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The Lisa P. Maxwell Agency’s Radical Approach to a Business Web Site

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Blogcritics received an e-mail yesterday from Aneisha Howard, public relations director for Lisa P. Maxwell. As she wrote, this "small creative agency based in Chicago, IL, recently launched a new web site. We feel that the site will be unlike anything you have ever seen and that it has the capabilities of changing the way companies interact with consumers.

"The Lisa P. Maxwell web site has live streaming video of all its 30 employees and allows visitors to chat with the employees in real time. The site strips down the content that takes over most agency sites and replaces it with the company’s most valued assets, the employees.

"This technology has the opportunity to not only change corporate web sites within the advertising and public relations worlds but change the way all web sites go about connecting with their visitors."

Radical concept.  However, as with all radical concepts, technological or not, one needs to test them well before making them public.

The site itself is almost stark, a light blue-grey background with the pictures of the thirty employees displayed.  Other than that, there are three links.

The first is WTF, whatever that stands for, which is a brief hype on the agency, which highlights making clients famous fast.  "This site is a live case study in viral marketing – not, as is the case with most agency sites, a repository of irrelevant content that promises more of the same."

The second is a list of senior people one can e-mail, and the third is an interesting but not very helpful group of attributes they want in new employees, without a job listing.

But the revolutionary part of the site are the live feeds of people with whom one can chat.  As one runs a cursor over the pictures, those highlighted in green are available.  Those highlighted in brown are not. 

Conspicuously absent from the site were a list of clients, a profile of work done, or even awards won.  While these are apparently old tech, they are a simple way to let people quickly review an agency's capabilities.  

Worse was the experience of trying to learn something about the company from the people available for chat, although most of senior people were in orange.  

Purely by happenstance, the PR director, Ms. Howard, was the first person with whom I chatted.  The verbatim transcript, with my internal comments in italics, follows:

mark has requested a chat.
Aneisha:
Hi Mark!
mark: Hi Aneisha, saw an e-m from your boss on BlogCritics.com & thought I'd check out the site.
mark: How well has it been working?
Aneisha: Very cool, thanks so much for stopping by, what do you think?
Aneisha: It's been great, we've had a great response so far!
mark: How are potential clients reacting…is it easier to get your foot in the door?
Aneisha: Yes, much! We've had prospects from all across the country contact us. They can see we're creative instead of us just claiming we are!
mark: As the former head of the DC office of Ketchum PR, I've got more than a casual interest in your approach. How do you show you're creative? There's so little content on the site other than pictures.
Aneisha: Our clients, prospects and media have loved our approach. Typically all agency sites take the same approach. We're showing ultimate transparency
mark: I'm going to be a bit pushy here, if you don't mind. I still don't understand how you demonstrate creativity. I didn't even know your job title until I clicked on your name. Do you have the ability to show me products & programs you've run?

She picked up phone & started having a fun conversation with someone.

Aneisha: Our goal is "to make our clients famous, in the right way, very quickly" we're proving we can do that, we're making ourselves famous!
mark: Aneisha, with all due respect, you're giving me your PR hype. Assume I'm a prospective client or even employee. Sell me without resorting to platitudes. ;-)
Last message posted at 2:54 PM.

Long wait after that message.

mark: I see you're on the phone…is this a bad time?

No response. I signed off.

Second attempt:

mark has requested a chat.
Nate:
mark who?
Nate: what's up, man?
mark: Mark Schannon….saw an e-m from your boss on blogcritics & thought I'd check up on the site
Nate: oh good. welcome.
Nate: any initial thoughts so far?
mark: thanks…one thing i've noticed is that it's hard to see any of your creative work…how do you show prospective clients or employees what you do. The concept is great…but it seems limited

Nate: indeed, you are correct.
Nate: there is no portfolio on our site.
Nate: the idea is that peeps who are interested will email or call for more info.
mark: So, assume I'm a prospect…how do you sell me?
Nate: I offer to answer any further questions about the site and our agency.
Nate: if you ask me anything I'm not qualified to answer, I refer you to the person who is.
Nate: or I take your contact info and send it to that person, who will follow up with you.
mark: Has that been working? (How long has this site been up by the way?)
Nate: just a couple weeks, we've had good traffic to the site so far.
mark: Close any sales or hire any new people based on the site?
Nate: not that I'm aware of, but I'm not an account or new business person.
Nate: so I'm not intimate with those details.
Nate: I personally have collected some contact info and passed it along for follow up
Nate: I believe others have done the same.
mark: Fair enough. Overall, I think the concept is great, but it seems to be aimed at a younger audience more comfortable with this approach. For older folk who may be good clients, I wonder if they'll have the patience when other sites simply show their work.
Nate: a valid point.
Nate: we're doing something very different here.
Nate: and it's new. so it's admittedly not perfect.
mark: Well, it's a very powerful first step.
Nate: thanks a lot. would you like anyone to contact you?
mark: No, thanks, I'm going to troll around & talk to some others. Will probably do a piece for blogcritics.org.
mark: Thanks for your time.

Third Contact with Jennifer M. Reich/ client partnership director

On phone when I clicked on and introduced myself.

Mark from BlogCritics has requested a chat.
Mark from BlogCritics:
Is this a bad time…I could try back later

No response after 30 seconds or so…hangs up and spends a lot of time reading computer but not responding…then

Mark from BlogCritics: Were I a prospective client, I would have signed off by now…so bye.

Next try:  Eric R. Stenholm, Sr. Client Partnership Manager.

Mark from BlogCritics has requested a chat.

No response.

Mark from BlogCritics: O.k., let's try this…this is Mark from GE looking for a new agency

Waited 2 minutes for response…nothing

How, then, to evaluate this new technological approach to selling a public relations agency? 

As I noted with one person, I used to run a large public relations office in DC which was part of an international firm, so I had more than a casual interest in their approach.  Simply put, it feels like a Beta site.  No, perhaps an Alpha site.  The lack of response from two senior people shows that people have not been well trained.  The PR director lost all interest when I started probing.  From what little I gained, it's more of a tell rather than a show site. 

If someone asks a question about capabilities, any employee should be able to link to a presentation demonstrating them rather than telling about them or referring them to someone else who will tell them.  And it would help if some people on the site learned manners…rudeness is not a way to sell your agency.

It's a very exciting first step, but, alas, it's just not ready for prime time.  As I used to tell clients who complained that they weren't getting on the front page of The Wall Steet Journal, you can't sell from an empty wagon.  Lisa P. Maxwell needs to do a lot more testing of how the site works and what it needs before promoting it.

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About Mark Schannon

Retired crisis & risk manager/communications expert; extensive public relations experience in most areas over 30 years. Still available for extraordinary opportunities of mind-numbing complexity. Life-long liberal agnostic...or is that agnostic liberal.
  • http://lisapmaxwell.com Andrew Miller, Managing Partner, Lisa P. Maxwell

    In response to Mark Schannon’s review of our web site:

    1)
    The overarching idea behind our new web site was to create buzz, awareness and interest in Lisa P. Maxwell. This being the case, thank you for writing about us.

    2)
    If you’re were really interested in possibly hiring us, why not click the CONTACT page and give me a call. [Personal contact info deleted]

    3)
    We’re a creative agency with a few competencies. We’re not a “PR firm” (as you labeled us in your critique).

    Best regards,

    Andrew Miller

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Mark,

    You did a very good job on this review, in my opinion. It appears that after two or three chats, the idea was that you should get interested in something other than pumping the employees for information (which after all, is not necessarily free). So after the second or third chat, word got round that someone was trolling the site with “useless” questions. That would explain why you had trouble after the second session or so.

    That would also explain comment #2, supra.

    I kind of had the same questions you did, and see from the way the employees answered you, and especially the way Mr. Miller answered you, that you were wsupposed to be drawn into some kind of sales pitch before you found anything out….

    “Not ready for prime time” is not quite the term, pal.

    Again, nice job.

  • http://www.parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Thanks Ruvy. I wasn’t going to respond to Mr. Miller, but he just reinforced the concerns I raised about the site.

    I still think the concept is great, but they have to tell visitors something about what they do.

    We’re a creative agency with a few competencies. We’re not a “PR firm”

    What the hell is he talking about? What do they do? If I were a prospect, why would I even try to talk with any of them if I didn’t know their basic offerings?

    It’s not my job to call them to get the basics–it’s their job to sell me/show me what they can do to entice me into wanting to learn more.

    I’m sorry his response was so defensive and arrogant. But…such is life.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Now that I think about it, this is just a new wrinkle on the ideas that were presented in the book “Winning Through Intimdation”. I forget the author’s name, but it is worth reading.

    The author was a commercial real estate broker, but in order to avoid getting his commissions chopped by his clients, he needed to create an image of being someone who would help sellers “do something” with a property. That image was designed to stop them thinking tht he was a mere “broker” – whose commissions could be chopped off at the appropriate time.

    Now translate that into,

    We’re a creative agency with a few competencies. We’re not a “PR firm”.

    Yeah, sure! That guy should never have written you. He blew his cover as sure as a hurricane blows a house away.

  • http://www.parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    LOL, everyone’s a PR person at heart…

  • MEG

    Full disclosure: I do project work with this agency, albeit with no connection to this site or the PR department – but my comments are unsolicited/unapproved.
    I needed to contact someone at the agency this morning and came across your comments while searching for the site to get the contact info. I understand that you see this as still in the testing phase – since, as far as I know its not been tried before, I guess it still is in the testing stage. But, were I a prospective client with interest, I think I’d be inclined to click the contact button and contact the person indicated(the new business guy – that would be Andrew Miller) to get the company’s pitch rather than expect it from anybody I happen to select. The site text does note that some employees may be too busy with current clients to be responsive to random chat. A creative agency with a PR department isn’t the same as PR agency and, while I agree that a company’s brand should be evident throughout their communications it seems kind of nit-picky to criticize an attempt at clarification. Its not your father’s Oldsmobile but I think that might be the point. Oh, and BTW, it was pretty convenient for me to be able to find the person I needed to contact there.

  • http://www.parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Meg,
    Thanks for your feedback. As I wrote, I think they’ve got a potentially exciting & revolutionary approach, but, even as one of their people admitted, it needs work.

    I never called it a PR firm…I said I tried to talk with their PR person & used to work for a PR firm. In fact, part of the problem is that I have no idea what kind of firm it is…which has to make it difficult for prospective clients.

    And as for people being too busy to chat, I gave them the chance to simply say that. Ignoring me is not only rude, but runs counter to their stated goal.

    I’ll be interested to see how the site evolves.

  • Frank Black

    Well, what can I say. I have had experience with Andrew Miller, president of LPM, and well…he could be the biggest douche bag i have ever met. Sorry, but it’s the truth. This guy LOVES to hear himself talk and thinks that everything he writes is the gold. Don’t waste your time with him.

  • http://www.vacman.co.uk/ Edinburgh

    Well, what guilt I say. I think had contact with Andrew Miller, pioneer of LPM, further well…he could buy for the biggest douche trip i suppose severely met. Sorry, but it’s the truth. This fellow LOVES to hear himself talk and thinks that everything he writes is the gold. Don’t waste your time with him.

  • Mark Fries

    Is Lisa P Maxwell still around? Quite surprised if that’s the case. He and his self absorbed ego can go eff himself. Along with his nasty wife/keeper.

  • Presta

    Interesting that so often when you read about these “kewl” business ideas, funky approaches, that they tend to not last. Bumped into this in a search, and hey presto, Lisa seems to be out of business. Funny that. I’m not anti new, but it’s important to keep focus on the goal: making money. I bet they were focusing on being kewl.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/rick-porter/ Rick

    Nice article Mark. I just bumped into it where it was linked from someplace else!

  • sara

    I also just landed here after clicking on a link from another site…This article was spot on two years ago and the author had enough foresight to point out the businesses flaws and where they could improve but Im guessing they did not heed the advice; hence the reason the domain is “for sale”…..

  • Mark Schannon

    Thanks for the comments. Interesting to hear that the agency went under. New is all very well and good, but relevant and responsive will win every time…not to mention learning about new scientific findings about how we take in a process information, form opinions, and make decisions.

  • D. Kasel

    BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL OF PR PERSON ANEISHA HOWARD! SHE IS A MASTER SCAM ARTIST WHO EMBEZZLED MASSIVE SUMS OF MONEY FROM OUR COMPANY IS NO WHERE TO BE FOUND!!!

  • http://proofreadingpal.com Brian Kaldenberg

    That is the dumbest website idea I’ve ever heard of. That’s probably why http://www.lisapmaxwell.com is no longer in business. We proofread and edit for advertising agencies all across the country because they’re budget savvy. This dated article is an example of someone who knows absolutely nothing about the role of a website for an advertising agency. An advertising agency that is dumb at marketing is a recipe for disaster.