East Tennessee PBS: Re-Design Star

Recently, the SPI team noticed that East Tennessee PBS (formerly East Tennessee Public Television ETPtv) did a web site redesign and I decided to get to the bottom of it.

I rang up Katherine Killen, the station’s Public Outreach Manager, and learned that the web site is not all they changed. Katherine gave such remarkable responses that we hope will inspire fellow stations.

What advice would you give to other station’s considering a website redesign?
A web site redesign needs to be a part of a larger, strategic plan for the organization. Therefore, it’s crucial to determine the overall goals of the organization when building your web site.

Conduct research before you begin any redesign. Ask your members, viewers and target market what they want, need and expect from your station as well as your web site.

Consider what you might want to do with your web site in the future and, if possible, build in the flexibility to do that. Even though we launched the new site several months ago, it still doesn’t offer everything we planned - like watching local programs online, more sharing of content, and more offerings for parents and children. The capability is there, we just have to implement it over time. With a small staff (20 total co-workers and just two in our department) and resources, we had to approach the redesign in phases. We also communicated this to the firm that handled the redesign.

We partnered with a marketing agency, a research consulting firm and a web site redesign firm throughout our branding/research process. They donated the majority of their services, which is the only way we would have been able to afford to conduct the research, and make the changes to our web site and brand. These firms helped us know what questions to ask and how. We conducted online polls, focus groups and a tactic we called “feet on the street.” With the latter methodology, we actually took our feet to the street and asked people in public places if they knew about us, what they thought of us, what they liked, what they didn’t like, etc. We targeted places that typical public television viewers would be – places like public libraries, museums, etc.

Broad-based questions about the organization as a whole not only helped us decide what to offer/provide on our web site, but also helped with our strategic planning. This research was key in determining that we not only needed to re-brand ourselves and update our web site, but that we also needed to change our name. We have two transmitters and two sets of call letters. The station, therefore, used an umbrella name East Tennessee Public Television or ETPtv, which led to some confusion about who we were and what we offered. The name change to East Tennessee PBS helped clarify this. The marketing team at PBS was crucial in the decision to change our name.

In addition to our primary research, we poured over the existing suggestions and research from PBS Connect, Station Remote Control, CPB and the National Center for Media Engagement (the PBS Brand Guide was key in the redesign of our brand as well). Combining this information with our primary research gave us a breadth and depth of information we wouldn’t have been able to tap otherwise.

Was the web site redesign done in house or through a contractor?
A contractor.

How long did the entire redesign process take?
We began our research in January 2010 and got final approval to change our name in June 2010. Our Web contractor began working on the new site in mid-June. We launched the new web site August 1, 2010.

Which CMS do you use?
Ravine Software.

Have you seen an increase in web traffic or online donations since the redesign?
YES! When we changed our name, we worked extensively with the local media to publicize the change in addition to our on-air spots and promotion. We used the opportunity to communicate what we offer our community and why public television is important. The clarity provided by the name change and promotion coupled with the launch of COVE on our web site in December 2010, helped with the traffic increase.

What would you avoid or do differently in the redesign process?
I would have liked a little more time both to learn the new CMS system and to implement the redesign. The design firm needed most of the six weeks for the redesign itself, which left little time for training. We learned how to manage the site in a little more than a week before the launch. We continued to learn new tricks with the CMS after the web site launched. The public couldn’t tell, but more time would have made it easier for our staff.

The timing of a redesign deserves much consideration. Pledge drives, staff workloads and even other major community events must be considered. For example, we wanted to launch our name change/redesign before the holidays so that our announcement wouldn’t be lost in the abundance of retail advertising and promotion of holiday related charities.

Katherine Killen currently serves as the Public Outreach Manager for East Tennessee PBS who manages their website, special events, volunteer program, media relations and marketing. She also assists the Assistant General Manager on the station’s education initiatives such as “Martha Speaks” Reading Buddies Program, “Scholars’ Bowl” and PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest.

If your station has recently done a web site redesign, let us know about it in the comments section and feel free to leave tips on the process for fellow stations.


  1. ideastream in Cleveland is revamping the WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN websites. New home pages for the stations are landing points for an expanded

  2. That's great, Joe! Please keep us posted on your progress. And remember, we can help you promote your launch with the PBS Facebook Fan Page.