Internet Advertising Agencies Offer New Option
by Chad Rueffert


At a recent business mixer a colleague asked whether the Internet was revolutionizing the advertising industry the way it was with many others.  After a few moments’ thought, I could honestly answer, “No.”

Certainly the World Wide Web has made some impact on how companies market their product, and therefore how their marketing communications consultants advise them.  But in general, the Internet is just a new medium with which to communicate to customers and is generally approached in the traditional ways.  Some people will send email instead of direct mail.  Certain companies may opt for an online brochure instead of a printed one.  Companies who used to make the majority of their sales through an 800 number might now make a higher percentage through their e-commerce site.  Many companies can now take worldwide orders more easily.

But this new medium has been utilized in much the same way as any other communication vehicle, and smart companies build it into their marketing plans where it furthers their strategies and helps accomplish their goals.

The Internet has definitely created more work for agencies willing to expand their expertise into this new medium.  But competition for web design and marketing is stiff, and some of these new competitors are branching into traditional advertising design as well, so agencies are adding new services and new competitors simultaneously.  But, unlike many other industries, it has not really created a new stratum of Internet-only competitors.  Bookstores now have to compete with Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com, companies who have no brick and mortar presence at all.   There are a few Internet advertising agencies making forays into the marketplace. It remains to be seen whether they’ll have any effect on the industry as a whole. 

Probably the most notable entry into Internet advertising agencies is Creativworks.com.  This group bills itself as “The Kinkos of Advertising.”  They target their work to small and mid-sized businesses and offer package pricing for traditional marketing needs such as brochures, fliers and websites.  They do offer the full range of marketing tools, including marketing plans and media buying, but customers are required to call for quotes and further consultation.  Although this company does actually take orders over their website for basic services, their plans are to build several hundred franchised strip-mall stores in local markets.  They realize, and rightly so, that small and mid-sized business advertising requires an in-depth knowledge of the LOCAL marketplace.  I would never trust a company in Chicago to buy local media, handle local public relations, or even write copy for local buyers.  I do like their approach of setting package pricing for basic marketing tools.  However, they claim to price their services at 40 to 60% lower than a traditional agency.  Based on comparisons for what a small agency charges in Colorado Springs, most businesses can find a better deal with the agencies and design firms that already exist here.

There are other sites like Artpronto.com that offer full service creative design, but their websites are truly little more than creative portfolios and to get any real work done you must contact them by phone, not really much different than calling any existing agency.

There are two types of advertising related businesses that I think may really make an impact.  The first is low quantity digital printing, and the second is logo design.  One of my favorite new websites is Vistaprint.com.  The company actually offers 250 free business cards to anyone who wants them.  You must be willing to choose from about 30 standard templates, forego the use of a custom logo, put up with a small promotional imprint on the back of your card, and pay about $5.00 in shipping.  However, if you are running a small side-business, have very little start-up money, or even just want some decent cards with your home address and phone on them, this is a great deal.  And if you want to add your logo, change to a higher quality paper, or choose your own design, you can still get 250 business cards for well less than $50.  The company also offers postcards, envelopes and letterhead in standard or custom designs.

Another interesting company is logonow.com.  They offer hundreds of pre-designed logos and you can buy the rights to exclusively use that logo in your geographical area.  You pick what you want and they customize it for you for $250-$500.  For a small or start-up business, this can be a cost effective alternative to custom logo design, which can run into the thousands of dollars. 

While there are several companies making some inroads into becoming Internet advertising agencies, I don’t anticipate a major shift in that direction, except in the very low end of the business.  Certain aspects of graphic design can be handled through the use of templates and stock images, but true long-term image building and effective communication requires knowledge of the local market, the ability to have in-depth discussions with owners or managers, and a good working relationship between the people buying the advertising and the people creating it.  To successfully work over the Internet there should be some advantage for the consumer.  Better pricing, faster turn around, better selection – all the things consumers have always looked for.  As of yet, no one has found a way to offer those advantages as an Internet advertising agency.