If you’ve always worked at an ad agency, you probably know the technical Thunderdome it can be. If you’ve never worked at one or are just jumping on board, I’m here to tell you the nitroglycerin-addled heart of it is equal parts ‘The Matrix‘, ‘12 Angry Men‘, and ‘Dude Where’s My Car‘. While in the trenches of development, you can lose focus on the the right technologies, trends and competencies to chase. What are you bringing to the fight? You need to be bad-assed rockstars with a focused set of skills. You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills; but honed for hot Agency work. Here is what I see the baseline tech skill set needs are of a fun agency development team for 2010, a sort of “Things in which an Agency dev team ought excel list”, only without that horrible name.
Check out my hot front-end
In the agency world, the charge of development is to take the design, branding, and influence generated from your Creative dept and translate it for the web. The traditional media versions of these concepts all have analogs in the web space, it’s up to your team to be able to run with the ball, carry the torch, or whatever other sporting metaphor fits your demographics.
1) As a team, you need to be have serious depth with Flash, Jquery, CSS, sifr, @font-face, and coming fast, HTML5. These are not optional. If you are going to forward the vision of an agency which often thinks in terms of TV, stickiness, romancing the brand, creating identities, and other similar bullshit marketing phrases, you need this toolset down cold. You need to be able to push back to design and get comps for institutionally-overlooked pages such as forms, search results, sitemaps, 404 pages, and favicons. These have styling and implementation techniques all their own and their lack of being given creative love can quickly bring down the hotness of an otherwise sexy site.
2) You need a go-to CMS that you can theme, configure, break, and work-around. I don’t need to tell you (but I will), maintaining content on brochure sites is not the space you want to be in. Like it or not, a lot of agency type sites are perfect/imperfect candidates for CMS implementations and as soul-crushing as they can sometimes be, are ultimately your ticket to client happiness in the end. Like a roll call of high school girlfriends, some are great looking and slim-line, others are unwieldy propositions you’d rather no one else find out you are associated with. Bottom line though, you need a go-to system you can bend to your will, extend, modify, and end-around as need be.
Get an understanding of video streaming server solutions, content delivery networks. Be ready for the hella-traffic you’ve always wanted when it finally comes knocking on your door.
Integrate the heck out of something
True story. I received a pottery barn catalog yesterday that had social media icons on the *back cover*. "Follow us on Twitter, Become a fan on FaceBook, etc." Ridiculous? Perhaps, but clearly social media is no longer an up-sell or nice-to-have. You *need* to understand each social media’s ecosystem, create presences for your client if they don’t have them, and integrate their existing ones if they do. You should be able to pull in a feed, stream, or embed from anywhere as a matter of course. Whatever dev language(s) you are using, know all the modules, classes, gems, whatever that will make these tasks a non-issue. Oh, and importantly, Pottery Barn has some pretty cool looking lamps.
Get crazy, get your developer API keys, accounts, environments and start making out with the APIs and fog up the windows. Custom Facebook Apps, Twitter integration, Youtube, and Amazon queries are really becoming standard offerings across the board. The grim reality for full agencies with fledgling dev departments is if you don’t have a path to skilling into these techs, you will be losing business to interactive pure-plays in 2010. Don’t mean to be a downer, but it’s true.
Hello, McFly, Mobile sites!
Mobile presence is a huge selling point and while the tech is very accessible, but also frequently poorly implemented. Heads up friends; mobile web development is not just sticking a 400px-wide stylesheet on your current site. (Gasp!) To make it work for you and your client, you need to grok:
- mobile conversions, probably creating a custom site map
- a raft of meta tags standard web devs have never seen before
- old-school attention to file sizes and speed on the wire
- targeting resolutions and capabilities depending on demographics and analytics
Mobile Apps for major platforms (iphone, android, blackberry, windows 7 mobile) These can be tough nuts to crack, and some lines need to be drawn in the sand depending on the size of your shop. That said, this offering is of course the new hotness, and what your agency will eventually pitch clients, ready or not. There’s no doubt it’s a brave new world fraught with bureaucracy, api keys and certificates, registering devices, emulators and app stores (and you without your soma!), but this market is huge and only embiggening.
All of the on-page SEO 101 things that fall more into the category of not-shooting yourself in the foot.
Get deep, work with your SEO / PPC / Media people and master the tagging, tracking pixels, click-tags, and custom variables in Google Analytics and understand how these bubble up into the reporting.
Ultimately agency sites always have a conversion vector to them, be they of the infomercialesque BUY NOW ilk or the kinder, gentler, delivery of information / sign up for the newsletter variety. There is a dance of compromises that plays out between design aesthetics, calls to action, user experience, and information architecture that will culminate in the eventual comps, sitemap, and wireframes passed down to the developers. (If not, you are in trouble.)
At the next more technical level, your team working with SEO dept should be conversant in:
A/B or multivariate testing apps like Google Optimizer
Technically identifying visitors by personas, based on referrer, user-agents
This post is meant to just be a quick checklist to help keep focus on the core skills of an agency web dev team. Agency work and technology can at times seem to be a battle of flavor-of-the-month memes, languages, and protocols as we package old media influence and persuasion inside ever-hipper trappings. Keeping up to date is mandatory for relevance, and in the Lord of the Flies marketplace of agencies, if you can’t figure out who’s Piggy, it’s probably you.