Paul Holmes 22 Oct 2002 // 11:00PM GMT
In the highly competitive world of global mail delivery, Royal Mail North America¡¦s parent organization, Consignia, can boast a heritage that dates back to the 17 th century. Makovsky & Company provides public relations and communications counsel for this regional office, and became a natural choice when Royal Mail North America chose to redesign its Web site in 2001.
The final product needed more than a pretty design. It required a smart strategy for organizing content in an intuitive fashion and a powerful, stable technology that would allow Royal Mail¡¦s marketing people to make rapid changes on the site without extensive reprogramming and the expense associated with it. In the end, the Royal Mail Web site vividly demonstrates how a public relations agency can use the Internet to produce effectively integrated and flexible marketing solutions.
Challenge & Strategy
This online initiative presented several important challenges:
¡P ƒnThe Web site needed to strongly reflect existing branding messages, many of which had been developed earlier by the Makovsky PR team and eventually adopted worldwide. Yet, these messages needed to flow naturally within the site¡¦s navigational system to avoid clutter and confusion for site visitors.
¡P ƒnThe incumbent site had been developed by one of the world¡¦s top Web designers, which highlighted the project on its own Web site. Makovsky had to generate the creative muscle to raise the bar.
¡P ƒnThe North American office did not possess an IT department and its own internal technical skills were limited. The new Web site required an inexpensive, but powerful content management system that would allow the office to maintain its own site.
Makovsky¡¦s strategic response addressed each of these challenges. We proposed a navigational structure inspired by the company¡¦s main branding themes (Reach, Reputation, and Resourcefulness). Traditionally, the About section of a corporate Web site offers specific information about a company. The new site organized the content within sections named for each of these themes, allowing Royal Mail to present information that directly validated each of these marketing messages.
The site also provides quick access to specific content areas within the site by establishing highly visible pathways for different audiences. For instance, the home page of the site has been organized into five specific sections. Three of these sections provide primary and secondary titles for information clearly organized by function¡Xinformation about the company (Learn About Us), information about services (See What We Do), and information for journalists (Discover What¡¦s New).
¡§Rollover¡¨ messages give visitors an early indication of what they will find in a specific section without clicking; this feature minimizes needless searching.
A fourth section contains direct links to specific online services, which can be selected anywhere on the site. A fifth area provides a promotional window that contains either animated or static graphics that can be easily changed to promote new products or special events. Unlike other ¡§splash screen¡¨ introductions, which impatient visitors often choose to ¡§skip,¡¨ Royal Mail¡¦s animations are embedded within the home page, and do not impede on the user¡¦s ability to access home page links.
The site¡¦s technical infrastructure builds pages dynamically by extracting text and graphics from a database. This approach allows Royal Mail to easily change content or add site pages by ¡§cutting and pasting¡¨ information into ¡§forms,¡¨ eliminating the need to change the underlying HTML programming. The system allows administrators to rapidly upload content to the host server at the click of a button; new pages can go live in as little as two seconds.
Process and Execution
To establish an appropriate development strategy and site map, Makovsky conducted a competitive audit of four corporate Web sites (TNT International Mail, Deutsche Post, Federal Express, and DHL). This competitive marketplace ¡§snapshot¡¨ allowed Royal Mail to see what other market leaders did right and what they did wrong, while suggesting important site consistencies that could be incorporated in the final project.
Royal Mail and Makovsky teams worked closely throughout the strategy, design, and technical phases of this initiative, which began in January 2001. Makovsky also helped select an appropriate Internet Service Provider to house the site and support the office¡¦s domestic e-mail addresses. Royal Mail successfully launched its new site in mid-April.
The new Web site received strong positive reaction among customers and Royal Mail¡¦s internal audiences. ¡§Our ongoing commitment is to improve our internal and external communication, as well as to reduce costs while increasing the value of our marketing efforts,¡¨ said Kim Johnson, Director of Marketing for Royal Mail in North America. ¡§Having a dynamic Web site is an integral part of that overall strategy.¡¨
The site¡¦s content management system passed its first major test, when Royal Mail needed to make wholesale changes to its ¡§See What We Do¡¨ section a few months following launch. It also allowed Royal Mail to post quick updates for customers when its services were disrupted in the weeks following the September 11 th attack.
¡§PR practitioners are expected to be ¡¥jacks of all trades,¡¦ which makes it difficult to be master of even one,¡¨ said Brian Anderson, the communications coordinator for Royal Mail in North America who is responsible for public relations and Web site content. ¡§Makovsky¡¦s process, however, allows me to perform my job without the requirement of any programming background. I can now update our site directly within a matter of minutes rather than days; and, perhaps more importantly, our targeted audiences ¡X such as clients, prospects and media representatives ¡X can now navigate the site more easily and intuitively.¡¨
Royal Mail recently merged with TNT and Singapore Post to form Spring, and will transition to a new site in the coming months.