Thursday, May 22, 2008

Digital Production Moving Offshore

Interesting story in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “More Digital Ads Are Produced Offshore.” I’m not certain what prompted the author, Emily Steel, to write about this phenomenon just now, as it’s been going on for years. In fact, many Web projects today are done by virtual teams with members around the world -- and that’s probably a good thing, both for those of us who make our livings off the Web and our clients.

In the early 90s I worked for a company called marchFIRST that was formed, grew to nearly 10,000 employees, and then vanished within a year. One of m1’s many mistakes, (apart from bad timing and highly questionable accounting practices) was that it tried to build a “one stop shop” in which every specialty skill set needed for interactive strategy, design or development was available in one company. That sounds great, of course, but in reality it is quite a resource juggling act. If you have highly specialized skills, you have to scour the country, or the world, to find projects that will utilize and expand your skills. Since most offices are measured on their local bottom line, they would prefer to keep you on their own projects, whether or not you are working in your specialty. And so you have a constant tug of war, with agencies pushing staff onto projects regardless of fit in order to keep them utilized, and staff members struggling to stay at the cutting edge of their profession.

Now I have my own agency. I can listen to what my client needs, judge exactly what skills would be most useful to them, and find the perfect staff for their engagement – regardless of location. Sure, it’s cheaper to hire someone in Bulgaria or Uruguay, and sometimes I staff from those countries to keep costs down. But it’s also great to be able to find the perfect person, with availability at just the right time, to meet my client’s needs. And it’s nice for people who work on the Web to be able to live anywhere and still find interesting work. I work with a great programmer who lives in Sweetwater Texas. And another one who lives in a small town in Spain. And another one in Bulgaria. You get the idea. Meanwhile, I get calls from other small agencies to help them with brand and digital strategy engagements. I offer them a far superior resource to the minimally trained 20-something "strategy" resource that most large digital firms have on staff today. In short, it’s a win/win for all, as long as you stay competitive and offer world-class service.

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