Aug 2008 The More Things Change …
Just came across this article that was written back in 2000. We were a year into having set up in the UK and the dot com boom was still expanding, although Boo.com had collapsed. The amazing thing about this article to me is seeing how much of what we said then, we still say and do today.
Feature: Decoded: Organic – no call for booing
Decoded: Organic – no call for booing
Date: 25 July 2000
Along with Razorfish and Agency.com, Organic is one of the main US players operating on both sides of the Atlantic and, like many US interlopers, it’s quick to claim its relative years of experience as a competitive advantage. But Organic can legitimately claim to have been involved in one of the most salient experiences the sector has so far seen; one of its clients was Boo.com.
Not that the company bears any malice. John Baker, who moved across from the New York office to become UK managing director, says they parted on good terms and that Organic still stands by the work it did. “We still have people tell us that it was one of the most innovative sites,” he enthuses.
He does emphasise though, that Organic’s contribution was a small part, creating the Flash applications for the products and dressing room, as well as all the rich media advertising for Boo’s online campaigns. And, not surprisingly, there’s no longer any mention of the failed online sports fashion retailer in any of Organic’s press material; not so much standing by as saying bye.
Nevertheless, the experience is just one in Organic’s portfolio. Like it or not, the big US players are big precisely because they started earlier, and in a young industry, experience is all the more valuable.
3 card trick
Founded in San Francisco in 1993, Organic now boasts nine offices and 1200 employees worldwide. It opened its first international office in Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the end 1997, and is now operating in London, Singapore and Toronto, as well as across the US.
Having opened in London in June last year, the company has 90 employees based in its Queens Park office, including 25 engineers, 15 designers, 15 project management, 15 marketing solutions and 10 strategy consultants.
“We tend to operate with dedicated core teams, and build them out as we go,” explains Baker. “Unlike some agencies, we give the client around five key contacts -[for example] an engineering lead, creative lead and strategic lead, as well as the project leader.”
This, he says, helps keep communication open. “Experience shows us that if you only have a single point of client contact, like an account manager, it can become a bottleneck.”
As befits an agency located in Queens Park, just a stone’s throw from dotcom mecca in Notting Hill, its focus is on the more glamourous end of interactive services, specialising in design and marketing. Organics UK services are split into three departments: online marketing, i-business development and strategic consultancy.
Each of the sectors do operate standalone but, pressed for a particular strength, Baker says: “it has to be the integration,” meaning the offering of its three strands as a complete service.
Baker says i-business, the engineering part, forms the core of Organic UK’s work accounting for about 60% of its business. “We have strong skills in Flash, and with the ATG and BroadVision platforms. And we don’t think of WAP as a separate thing either,” he says. “It’s important to keep the engineers centralised, because they need to know how to make applications extensible to all devices.”
On the marketing side, which accounts for around 20% of business, Organic offers full online media services, from planning and executing basic banner campaigns to striking portal deals and running email campaigns.
Strategic consulting, which accounts for the last 20%, also includes offering its US-based customer services and fulfillment brokering. Baker explains: “We also offer consulting on everything after the customer hits the buy button – what kind of warehousing or packaging do they have? In the US we have relationships with warehouses and call centres, and can integrate our clients with these services if they require.”
Again, the Boo experience has bearing: “Boo had great (order) fulfillment in place and well-branded packaging. It’s just that their e-commerce engine was so horrendous.”
These services are currently only offered to UK clients on an ad hoc basis, but Baker says a full roll-out will take place here later this year. In the US, Organic is facilitating fulfillment for clients including Tommy Hilfiger and Iomega.
Clients and partners
Organic is one of IBM’s Global Services and Pervasive Computing partners, and does a lot of work with its WebSphere platform. It also has formal relationships with BroadVision, ATG (Art Technology Group), Open Market and Pandesic.
As Baker points out, such a range of partnerships is important because no one platform fits all clients. But while the company is not limited to these platforms, he also advises that the relationships are more than just marketing deals, providing training and technical support to Organic’s staff.
The company has a lot of its experience in industry verticals, such as electronic retail and telecoms. Clients include BT.com, for which Organic has recently completed its SME portal and Business Store on the BroadVision platform. It also built the front-end of IP telco Quip.co.uk’s site and eyestorm.co.uk.
As well as BT, Daimler Chrysler is Organic UK’s cornerstone client, working on its pan-European site. The company’s major US clients include Law.com, Blockbuster and Hewlett Packard.
Organic works on both fixed payment and retainer-based accounts, preferring the former for dotcoms and the latter for large corporates. Baker says this is because they tend to hand completed projects over to dotcoms, because, unlike traditional companies, the website is the dotcom’s core business.
Keeping to the front
Organic’s focus is very much on front-end solutions, with its skills in Flash and e-commerce systems. The company doesn’t do backend, preferring to work with other solutions providers for this, such as Unisys on the Quip account. “We don’t have a systems integrator approach,” explains Baker, “so we don’t do ERP or legacy integration.”
As is becoming increasingly common with larger agencies, last May it opened an R&D lab in its New York office, principally to experiment with wireless and broadband solutions. The lab operates in two ways. Firstly, the company funds research in areas it feels it needs to develop, to generate case studies and best practices, and secondly it co-funds with clients developments that directly benefit them. It’s currently running a WAP project for an undisclosed UK client.
Organic offers the usual company incentives to try and attract and keep staff, with “benefits, a recreation room, bagels, beer bashes and the like,” says Baker. It also stubbornly clings to one of the internet’s original business differentiators, proudly claiming its professional services take a “C2B” approach. As Baker puts it: “This reflects our user-centric development and the change in control from manufacturers to customers.”
Despite such platitudes, Organic is one of the few agencies that can point to some longevity. So what was the biggest lesson from the Boo experience? “I think it’s definitely a preference to have full service engagement on a project, to be accountable for what we do,” says Baker. “There were eight partners working on Boo, and we saw a lot of changes taking place that we couldn’t control, and all we could do was end on good terms.”