Your organization’s website is your first-impression for many of your potential ticket buyers, patrons or clients. It shows off your visual identity and houses all of the essentials about you and your mission. Your sales, fundraising, online engagement, lead generation, and more depend on your place online.
Frequent smaller scale improvements, referred to as iterative design, are a smarter and more affordable path but only if and when you have the solid foundation and flexible CMS you need for continuous tweaks, tests and add-ons. And to build that foundation, you might first need a major overhaul.
The website redesign process can be overwhelming.
Some arts organizations opt to manage the redesign process in-house. Take Seattle Opera, for instance. Kristina Murti, Director of Marketing, discussed the process from start to finish and gave some advice for those looking to do the same.
Other organizations opt to hire an outside project manager so they don’t completely tap out their staff resources.
I know what you’re thinking. “How will an outsider know enough about my organization to manage a project so big and so vital?” “How long will it take to get that outsider up to speed?” “Won’t that throw off my timeline from the start?” “Shouldn’t we give that junior level staffer more responsibility, because they are bright and capable and deserve the chance?” The list of reasons goes on. And it’s a good list!
But in many cases, pulling in an outside project manager can be a blessing. Without someone laser-focused on moving the website along, a redesign can get buried among other pressing projects with equally important deadlines. Season brochures, fundraising campaigns and annual reports aren’t going to make themselves! They can very easily take precedence over the coordination and execution of a project this enormous.
And it is enormous.
You’ll start at Discovery - gathering relevant background information, discussing pain points with the current site (from all perspectives), perhaps employing some user testing to better define challenges, and rethinking your site map, navigation and flow of information.
You’ll move into Design - which can spark internal debates about aesthetic, and can and should prompt a shift in the way you write about your work and the media you showcase.
Eventually, you come to Content Population - even if you’re a smaller company, you’ll find you have a lot to put on the site. Individual choreographers I work with have multiple categories of work to share, thoughtfully complex community programs, ongoing classes and workshops, biographies for collaborators, fundraising pages and more.
Finally, you’re at Testing and Launch - checking every header, image, and link on desktop and on mobile. Realizing you forgot to include a very important program feature in the navigation. Finding strange quirks in Chrome vs. Safari.
When you’re trying to also do your day job - design that holiday card, launch your end of year appeal, write emails to your subscribers - this can sound like a second full-time job.
That’s because it is.
When I signed on as project manager of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance website redesign, they were short-staffed and on an aggressive timeline with an end date that could not budge. If the site didn’t launch by their deadline, they would fall behind on launching season ticket sales, likely hurting their chance to successfully sell the Festival.
My first experience with Jacob’s Pillow was a summer internship in marketing and press relations in 2008. That summer was pre-Instagram. Pre-Facebook ads. Pre-content marketing as we now know it. Their website looked like this:
Fast forward eight years, and the Pillow’s website was pretty much the same. But the ways we can reach and interact with new audiences and loyal patrons have completely changed. Cue the need for a mobile-friendly, visually-stunning, user-focused redesign. The Pillow wanted a new and improved site to convey a sense of place and community, sell more tickets, and house fresh, contemporary content.
My main role as project manager was to keep the project moving forward, even as other projects stole the Pillow’s attention, the staff struggled to agree in reviewing rounds of design or tech glitches threatened to delay the launch. In the end, we ended up with a fabulous new website that not only looked good, but also provided a good user experience. (Thanks, Barrel!)
If you’re considering hiring an outside expert as your project manager, this checklist can help encompass their approach:
- Can they review the current website and any other relevant materials with an expert eye?
- Can they create a comprehensive project guide and RFP for the redesign?
- Can they help you filter through proposals and find your perfect design partner?
- Can they oversee the web redesign, including day-to-day management of the design agency, review of all work, tracking of feedback and synthesis of change requests made by your staff, and minding that all decisions support goals agreed upon in the project guide?
- Can they assist on a full content audit of your current website to archive copy as needed, generate and better prioritize content for the new site, and strategize placement of content in a new site map?
- Can they write for web? Can they copyedit? Can they consult on the creation of original media for sections of the site as needed?
- Can they attend regular meetings with your internal redesign team, the design agency, and any additional consultants?
- Can they communicate with key members of your staff and board on relevant sections of the site for feedback and buy-in?
Project managers can start from the beginning, assembling project guides and RFPs and helping to find your perfect design partner. But they can also jump in when you’ve already defined your goals for the process and you’ve teamed up with a trusted vendor to achieve them.
In every case, make sure you look for the following characteristics in an outside project manager:
- Digital marketing know-how: do they have a good handle on SEO, understand your SEM approach, and go on and on about the importance of quality metrics?
- Big picture thinking: do they seem focused on style without focus on substance? You want someone to continuously remind you that this project is longterm and needs to be functional and flexible, not just beautiful.
- Detail-oriented: can they balance out the big picture strategy with daily list-making? Can they run through a staging site with a fine-tooth comb?
- Clear communications: are their emails uncomplicated and easy to respond to? Will they be comfortable on the phone with you and your board chair?
Keep in mind, the project management job is also part therapist and part diplomat. It’s translating nonprofit speak to developers and design speak to artistic directors. It’s challenging internal, departmental notions of what’s important to have on the homepage from the perspective of a patron who might use it. It’s always thinking from every angle - paying attention to the design of your performance detail page as an arts patron looking for tickets and as an arts marketer with varied information available to them to properly edit and populate the page each season. It’s anticipating that your organization will continue to prosper and evolve and that the site you build needs to grow right along with you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just make sure you ask the right person.
Amy Jacobus has a background in dance and journalism and runs Amy Jacobus Marketing, where she strategizes, consults and manages digital marketing and communications for small businesses, individual artists and nonprofit organizations. She has project managed website redesigns for Christopher Duggan Photography, Nel Shelby Productions, Brooklyn Friends School and Jacob’s Pillow Dance, among others.