master a handful of skills

It has been stated before that the reason the Romans could not maintain their empire was due largely to a problem of scale… that the sheer size of the empire was too much for any centralized goverment to maintain and that eventually regional power centers would, through necessity, replace the centrality of Rome. The same is true of digital advertising agencies. Sooner or later all systems go down. Would you rather have your developers build things you can sell or have them spend non-billable hours on the phone with technical support staff at some hosting company?

The majority of what constitutes the internet is still suspended by telephone polls. It is inevitable that sooner or later the cost of troubleshooting downtime among various systems will outweigh the revenue from clients. There is also the threat of clients losing faith in the abilities of the agency due to not understanding the problems inherent in hosting and outdated systems. Any worthy digital advertising agency must come to the realization that it is very important to master a handful of skills and only a handful. Should your agency go down the path of providing any service at some point your agency’s interactive department will become less and less productive. Miscellaneous services will require a large staff of technicians who do nothing but troubleshoot systems which ultimately do not impress anyone. (Furthermore, there is such a thing as password fatigue.) Clients generally cannot be charged for downtime and so any advertising agency which is serious about the digital revolution should streamline, consolidate and eliminate needless systems and services. The notion of “full-service” hasn’t impressed clients since the segmentation of cable television set in (so just forget about it). Hosting and miscellaneous services such as pulling search engine reports are the dream of small agencies who see these services as a reliable stream of revenue. If you have to rely on web hosting for revenue then you’re not really an advertising agency are you?

It is sad but true that very often web developers and software programmers in ad agencies double as technical support staff for the rest of the agency and so the need for streamlining applies to the day-to-day tasks of all employees as well. Your technical staff can be much more productive and focus on client objectives if they do not have to double as support technicians. It is unfortunate that many, if not most, of the American workforce lack basic computer skills and so for the time being it is important to maintain some sort of general purpose system administrator. But there are things you can do to improve your agency’s overall digital value to clients. First, there should be a policy of ensuring that all staff members have a basic aptitude with the operating system in use (switching your workforce to Ubuntu is a real option here). Second, your staff should use cloud computing and services. For instance, Google Docs allows staff members to create business-type documents on the web. You can export your Google Doc to a PDF or spreadsheet, but the “master file” stays on the web. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to inform a co-worker that nothing could be done after he or she accidentally deleted a file sitting on a common server. Not to mention the amount of hours wasted on version control problems could be eliminated with the ability for collaboration with systems such as Google Docs.

I began this post by talking about scale, so how does that fit in? Scalability is the ability to become larger to support growth. Ask yourself, “what do we do if our web department becomes successful?” Can the department grow? Who heads the department? Is that person committed to growing the department or just filling a role? Is your web department liberated from the confines of some other department or is it still mistakenly labeled under “production”?