The (Web) House that NCC Built

By Jill Kurtz, APR

This week the National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) launches a new website. The site is the culmination of the efforts of an all-volunteer Web Tech Committee co-chaired by Robert Udowitz and Sabrina Kidwai with development by chapter sponsor Balance Interactive.

The result is a new website for the chapter that provides a foundation for sharing information, engaging with members and reaching out to the DC Metro public relations community.

As a chapter member and chief operating officer at Balance Interactive, I was able to support the project from the start and will be able to enjoy the outcome for years to come.

A great website starts with a strong foundation

I often talk clients through the website development process. My favorite analogy for the effort is building a house. Like a house, a great website starts with a solid, properly shaped foundation. This takes shape in a web strategy brief.

The web strategy is an outcome of research that includes an analysis of audiences, web statistics, the current site and competitive and complementary sites. The information gathered is used to define the goals of the website as well as high-level strategies to achieve them.

For NCC, the web strategy laid out these core recommendations:

Upgrade the website platform. Build the new PRSA-NCC website on a platform that meets the chapter’s current and anticipated needs.

Write content to serve members. The website content needs to be rewritten for easy online reading. It needs to speak to the needs and interests of members.

Create the chapter’s brand online. NCC is part of the PRSA family. The chapter website appearance should reflect this relationship.

Offer an experience that looks to the future. Offer site visitors engaging experiences and set up the website in a way that makes it easy to add new services over time.

Going for curb appeal

The first impression is critical for any website. Users should want to dig in – not run away. The website design was developed to communicate location as well as vibrancy. The home page offers plenty of timely information and an abundance of links to dig deeper.

But it’s not all about a pretty picture. A great website has terrific content – something public relations professionals know all about. The website grabs visitors with its design, but really hooks them with great content that informs and prompts action.

Many hands

Like any construction project, a website needs the involvement of many people.

Oversight was provided by the chapter board, who found the funding to make the effort possible and the leadership to keep the effort a top priority.

The web committee took a deep look at the content of the website. They deleted old content and refreshed a great deal of the remaining text. Particular focus was given to fleshing out the information about committees, central to the operations of the chapter.

The chapter manager, Sherri Core, brought her expertise on day to day logistics of chapter operations. This allowed the site to bring as many processes online as possible. As just one example, a member dashboard summarizes attendance at event, committee memberships and more to support easy documentation for the APR process.

Balance Interactive applied technical expertise to the custom development of the site using the Drupal content management system and the CiviCRM member management module. Following the blueprint defined in the web strategy, functional requirements and content strategy for the site, the development resulted in a site that supports the chapter now and into the future.

Thanks to all, the project was delivered on time and on budget.

A model house

The new PRSA-NCC website process offers several valuable lessons that may serve as a model for other chapters:

  • Leadership is needed. The Board must oversee the strategic direction of the chapter website.
  • The Board also needs to empower the people who will manage the day to day of the project to make decisions.
  • Never forget the importance of content. The previous chapter website did not adequately reflect NCC. Key information was missing, and there was no call to engage with the organization.
  • Have lots of ideas and start with some of them. A well-built website can grow over time. Start with the ideas that will appeal to most members, and then add more features over time. This keeps the project manageable and affordable and sets the stage for ongoing member input.
  • Set deadlines. Have a plan that sets the tasks, timeline and responsibilities for the website project so that everyone shares the same roadmap.

Never say “done”

A website is always a work in progress. The next step for the chapter is to pay attention to visitor feedback and website metrics. This data will inform and guide continual improvement of the site.

Equally important is an ongoing commitment to keeping the content current and engaging. The website is a living part of the chapter and will need constant care and attention so it can thrive.

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