Steps to making a good first impression

A well constructed and compelling Web site can be an incredible asset to PR agencies

A strong online presence is a must-have for PR firms, so a carefully designed agency Web site is a good way to not only inform potential clients and employees about the agency, but also to showcase its digital capabilities.

Interactive content that encourages conversation is at the forefront of good Web sites. One way to keep the audience informed and engaged, explains Derek Creevey, chief of staff at Edelman, is to keep agency blogs in a prominent spot on the firm's site. This allows the audience to frequently access rich content and insights, as well as interact with others, he explains.

"It's about contributing to the issues that are happening; being upfront about what is happening at your firm; and being able to provide news quickly, accurately, and instantly," Creevey says.

Jeff Hunt, president of Cohn & Wolfe, says blogs and personal staff biographies are central to a good site, because they allow the agency's personality to shine through. This can be useful for informing both potential employees and clients about the agency.

"Getting [to] a level below the superficial bio really gives people a better sense for what we are as a company, what we value, [and] our culture," he says.

Too much text on a single page can be boring for readers. So Hunt suggests using video as an additional way for the agency to provide its point of view on a topic in an interesting format that will encourage ongoing dialogue.

"It comes down to moving from an officious, stiff, linear kind of expression on the Web site, to a much more conversational and more behind-the-scenes look to [help you] get to know us better," Hunt says.

While Flash and video can be great visual tools, it's important to make sure they don't slow down the site's main page, explains Shannon Latta, a partner at Horn Group. She points out that most people will not tolerate more than five seconds of loading time on the home page - unless there is plenty of other content to occupy them while they wait.

"You need to strike the perfect balance of design, content, and interaction," she says. "You can't have too much or too little. The right mix of those three makes for a great experience on an agency Web site."

To help gauge user patterns, Fleishman-Hillard pays strong attention to metrics to see where the visitors are spending time on the site. David Lowey, SVP and senior partner, explains how the agency tries to remain open to
new undertakings that will improve the audience's experience with the site.

"If we see something is working and something is not, we try to just remain flexible," Lowey says. "Nothing is carved in stone; if we want to move something around, we do it."

Having a well-organized site, where information is easy to access, is also central to meeting the needs of the site's visitors. Creevey says one of the core functions of Edelman.com is helping people navigate the site and
find the information they need.

"Everything you do has to be RSS-enabled, and has to be able to be shared, available, and searched over such a wide variety of aggregator sites," he says. "You've got to enable people to take that content; take those ideas; build on those ideas. Or to just take them, and distribute them any way they choose."

Lowey points out that Fleishman tags most information on its site by subject, including blog posts, client stories, and articles written by staff members, so people can easily access diversified information on a given topic.

"Not only does it create [a greater] search capability than a traditional architecture," he says, "but it also really helps credential and provide a personality for the agency."

Do
Show your agency's culture on its Web site

Make changes often and try new things to meet audience needs

Make sure the site is RSS-enabled

Don't
Include too much text on a single page

Allow your site to become stale with content

Include too much Flash or video

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