice versa. A good agency should be equally strong in both areas to ensure your marketing brief drives the choice of technology, rather than the other way round.

A good agency will also plan the development cycle carefully and incorporate benchmarks. This will force both client and agency to stick to the brief and keep the project within budget and on time.

The development stage is the right time to discuss who the project manager is (and his or her experience) and the number of people who’ll be working on the project. It is essential to pre-agree service levels based on completion dates. That way you will be able to evaluate the project at regular stages, rather than after the launch date.

Thorough planning and consultation are the most important steps in Internet and new media development. It’s one time when you should be in constant contact with your agency. Jumping into development of a new media application too quickly usually results in a redesign shortly after going live.

As with any project, defining the target audience is paramount. Who do you want to talk to and what is your message? Is it a business-to-business or consumer project? Many agencies fail to understand that both have very different needs.

Even basic requirements, such as PC capability, can affect the Website product. There is a tendency for big budget consumer sites to be overloaded with graphics, visuals, sound and video, which is often very difficult or time-consuming to download and is frustrating for the consumer.

Business-to-business sites can afford to use more innovative technology because often the PCs, browsers and servers used within business have greater technological capacity.

Review the development regularly to ensure it is interactive and informative, as well as offering real benefits to the consumer or business. There is nothing worse than seeing large organisations which have simply scanned their brochures and press releases and put them online, only to call it a Website.

One common misconception about the new media industry is that the budget entry-level is prohibitive. This is not always the case. In the same way that the reputation of new media agencies varies widely, so do prices. Definitive prices are difficult to pin down, as many projects are dependent on graphics, content, copyright, sound, video and data quality and quantity. New media should be thought of as an integral part of the communication plan and allocated a realistic budget.

When new media works well, it really has the power to impress. Honda’s interactive kiosks, unveiled at the London Motor Show, are a case in point. The futuristic kiosks reinforced Honda’s messages about its commitment to innovation and technology to consumers – and drew the attention of many attendees, including high-profile show-goers Tony Blair and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.

Here’s to more projects that give new media an “it” status.

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