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.
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: 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.
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.Powered by Sidelines