of the many signs that the internet industry has gone phoenix, the most disheartening is the re-emergence of the "interactive agency" and their ham-handed approach to web consulting gigs. they're back — the ones who charged millions, accomplished little, and left a legacy of suspicion and mistrust among the general public for all things internet.
and those are the better ones, the ones who rose up along with the internet and made honest (though no less unfortunate) mistakes along the way. let's not even speak of all the traditional ad agencies with their "interactive" arms. for the love of god; most of them, as far as i can tell, haven't learned a single lesson in the five or so years that the rest of us have been striving to figure out how to advance the field and move the conversation forward. they're still slapping an outdated model on a new world, stuck in a world of print and brand that was never right for the web, hasn't been fully relevant for a decade, and becomes increasingly outmoded with every passing month.
you would think we would be on to newer, smarter, better mistakes, but, sadly, no. the re-emergence of the south park economy in the last six or so months has meant that they're crawling back out of hibernation and swinging it around again in public.
this has become apparent to me in recent months when we've gone up for a project against said firms, and one of the biggest concerns the potential client voices is that we aren't proposing a big enough team. see, we normally operate most of our projects with two to three person teams, to manage communication overhead (which can be significant, even on small projects) and, because, frankly, that's all that most projects need. we developed this approach coming up out of the dotcom bust in 2001 when it was all we could afford to do, but quickly came to appreciate our ability within this structure to pull off some significant, fortune 500 level work. all with just three people; in fact, especially with just three people. oh, sure, we'll bring in additional specialties where necessary, and we've had occasion where we've assigned a fourth regular to a particular project, but again and again we've seen that adding bodies just creates complexity, not value.
not so with the big guys. they consider it a selling point that they're willing to devote so much of their staff to your gig. and it's unfortunate, because on the face of it the equation is simple enough (more people == better!) that a lot of potential customers believe them.
and then they learn, several months and several hundred thousand, or even several million, dollars later, that they're spending a lot of capital to have a bunch of people around the conference table who aren't doing very much but charge like they are. one of our clients a few years back, burned by just this sort of thing in the recent past (and turning towards us and our model in part because of that) called it "the twenty-two twenty-two-year-olds" who "unload from the bus and bill by the hour." experience taught him our approach was better, but you know what they say about learning from experience
and on that note, i'm going to retreat to my copy of the mythical man month
now, thank you very much.