This is a guest post by Ed Zitron, founder and CEO of EZPR.
Though I’ve been called many things, such as a jerk and a fool, I am intimately aware that for the last three years, if not more, my website has sucked, as has my general brand presence.
Now, I hate phrases like “brand presence,” but if you compared my old site to my new site, and my old domain to my new domain, I was a step or eleven behind my competitors. Despite EZPR having Fortune 50-500 clients, huge companies people actually know about and such, we had a web presence of the sort you’d expect from a Midwestern dog breeder.
The big issue we have is that we compete on contracts with much, much larger agencies by doing things like actually getting results and being good at our jobs or something. However, they have real websites that aren’t garbage. Our PowerPoints weren’t great either. Neither were our presentation documents. We hadn’t really needed them, but I wanted them as we got bigger.
To give you some clarity, I’ve found in retrospect that we lost out on a few deals, and nearly lost deals, because of our old website.
So, here’s what I learned along the way.
Lose the hyphen, get a good domain.
Every agency seems to have a domain that’s somethingcomms or somethingPR or somethingbranding. Real world companies have their name dot com. That’s what I wanted. It looks professional. It looks “real.” Except I had a four-letter domain.
A nice man in Korea had owned EZPR.com for many years. I say “nice,” though, knowing that he was genuinely nice but wanted a great deal of money for the website. When I say a “great deal of money,” I’d like to give you some idea of how rare it is to actually own a four-letter domain. Before we’d had that blasted hyphen, EZ-PR. Five letters versus four letters may not seem like much, but well, I wanted that domain. After years of thinking I could ice the guy out, I had to pay roughly $14,500 – I could have paid less, but he wanted to use escrow.com versus Sedo.com, a domain broker that charges fees but is legitimate and friends recommended. To give you some scale as to why this was in perspective a good idea, someone has been trying to sell me updog.com for $50,000 for the better part of a year.
It sucks getting a great designer, but it’s worth it.
The old EZPR designs were created by two different people – one was found on 99Designs, and the other I won’t name because I don’t want to be mean, but he didn’t do a great job. Finding a designer in general is one of the most difficult things, because you’re relying on someone who can create a great brand but also create a great website but also actually deliver it but also will respond to your emails and calls.
Furthermore, you have to find someone who gets the project and isn’t just “good.” There are tons of good websites. Heck, most PR websites are just “good.” There are a few standouts – The OutCast Agency for example has a really slick design, as does Method Communications – but even then I didn’t want to be another agency website with some very excited or thoughtful looking people sitting at a table.
In essence I wanted a website and brand that communicated EZPR – slick, to-the-point, honest and lighthearted without being chintzy. I also wanted a website that was good for a website not just good for a PR agency website.
Through an old client who had a good website, I found Stephen Elias and Electropolymath. They’ve worked with StubHub, SAP and other big companies. Stephen on the phone was blunt and honest. He got what I needed – a logo, a website, business cards, collateral. He works in ExpressionEngine over WordPress and other basic production platforms, so that I (an idiot) could push changes live without having to code (which I cannot).
Why one guy for all this?
Because if you brand across multiple people, it gets convoluted, messy and expensive. And if a designer can’t do all this on their own, they’re not worth their salt.
We set up a flow in Podio, and started as simple as the font we’d use. We went through four logo concepts, of which we had about four versions. Steve actually nailed it on concept one, with three more that I shrugged at immediately. The new EZPR logo was something I wanted to stick with for a long time, and thus I thought I’d kvetch a lot longer, but it got done – it said the words and it had a little speech-bubble effect. Done.
To Steve’s great credit, he also sat there and accepted me junking random designs on the website about 15 times.
The important thing to remember here is that god does this take a long time. I’m talking months. It’s not so much that designers are slow, but if you pick something crappy, it’s yours forever. People remember. They turn down your business based on the smallest things – don’t have an about page? Nope. Sorry. I can’t tell who the random people smiling on your website are, and thus you could be untrustworthy. They don’t like your background. Ah, that link’s broken. Nope. Ah, that typo. Ah, that little niggling point that says “no signature.”
Steve even, last minute, junked a whole part of the design and rebuilt it overnight. The new version was a lot better.
The sliding elements per page also mean less pages overall. I recommend it.
Design a good mobile/desktop website, not a good PR website
Another horrifying element of our digital age is people on cellphones. My old website would not load on them properly. It made people laugh at me, and I wept constantly. That’s why Stephen took ages making it look good on mobile.
Furthermore, we went with sliding panels at the top, because when people look for a PR agency (and I did my research), it’s important to know a few things:
What PR agencies think clients want:
- You’ve worked with THE BIGGEST BRANDS
- You’ve got a TEAM OF GENIUSES
- You are MARKETING AND MEDIA MASTERMINDS with BIG WORDS and FANCY WAYS OF SAYING THEM
What companies want to know:
- Who are these people?
- What have they worked on?
- Do they do things well?
- Who are their clients? I can Google them if I don’t know them.
Common agency website mistakes:
- Too much text.
- A list of clients that are only big names. Why is this weird? Because, uh, sure, buddy you worked on the biggest names in tech forever. Just like the other guy. In fact, a lot of PR agencies apparently worked on the same giant companies. That makes people suspicious.
- No mobile website.
- Pictures of people looking interested while sitting at tables.
- An “about” page of PR people who are all smiling identically against a white wall.
If you are going to rebrand your agency, you need to be thinking beyond what other agencies look like, as they mostly look the same. Compare their logos, their websites, their about us pages, their text – everything feels the same. If you want to actually stand out in any way, shape or form, your job is to get a design that’s based on other websites versus your industry. I was told this by multiple clients, reporters and designers – that everything looking the same in an industry is the equivalent of everyone walking through the right door when the left door is totally open. It’s not about some trite statement of “go your own way,” it’s about not assuming that the world wants another PR agency website, and that to compete you must be identical.
Then again that’s sort of my thing.
He’s also an extremely prolific tweeter.