Q&A with Mark O’Brien

In case you missed my Twitterview yesterday with Mark O’Brien of Newfangled, check out this recap. Mark is a supersmart guy whose expertise is in helping design agencies (and their clients) develop smarter, more marketing-savvy websites. Mark is on the agenda for next month’s Mind Your Own Business Conference, October 12–14 in NYC. Or, you can catch his one-hour DesignCast on the subject.

First, tell us a bit about who you are and the work that you do.
I’m the President of Newfangled.com. We specialize in helping agencies with web work for themselves and their clients. And I’m so pleased to be a part of MYOB this year, it is my favorite event by far.

I first heard about you & your work via David Baker of @ReCourses. How did you begin working together?
We hired @ReCourses in 2000 for his “Total Business Review.” We owe much of our success to David, as so many others do.

Your firm helps agencies develop smarter websites. What’s the #1 problem you see?
#1 problem: Agencies don’t bring the same intelligence and discipline to their own site as they would a client site. Agency stes should be setting the bar for what the Modern Marketing Website can be. They are the marketing professionals. Agencies are being judged on the merits of their website each day. The cobbler’s children excuse doesn’t cut it anymore.

Most firms view their sites as portfolios. What should they do besides display work?
Blair Enns says the job of the agency website is to inform and inspire. I bookend those two with attract and engage… My talk will detail how agencies can make their sites into marketing tools that attract, inform, inspire, and engage.

We look at a TON of firms’ websites. There’s a cookie cutter quality to most, esp how they describe themselves.
I know, it is interesting. Agencies want their sites to be creative, but they often times end up mimicking each other.

What do clients look for in a design firm’s site? Do firms deliver that?
Prospects want to see that the agency has a deep knowledge of their space (Inform) … …and a proven track record of solving the kinds of problems they have, through great design + marketing savvy (Inspire). Most agency sites don’t deliver those things unfortunately.

How important are blogging and social media to design firms’ promo efforts?
Demonstrating the firm’s expertise is everything. If the site isn’t doing that, it is just a brochure…. Blogging is one way of doing that, but it is not the only way. Social media is great for helping fans spread the word… I’ll be covering both topics extensively during my session.

How do agencies make time for blogging and social media?
Writing is a marketing effort. How much time and money would a firm spend on a glossy brochure 10 years ago? A lot.

Ah, yes … but designing a brochure comes easy to designers. Writing, not so much. It’s a new skill to polish.
Great point. This is a new, and difficult, skill. Designers got into this field to create, not write about creating. Demonstrating your expertise is the cornerstone of marketing. Content is the currency of marketing in the digital age.

Do you find that firms focus on visuals to the exclusion of content? How can they do content better?
I do, but beyond that many firms focus too much on making the site itself overly “creative.” Sites that are bogged down in Flash and gimmicks only serve to confuse and distract, instead of informing and inspiring. The focus should be on getting the right people to the site, and then getting them to the work and knowledge areas ASAP. Many agencies that have highly “interactive” sites aren’t even trying to sell that kind of work. It just gets in the way.

What will you be covering in your session at MYOB?
I will give agencies the knowledge they need to transform their sites from online brochures into lead-generating machines. I don’t expect them to have the time to redesign their site from scratch when they get back from MYOB. So I will be focusing on things they can do right away to significantly improve their sites.