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National Capital Chapter

Lessons on a Web Site: From Site Launch to a Thoth Award

Tails were wagging at the Pet Food Institute (PFI) when PRSA-NCC recognized us with a Thoth Award this past fall for work on our website (www.petfoodinstitute.org). When I joined the small trade association representing U.S. dog and cat food makers in early 2016, my first assignment was to oversee a redesign and relaunch of PFI’s website as part of an overall rebranding initiative. Following the initial launch in mid-2016, we watched the site performance closely and developed new strategies and tactics to turn it into an award-winning resource.

As public relations professionals, we understand that digital platforms are dynamic and constantly evolving. Technologies, modes of engagement, and audience profiles change as we gain new tools and data to segment users and conduct outreach. With comprehensive analytics and a willingness to adapt, paired with a collaborative relationship with PFI’s public relations agency, Inspire PR Group, we adjusted the content strategy and promotion for the recently-launched PFI website. The end result was a comprehensive resource for targeted visitors.

Set Definable Goals, Use Clear Metrics

As an in-house communications team of one, it was absolutely essential for PFI to work with our agency in setting definable and realistic goals. This meant having a clear understanding of our target audiences, confirming the channels to use with limited staff resources, and communicating clearly with a board of directors and committees comprised of senior corporate leadership.

We then used quantitative data to establish key benchmarks for assessment and reporting. With agency staff on hand in early 2018, PFI reviewed the website metrics available in the first 1.5 years since its launch. These metrics helped identify the most engaging content on the website, pinpoint highly-successful keywords used in paid search and social media campaigns, and understand how these factors interacted with the news cycle to influence click-throughs and time spent on site. Equipped with information such as top pages, visit time and number of visits, we were able to understand our baseline and develop appropriate tactics necessary to help reach our specific goals.

Content is Top Dog
It was easy to see that content is top dog when it came to driving traffic to the website. We used this mindset to assess the multiple ways to incorporate new and refreshed content into the website, and to develop creative ways to share existing content. Our approach included brainstorming a year-long editorial calendar and developing month-by-month social media content guides, which allowed us to identify and capitalize on important dates and anticipated news.

We also took an integrative approach to our content strategy and aligned both digital and traditional media outreach. Whether reaching out to a reporter or writing a Facebook post, we considered the ways to repackage and utilize resources across multiple channels to meet the defined goals.

Don’t Be Afraid of Strategic Paid Digital
Paid advertising is a successful mechanism to drive website users and drive interested visitors to key content. Working with Inspire PR Group, we developed an integrated advertising strategy that included strategic Facebook, Twitter and Google AdWords. We monitored search trends, news and issues, then developed ads that aligned with current interests. If an industry crisis arose or a news story affected public perception, digital advertising made it simple to quickly insert the Pet Food Institute website as an available resource for those actively searching for related information. Overall, Google AdWords drove about 30 percent of website traffic in 2018, with campaigns around new major web resources garnering a 2.6 percent click-through rate and an average cost of $.59 per click (industry average CTR is 2 percent).

Track Your Achievements
I knew that the PRSA-NCC Thoth Awards were an excellent opportunity to showcase the applied learnings of the PFI website. Every public relations practitioner knows that it can be a challenge to demonstrate ROI on certain campaigns or initiatives. Fortunately, thanks to robust internal reporting and documentation with basic analytical tools, we had metrics readily available to analyze and present a winning story.

Ultimately, the PFI website saw a 122 percent increase in site visits from 2017 to 2018, a library of new resources for media and pet care influencers, and trusted third parties linking through to www.petfoodinstitute.org. It was an honor to be recognized with a PRSA-NCC Thoth Award for our website and show that, no matter the size of your communications team, it is possible to leave a big pawprint.


Mary Emma Young serves as the senior director of communications for the Pet Food Institute (PFI), where she is responsible for creating and overseeing PFI’s public affairs initiatives, including media outreach programs, social media and other digital content strategies. Mary Emma received her bachelor’s degree from The George Washington University, where she graduated magna cum laude. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her dogs Maddie and Pepper, and enjoys hiking with her pups, cooking and visiting her hometown of Baltimore.