We have designed and built quite a few celebrity websites. We recently launched Russell Brand’s new site, a fascinating project that went very well despite being delivered within a pretty tight timescale. So what is the process, and does it differ from developing a website for a business?
Each celebrity site comes with its unique challenges, and the process varies each time slightly. However, there are a few vital things to bear in mind when working with someone in the glare of the public eye. Here they are.
Exceed design expectations
Quality is vital. Most celebrities will not tolerate average design work. The eventual site will need to be developed accurately, with an eye on every detail. The higher-profile the personality, the clearer the vision they tend to have towards the result they want to see. You have to exceed design expectations, or you will undermine the process and start heading in circles. Be bold. Seek to differentiate the person. In a noisy world, they do that every day. Be part of that process.
Engage the wider team
Celebs usually have a large support team behind them. Each team member will perform a particular function. Often each will want something different from the website. A few of the team, won’t want a site at all. Involving everyone and positively engaging each person is crucial. The key is to get everyone’s buy-in from day one and include them all in the planning stage. Appoint a single point of contact for sanity’s sake, but make sure everyone has had a say and felt part of the process. In Russell’s case his management at Chambers Management were a huge help in the process and much of the success of his new site is down to their strategic input. You will never please everyone, so don’t seek too please – engagement does not mean pleasing everyone.
Don’t expect too much direct involvement
We never expect much celebrity involvement in the site design process. These are busy people and we often only get to meet them once or twice. Celebs rarely work an ordinary 9-5 day, so you really can’t expect them to pick up their emails at 9 am every morning. Most rely on their management team to manage the details and present them with decisions when needed. On the bright side, they trust their teams, get them working with you, and you will find celebs are great at making quick and decisive decisions – they are busy, they need to be good at it.
Expect design changes
The lack of celebrity involvement in the planning process frequently means we get a slew of last-minute design changes, but that is the nature of the job, and it is fair enough – after all, the site represents their career, and it needs to be perfect. It is our responsibility to become part of their team and gain everyone’s trust. Roll with the punches if unexpected design changes emerge.
Photography is king
Photography takes on a vital role when creating a site for a celebrity. Great photos make or break any site, but in this case, they are even more important. With Russell Brand, we were lucky that he had been working with Matt Crockett, a fantastic photographer who’d be our first port of call with any celebrity website.
Traffic spikes and site security
Celebrity sites will experience traffic spikes, and web hosting has to be able to cope. You cannot afford the site going down when they announce a new tour or appear on prime-time television. Similarly, you have to consider the site’s security. You should do so with any site. Your reputation rests on that site being water-tight. You will be the first head on the chopping block if something goes wrong. We host our sites with WpEngine. They play an active role in all our websites, making sure they can cope with spikes in traffic and are safe, secure and continually monitored. Don’t leave this to chance.
You cannot expect to get much-written content. Most celebrities we work with just don’t have the time or inclination to create reams of content about themselves. Over the years, we have learned not to design with massive amounts of written content in mind. It makes sense from a marketing and SEO perspective, too. Like household-name brands, famous people are in a unique position. Their audience knows them, and they search for information about them by name. If you want to find Russell Brand’s website you do not type ‘UK comedian websites’ into Google. You just type ‘Russell Brand’, and his site pops up at the top of page one.
Allow for easy updating
It is our job to enable, not disable. A successful celeb website has to act as a vehicle to promote new projects and communicate quickly with the world. Don’t make that difficult – don’t be the barrier that stops them from updating their site regularly. Nobody wants to call a busy web agency to make simple changes. Embedding a Twitter or Instagram feed just one important way in which they can see themselves influencing and shaping their site. These do not need to be obvious – the news on their site could be a twitter feed. It does not necessarily have to look like one.
Contract well and transparently
Don’t underprice the job to get it, but equally don’t add a nought because they are famous. If there are ongoing costs, be up front about it from day one. Nobody wants to pay for web maintenance (vital as it may be). However, your onward involvement is a tremendous asset to your client. Focus on being an asset, not a cost. As with any digital project, the process needs to be contracted and expectations managed from the beginning. Do so well, and you will become a significant and important part of the team.
Always be discreet
Discretion is your best friend here. You are not the star – they are. It might be tempting to tell everyone that you are working for a celebrity and use the fact to drum up more business. However, nobody wants a design agency trying to star off the back of a celebrity project. Do your job, do it quietly, and let its quality promote your skills. We are talking about a whisper, not a shout. Celebs will trust you precisely because you do not use them to feather your own nest.
If you are fortunate enough to land a celebrity based project, stay calm and bear in mind all of the above. It will make your life easier, you will deliver more value to them, and the results can earn you a longer-term relationship with them. These partnerships are some of our most rewarding. If you manage a celebrity and are thinking of improving their digital presence, have a look through our recent work and see what you think.