Behind the Screen: The Creation of MP Squared’s Website

mp2Consider your dinner from last night. Maybe you had a chicken sandwich or veggie burger accompanied by fries. Now, think about your meal’s start on the planet. What do you really know about its journey to your plate?

Educating the general public about the intricacies of the agriculture business is only one of the things that MP2 Communications aims to do through its one-year-old website, mp2.ag, which recently received a 2014 AVA Digital Platinum Award.

Recently I was able to learn more about the site’s creation and challenges faced during development from Mark Vierthaler, director of MP2 Communications, a division of Servi-Tech, Inc.

Tell me about MP Squared’s mission and what visitors can find when they visit mp2.ag.

Mark Vierthaler

Mark Vierthaler

MP Squared’s mission is to make the planet more productive, which is where the name comes from: Making the Planet More Productive = MP2.

The more in-depth answer is that mp2.ag was created in an effort to help bridge the gap between those who consume the products of agriculture (i.e. everyone) and those who produce the products that are consumed (only 1.8 percent of the United States’ population). This was developed in close conjunction with people who have worked in all sides of the agricultural industry including traditional and organic.

The goal was to create a site that both agriculture industry professionals AND everyday consumers could come to and learn about every single aspect of the industry in clear, concise, and factual ways.

It actually serves three functions:

    1. It’s an agricultural news hub. Up-to-date news feeds from more than two dozen agricultural news organizations are automatically pushed onto the mp2.ag home page. This way, instead of scouring the Internet for the most recent ag news, users just have to visit one page and get a quick overview of everything going on.
    2. It’s an education tool. The tabs across the top of the site link to pages about different areas of agriculture. This helps consumers get a better understanding of what exactly their food is and how it’s produced.
    3. We find partners within all areas (production, transportation, fuel, energy) who want to tell their personal story about how they make the planet more productive. This humanizes an industry that many see as faceless and monolithic.

Walk me through the design process.

The design came mostly from original ideas with some ideas borrowed from news aggregate sites like AllTop or the Drudge Report. We knew going in that we wanted a site that was graphically pleasing, easy to navigate, but really had the content chops to serve its function and not just look pretty. It was the content and the ease of navigations that we really wanted to focus on.

We went through about four or five pre-design mockups before we approached Brookside Studios, our web design partner in Tulsa, Okla. Damon DoRemus and his team took our ideas and really made it work and shine. The behind-the-scenes CMS is pretty outstanding, as well, with an easy-to-use interface that lets us easily change up every single piece of the site.

After Brookside Studios had our mockups and requested functionality, they put together a basic version of the site. MP2 Communications then set about generating all of the content. Every single piece of content on the site was created in-house (unless otherwise noted), so we wrote every piece, shot every photo, and put together every video.

As each section came together, we would integrate it onto the site with Brookside Studios and ensure that the site was still functioning how we wanted it. It officially launched January 1, 2013.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Accuracy.

As I’m sure you know, the agricultural industry has become a very politically charged bit of business in recent years. We wanted to make sure that the site was a true representation of every aspect of the industry (including organic and traditional) so consumers could have a safe, low-key place dedicated to answering all of their questions.

As such, that means doing tons of research on a wide gamut of areas, many of which we didn’t have intimate knowledge of. We did the majority of research through academic articles, as well as first-person interviews with people who are active in the agricultural industry.

We then had a series of partners that were our fact checkers – for example we had several agronomists from Servi-Tech, Inc., fact check our pieces to ensure that while they were easy to read, they were still factually accurate.

MP Squared

Were there certain aspects that you knew had to be integrated into the site from the start?

Death to jargon, death to jargon, death to jargon.

There’s a double-edge sword in the communications world. The more you know about a subject, the more accurately you can discuss it. However, the more accurately you discuss it, the more technical terms and jargon creep in. The more technical terms and jargon that creep in, the harder it is for the general public to understand it.

Now, that’s not a big deal when you’re working on internal communications, or you’re specifically targeting a group of people with intimate knowledge of your subject. However, if the goal of your site is to connect and inform consumers and/or those with little experience in the industry, jargon is your enemy. While you may be as accurate as a lifelong industry professional, you’re losing the audience you want to reach. So, the ultimate goal was to create something accurate, easy and interesting to read but not overly complex.

What do you hope visitors walk away with?

We hope people realize that the agricultural industry is much more complex than they may have thought in the past.

How many people worked on the project and how long did it take?

This was our baby for about a year, actually. As mentioned, all of the content was written, photographed, etc. by myself and my assistant director Monica Springer. All of the web work and design was done by Damon DoRemus and his team at Brookside Studios.

The idea originally came up about four years ago when I first left journalism to enter the world of public relations and marketing. The company that hired me was an agronomic firm, and as my previous experience had been as an investigative crime journalist, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the industry.

While doing research, I was somewhat stymied by the lack of a one-stop shop for ag information. It was either much too complex (“Some guys are substituting Lorsban for dimethoate.”) or much too simplistic (“The cow goes moo.”). There really wasn’t anything that could offer a simple but mature bit of information.

What’s ahead for MP2.ag in 2014?

When we launched a year ago, we mainly hit on the main areas of agriculture (i.e. the crops and livestock production practices that dominate the United States markets). However, that is only scratching the surface of everything that’s produced in agriculture and how every single aspect of your life is impacted by people in the industry.

In 2014 we have a list of expansions that will include things such as equine production, as well as the history of the organic movement and where it differs from traditional agricultural practices.

We are also overhauling the blog. We have a great list of bloggers from various areas of the industry; however, the blog itself isn’t as easy to navigate/browse as we’d like.

We’re also expanding the categorization of partners that want to tell their story. Starting in mid-2014 partners will start being divided up into the area of the industry they’re most involved with (i.e. seed production, coops, transportation, etc.).

And while we have lots of good information, we’d like to start digging down into more complex topics so as people become more familiar, they can educate themselves even more.

Finally, video production is going to more than double this year. We’re in the process of producing a series of videos that takes each crop, cow, etc. and shows them from beginning to end. “Gate to plate” is the term most often used.

*****

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Feb. 1 Last Day For Free Communitas Entry

Get Recognized for Your Community Involvement

Communitas AwardsFeb. 1 is the last day to get a free nomination for the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals’ 2014 Communitas Awards. Additional nominations can be made for the usual fees.

Communitas Awards recognizes exceptional businesses, organizations and individuals that are unselfishly giving of themselves and their resources, and those that are changing how they do business to benefit their communities.

Communitas winners are selected based on the spirit of Communitas, a Latin word meaning “people coming together for the good of a community.” Any company, organization or individual that donates time, effort and/or money to improve the communities in which they live or work is eligible to be nominated for a Communitas Award. Nominees are evaluated based on the extent and effectiveness of their programs in relation to their size and potential scope. Companies that exhibit ethical and sustainable business practices are also considered.
Communitas Award nominations can be submitted online at www.communitasawards.com. The free nomination will automatically be reflected at checkout. Nominating individuals can also call AMCP at (817) 459-0448 if they have any questions.

The five-year-old Communitas is an outgrowth of the AMCP pro bono recognition program. Over the past few years, AMCP has waived entry fees for over 2,000 pro bono projects created for nonprofits by marketing and communication professionals. As part of its effort to give back, AMCP has donated over $100,000 to charities and educational organizations on behalf of marketing and communication professionals.

Communitas Awards

 

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2014 AVA Digital Awards Entry Spotlight: University of Connecticut

While the winners for the 2014 AVA Digital Awards won’t be announced until Feb. 1, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

AVA Digital Awards Company: University of Connecticut
Title of Entry: “UConn Magazine’s Free App for Tablet Devices
Location: Storrs, Connecticut
Category: 67. Mobile App

UConnLast November University of Connecticut made it easier for people to stay connected to the school through the launch of its app, UConn Magazine, available on Apple, Google and Amazon tablets.

Just as users would expect, the app features the publication’s print content plus bonus digital features that assist UConn in elevating its storytelling. You can find panoramic pictures, interactive maps, infographics, audio clips, videos and more.

The app is visually appealing, and its creators are cognizant that the web is a touch away, as pertinent links and social media handles are strategically placed throughout the magazine. For instance, after learning about a Sandy Hook teacher who began a charity aimed to teaching kids to be compassionate, readers can tap on the link to her charity to find out more.

With the rise in tablet use, UConn’s supporters should count this as a digital victory.

UConn App

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Giving Back Through Marketing and Communications: Mad Dog Graphx

Throughout the years, AMCP entrants have submitted more than 2,000 pro bono entries. While that is a lot of work donated to nonprofits, we’re sure it is only a small percentage of the time, money, effort and skill that our entrants give back to their communities. Throughout the next couple of months, we’re profiling some of these people and sharing their stories with you in our series, Giving Back Through Marketing and Communications.

“It is a simple yet disturbing fact: you know someone who is hungry. One of your neighbors, friends, work colleagues, or someone at your church is struggling to put food on the table.”

That’s the opening sentence of Food Bank Alaska’s 2012 annual report created by Mad Dog Graphx. Not coincidentally, the theme of the report is “These Are The Facts!”

Last year, Mad Dog Graphx won a Platinum Hermes Creative Award for the excellent piece. We caught up with Kris Ryan-Clarke, the report’s designer, to learn more about the project and how Mad Dog uses its creativity and design skills to combat hunger in the nation’s largest state.

These Are The Facts

What is Food Bank of Alaska and how does it help people?

Food Bank of Alaska (FBA) is the umbrella organization that supplies food and support to agencies, food pantries, schools and soup kitchens around the state. In turn, these organizations supply food to those in need.

Due to the size and geographic characteristics of the state, FBA is faced with many challenges from transportation to maintaining a healthy food supply. The organization relies on federal and state grants in addition to corporate and individual donations to keep their operation open.

Their annual report is used as their primary marketing piece throughout the year.

How did you arrive with “These Are The Facts!” for the theme of the report?

The theme came about due to the fact that so much of the information I receive from FBA includes startling statistics about hunger. “These Are The Facts!” felt like a good tie-in and a way to get the hardcore numbers out in front of people in a straightforward manner. By using blocks of copy and an infographic format, I was able to illustrate what Food Bank of Alaska is faced with everyday as they strive to meet their mission that “No one deserves to be hungry.”

What were some of the facts you found most startling?

Two facts that continue to surprise me are: (1) For one in six people, hunger is a reality; and (2) About one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. These are both highlighted in my design by incorporating them into the cover graphics.

How did you get involved with FBA? Are you working on anything else for the organization?

I became involved with Food Bank of Alaska 16 years ago when the then-CEO asked if I’d be interested in donating my time by putting together their annual report. I’ve been producing their annual reports ever since. Part of the appeal in taking on this project year after year is that I am given total creative license to create a compelling piece to illustrate the “faces of hunger” in our community.

Because Mad Dog has been so involved with creating FBA’s central marketing piece each year, we have also been asked to produce ongoing marketing, branding, advertising and collateral work for them, including a new logo and their biannual newsletter.

Why do you continue to work with FBA?

Over the years I have been struck by the number of hungry people that live among us and have grown to realize it’s not only the homeless person that is scrambling to get food but also everyday hard-working people who, for whatever reason, don’t have enough money and are struggling to get food on the table for their families.

Hunger and food insecurity is such a prominent problem that donating my time and creativity feels like a good way to give back to my community in a meaningful way. It has been rewarding and satisfying to be a small part of the solution to ending hunger.

*****

Mad Dog GraphxMad Dog Graphx is a two-person design studio based in Anchorage, Alaska. Founded in 1996, Mad Dog offers a range of creative services, specializing in corporate and retail communications and brand identity development. Its work with campaign planning, advertising and marketing development, packaging, environmental graphics, annual reports, and logo design has attracted clients from restaurants and transportation firms to universities and Native corporations.

The company has been honored with awards from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, Print magazine, Graphis, the American Advertising Federation, and many others. Its work has appeared in dozens of books and magazines on graphic design.

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2014 AVA Digital Awards Entry Spotlight: Finalsite

While the winners for the 2014 AVA Digital Awards won’t be announced until Feb. 1, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

AVA Digital Awards Company: Finalsite
Client: Lake Forest Schools
Title of Entry: “Lake Forest Schools”
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Category: 12. Educational Institution

finalsiteIt’s not uncommon for primary & secondary school websites to lack contemporary design and the latest functionality that we experience every day thanks to technological advances. Then again, Lake Forest Schools is not ordinary either. 

After working with the experts at Finalsite, a company dedicated to delivering superior web software experiences for the education community, Lake Forest Schools now has a cutting-edge website on par with its reputation for academic excellence.

Finalsite rolled out a beautifully crafted and carefully organized website for Lake Forest Schools using responsive design so parents, teachers, staff and students can have a frustration-free experience visiting the site on any mobile device or desktop.

But that’s not all. While each school’s page features its unique colors and content, the site maintains its cohesiveness through the consistency of design elements and placement. Well done.

Lake Forest Schools

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2014 AVA Digital Awards Entry Spotlight: Maycreate

While the winners for the 2014 AVA Digital Awards won’t be announced until Feb. 1, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

AVA Digital Awards Company: Maycreate
Client: Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
Title of Entry: “Rock Bottom Restaurants Web Site”
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Category: 22. Business to Consumer

maycreateTennessee’s Maycreate developed an elegant site for Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery that effectively balances copy and visuals. Providing information about 38 locations across the U.S. could be overwhelming to organize on one website, but Maycreate completes the task effortlessly, neatly packaging all relevant information that restaurant-goers need.

Menu? Check. Nutrition facts? Check. Locations with hours, contact information and directions? Check. Mouthwatering visuals of delicious dishes and drinks? Check.

Subtle flourishes take this site up a step. For instance, instead of displaying a photo next to each menu item – which would quickly clutter the site – visitors can hover their mouse over a plate’s title for a visual preview. To see more information, users simply click.

But this website has more than looks. Beyond the professional skin, Maycreate created a mobile-friendly site that is easy to navigate – essential for brick and mortar shops.

rock-bottom-brewery-maycreate

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2014 AVA Digital Awards Entry Spotlight: Independence Visitor Center Corporation & Bluecadet Interactive

While the winners for the 2014 AVA Digital Awards won’t be announced until Feb. 1, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

AVA Digital Awards Companies: Independence Visitor Center Corporation & Bluecadet Interactive
Title of Entry: “Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia Website Redesign”
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Category: 18. Nonprofit

independence-visitor-center-philadelphiaPhiladelphia should consider itself lucky to have such an innovative group promoting it. The nonprofit Independence Visitor Center Corporation (IVCC) in partnership with design studio Bluecadet Interactive transformed phlvisitorcenter.com into a state-of-the-art, interactive website that offers nearly everything for tech savvy tourists.

This site is user-focused and takes information listing to new levels by allowing guests to filter activities based on their preferences in the following four areas: part of town, highlights, price and interest.

Beyond that, the IVCC’s hospitality is evident in the various ways it seeks to provide information to guests in a way that’s most convenient and comfortable.

Like communicating via phone or in person? The phone number and address are in multiple places on the website. Prefer Twitter? There’s a prompt encouraging sightseers to pose questions via a tweet without leaving the site. If you have several questions and can’t get on the phone, perhaps the Live Chat feature is the way to go. There’s also a FAQ page for common inquiries.

IVCC has also made phlvisitorcenter.com a one-stop shop, allowing guests to purchase attraction tickets online – you don’t have to leave the website.

To top it off, all of these features are packaged in a beautiful, easy-to-navigate site. Did I mention it’s mobile friendly, too?

phlvisitorcenter.com

 *****

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2014 AVA Digital Awards Entry Spotlight: Eric Raum

While the winners for the 2014 AVA Digital Awards won’t be announced until Feb. 1, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

AVA Digital Awards Creator: Eric Raum
Title of Entry: “Shoulder To Shoulder”
Location: Dubai
Category: 149. PSA

Eric RaumPSAs are very serious messages, often conveyed in a tone-deaf manner. You’ve seen them before – a spokesman staring into a camera droning on about a disease, cause, or charity. Instead of this approach, Eric Raum takes a very weighty subject and wraps it in drama and emotion.

Eric lived on a military base in Iraq and witnessed first hand the escalating suicide rate among service members. With the help of a graphic artist, Eric traveled to Kuwait to shoot a PSA with real soldiers facing a military-wide problem.

Within the span of a minute, Eric manages to blend film styles from Alfred Hitchcock to John Frankenheimer to create a riveting film capturing the problem while presenting a solution.

To learn more about Eric’s Army suicide awareness PSA, read his story on his website, ericraum.com.

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