Using the Net in your Small Budget Campaign

Originally posted on CompleteCampaigns.com and written by Jim Fleming

This article originally appeared in Winning Campaigns Magazine.

I can’t e-mail my love. I can’t fax you my heart. I can’t see your face in cyberspace. I don’t know where to start.
  -Jimmy Buffet

In the first edition of Winning Big in Small Budget Campaigns, which was first published in 1997, we dedicated just a few pages to an increasingly important campaign medium. In fact, we didn’t even include it under the media chapter, but relegated it to the leadoff item under the next, catchall chapter – “Fragmentary Bombs.”

But like my hero, Bob Dylan, once intoned (or moaned), “The times, they are ‘a changin’.”  Like fax machines and cellular phones, which were considered novelties not long ago, the Internet has rapidly become the required World Wide Weapon in political arsenals, especially for small budget, down-the-ballot campaigns.

The techies and information highway pundits will tell you that the Internet will replace all traditional media within a decade. Skeptics, including myself, view these predictions as overblown, but remember that I’m the same writer who relegated the Internet to just a few pages of a book way back in 1997.

In today’s world the Internet is a powerful tool that has yet to even scratch the surface of its true potential. I agree with the Webheads on one point, the Internet will become more and more pervasive and interactive, and therefore more indispensable in American politics.

For now you should consider the Internet as a complement to your media mix and all of your other campaign outreach programs and activities.

Strengths

• The Internet permits you to reach a broad and highly educated audience very inexpensively. In fact, no other medium can compare in terms of its reach and affordability.
 
• As frustrated business managers will tell you, no other medium reaches into the workplace more efficiently than the Internet. More than 50 million Americans log onto the Internet at work, and most of them access the Internet during work breaks to surf the net and check their e-mail.   

• Today’s Internet is universally accessible and portable. Airports, hotels, libraries, classrooms, cyber cafes -wherever today’s wired society goes there’s a computer or dedicated line with direct access to the World Wide Web somewhere nearby. And with today’s wireless technology users can uplink to the net from virtually anyplace on earth.
 
• Because of its accessibility and portability, the Internet is an immediate, on-demand medium.

• The interactive nature of the Internet allows users and candidates to communicate in a dialogue rather than a monologue.

• Unlike the restrictions of time and space in traditional media the Internet allows you to communicate virtually unlimited and audience-directed content, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the viewer’s discretion.
 
• Like print media and digital disks (CD’s and DVD’s), users can pick and choose what they want to see; when they want to see it, and for as long, or as often as they want to see it.

Weaknesses

• The Internet presents users with a limitless sea of choices, so your site can easily get lost in the sauce. Since anyone can create and establish a Web presence, your site must compete with millions of others for viewership. Unlike traditional media, viewers must be directed or encouraged by other outreach programs to divert their attention from these unlimited choices to your specific site.
 
• Even the most enthusiastic Webheads will tell you that the Internet is not, in and of itself, an attention getting medium. Your site will never jump out at people from the screen, the page, or the side of the road. Visitors will have to perform several steps and jump through several hoops just to get to it.
 
• Internet penetration, while growing, still hovers around 55% of the households in the United States. There is still a substantial “digital divide” in this country based on education, age, race and income.

• According to a study by Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet (www.ipdi.org) fewer than one-quarter of Internet ready voters, use the net for information about candidates or political races.
 
• Although the demographics are changing daily, the Internet is still largely the province of those 25 and under, the group that is also the least likely to vote.

Again, until the next revolution comes, the Internet should be treated as just another torpedo in the arsenal – a supplement to, and not a substitute for, a traditional media campaign.

DESIGNING AND MAINTAINING A CAMPAIGN WEB SITE

Way back in 1993, the Dark Ages of the Internet, I created the very first Web site for a major Florida land development company. It was also my first Web site design experience. Since then I’ve designed dozens of commercial sites in the real estate, building and development industries, and I have applied many of the same principles to the design of political campaign sites.

Frankly, I think that’s what makes our political sites a little different. They’re a blend of the urgency and call to action of  commercial sites, with the tone and purpose of a political campaign.

In 1993, what I knew about “Web site design” you could put in a thimble. However, as a writer and an editor I knew a lot about how people ask for, process, store and retrieve information:  Who? What? Why? Where? When? How?

In fact, Benjamin Franklin could have organized the outline of a good Web site because it is basically the same as the format of Poor Richard’s Almanac, and every other magazine that has been published in at least the last three centuries. As a graphic artist, I also knew a lot about what constituted good layout and design, so I had a head start on the technocrats who were “teaching” that subject in the early days of Web site development.

Back then, when I attended my first Web site design seminar in Palo Alto, California, the heartland of the Information Age, I was appalled at the so-called state-of-the-art Web site designs that were held up as “outstanding, trend-setting examples.” The typesetting of these proto-sites was clunky; the graphics were just photo boxes with type underneath them; the colors were too garish to look at for very long, and the sites themselves were difficult to understand and navigate.

That all began to change in the late nineties when a new breed of computer graphic artists chased the techies, who had until then dominated the industry, into the back programming rooms where they belonged. But even these new kids on the block lacked the formal training of the old school art directors who looked at all the elements of a “page” as essential and interrelated elements of the whole composition. Professionals like my friend, and world-class art director, Jorge Alvarez, always treated typography as an integral element of graphic design, while the computer wizards were still trying to figure it out. I was also amazed that the Web site design gurus seemed to think that they had invented the magazine format, which allowed readers to choose from a table of contents, and quickly move to the subject matter that interested them the most.
 
Since that time I have spent thousands of hours reviewing the Web sites of literally thousands of different businesses, organizations and political candidates, picking up ideas and common trends along the way. For example, in one two-month stretch, I visited and thoroughly analyzed every page of every Web site of all the top 500 home building companies in the United States. It wasn’t long before I became a self-taught “expert” in this emerging
medium. And then I re-read the two pages that I had written in Winning Big back in 1997. I laughed at how little we knew about the power and potential of the World Wide Web at that time.

Professor Marshall McLuhan himself could not have foreseen how much the Internet would impact the “revolution of rising expectations” that he envisioned, or how quickly it would precipitate his futuristic concept of a “global village.”

Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay, and old dogs in the political arena must learn how to use it effectively if we are to keep pace with the young lions who were raised with keyboards in their cribs. Coming up through communications ranks, before the personal computer age, I have a unique, “old school” approach to this “new school” medium that I believe combines the best of both worlds.

Here, from an old dog’s perspective, are some new tricks, and some basic features that all well designed and well-organized Web sites have in common:

Weapons Manual Specifications
Campaign Web Site

Home Page

Think of your home page as the cover of a national magazine. Go ahead, find one like Sports Illustrated or Cosmopolitan, and look at the visual elements, and how they’re organized.

The first thing you notice is the masthead – the publication’s logo. It is usually prominent and colorful so it jumps out at you from the newsstand, just like those cereal and detergent boxes I wrote about early in this book.

Please remember RULE #1 . Make sure your Web site designer doesn’t try to dazzle you with all those cool, trendy electronic modifications and flash applets that can make your logo wiggle, shimmy and glisten. These devices not only interfere with that all-important continuity and readership, they increase the time it takes for your site to load.

Underneath, or near, the masthead there is always a positioning statement that tells readers exactly what the subject matter of the magazine is all about:

Campaigns & Elections – the magazine for political professionals.

Magazines are usually all about people and their interests, so there is almost always a big photo of a featured person or persons on the cover. Since people are always attracted to interesting photos of other people, this is the second thing that grabs their attention.

Once a reader has established what the publication is, and what it’s about, the third thing they want to know is what information is inside that would be of interest to them. This is the content block, or in the case of a Web site, the icons, navigation bars or buttons that link the readers to major content sections. Most magazines also highlight “the lead story” on the cover. On a political Web site a lead story is one of the devices that, if it changes regularly, will keep the site fresh and “newsy.”

Some magazines will alert readers about what’s new in their publications. You should especially do that on your campaign home page because youll want visitors to bookmark your site and come back to it again and again for the latest news and updates. Unlike a magazine, you won’t be publishing all new content every month, so this is the substitute for the next or latest edition.

That’s why a lively and interesting home page is so important. It’s the first step in engaging potential supporters, volunteers and campaign “investors” and making them frequent visitors.

If you employ a professional Web site designer who is experienced in creating sites for political campaigns, have them add a filter (called a “cookie”) that keeps track of the times a person visits the site. That way, when they return to the site, they will only be shown only the news and information that has been added since their last visit. It’s also a good idea to rotate the photos and the background on the home page on a regular basis so viewers don’t think they’ve been there, done that.

Finally, if you’re doing a good job of promoting your Web site address in all your ads, commercials and printed materials, you should add a “hit counter” in a prominent position somewhere on this page. But don’t start that counter at “0” on the first day. Fudge a little. As time goes on you’ll get more hits than you think you will (including visits by your opponent’s supporters), so a hit counter will tend to indicate growing grass roots support.

“All About The Candidate” Page

This sub page answers the basic Who question in more detail than you would ever be able to print in a brochure. This is also where you can humanize and soften your image, elevate your life’s mission, and glorify your past.

This page should contain your biography in summary, highlight and narrative forms, complete with pictures of your family, and family album style snapshots that chronicle your major milestones in a “This is Your Life” format, if you can remember that old celebrity show from the Golden Age of television. Other supportive graphics could be pictures of diplomas, commendations, certifications, achievement awards, medals, and even sports trophies.

This is also the best place to show the candidate with recognizable and non-controversial political figures and party leaders.

Some sites include endorsements on this page, but I prefer to make that a separate page that can be updated frequently.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, Steve Forbes had a unique idea that you can copy with a few dedicated volunteers and a simple digital camera. Forbes’ staffers went around to rallies, fundraisers and speaking engagements taking digital photos of the candidate with various supporters and campaign “investors.” With their permission, (please see the release in Chapter 2) the staffers posted these pictures on the Web and sorted them by date and event.

Not only could these supporters download the photos of themselves with the candidate, it showed visitors that he had the grass roots support of hundreds of people in each community.

As you’re reading this chapter you’ll see that many of the same rules apply to the Web site design, that applied to brochures and direct mail. And yes, as I state repeatedly in this book, you can, and should, use the same graphics and text from all of your campaign materials, including television commercials. Just remember that your Web site should be a supplement to, and should function in concert with, all your other campaign media.

Here’s another area where I find myself at odds with most of the political consultants who are experts in the field of campaign Web site design. The gurus will tell you not to make your Web site look like a copy of your brochure. I certainly agree that your home page should look like a home page, but I caution against any extreme violation of RULE #1. On the contrary, I believe that some pages on the site should be exact PDF copies of your brochure, palm card, bio, position papers, invitations, volunteer forms, pledge forms, money shot, badges, and even rear window stickers. That way your supporters can download them and print them, dramatically increasing the distribution of those materials, while saving your campaign money in the process.
How many times have you been asked to supply a bio for people who will be introducing you at some civic function? With a downloadable bio on your site, you can either print it and fax it to them, or invite them to download and print it themselves. One low budget candidate in our home county even had a downloadable yard sign on his Web site, complete with instructions on how to assemble and display it.

If you really want to look slick you can also have plug-ins with streaming audio and video of your campaign television and radio commercials, live speeches, campaign jingles, home videos of rallies and fundraisers, etc.

“Issues and Answers” Page

This is where you can state your position on the major issues in chapter and verse.

I wouldn’t put anything on this page that hasn’t already been released or made available to the press or the general public, and you can’t, and shouldn’t, take a position on every issue. Instead this page should be a compendium of your position statements, news releases and stories, and quotes about you by others, especially endorsement by the media and opinion leaders.

You can’t be all things to all people, and you shouldn’t include everything you’ve ever had to say about all the issues. If you want to give visitors more information, invite them to e-mail you, and provide links to the Web sites of groups who share your views.

Yes, I know, this level of detail makes your opponents’ research easier, but I’ll bet it won’t make them sleep easier that you are communicating your position so well to so many people.

Schedule of Special Campaign Events and Appearances

This important page answers the Where and When questions, and presents a calendar of your schedule and potential availability on any given day and time to your supporters and the media.
Here are two important cautions:

• Don’t show events that are not open to the media and the general public or you’ll risk offending someone.

• If you don’t have a system clock that eliminates outdated events, please try to have your Webmaster do daily housekeeping to keep the list, and all other pertinent information, current.

Since this schedule shows dates and times that may be open, it also allows supporters or organizations to request an appearance by the candidate with another one of those interactive feedback forms. This form should contain enough information to allow the campaign to determine whether it’s worth the candidate’s time and effort to attend the event.

Of course, these, and all other feedback forms, are only as good as your campaign’s ability to respond to them in a timely manner. Assigning a paid or volunteer Webmaster to maintain your site is a must if you are going to include an interactive calendar, or any other type of e-mail response form. If people take the time to fill these out, especially in today’s world of instant gratification, they expect to hear back from someone within a few hours. If the volume gets to be too much, and you hope it does, you can have your Web designer install an auto responder that at least tells the visitor that their time is appreciated and that someone will contact them soon.

Another “special campaign event” that costs nothing to stage, except for an hour of the candidate’s time at a keyboard, is an open, interactive forum or fireside chat. On the Schedule of Campaign Events and Appearances, post a date and time when the candidate will be online to take live questions and comments from the voters. You should, of course invite all of your supporters and campaign “investors” because that will ensure a friendly audience and an abundance of loaded, positive questions. But this is also your chance to get your message out to the media, so by all means, invite them to join the discussion as well.

NOTE: In this section you should also include when and where the candidate’s ads and commercials will be published and aired. It’s also a good place to remind supporters about upcoming appearances on local television and radio talk shows. Don’t forget to encourage supporters to call in and, of course, give them the studio phone numbers and e-mail addresses if you can.

Online Media Kit

We discuss traditional, printed media kits in the next chapter, and most of the same rules apply here.

In today’s interconnected world, all reporters, even the old school types at local community newspapers, are wired to the Net and glued to their monitors. I was the publisher of two local community newspapers in the 90’s, and even back then I appreciated getting stories and photos by e-mail because it made our jobs so much easier. All newspapers, including the small weeklies, are fully computerized these days, so it is a simple matter to convert and send electronically generated text and photo files directly to the production computers of the editors, writers and page layout technicians. Make it easy for the media, especially the smaller outlets, to run your stuff, and they’ll run more of it, more often.

When your campaign Web site is up and running, and your online media kit page is open for business, send an introductory campaign e-mail and news release to all the media in your political subdivision, inviting writers and editors to visit your site and review your electronic media kit. On this page, and in this kit, they should find everything they need to follow and report on your campaign in an immediately downloadable format.

These items should include downloadable and editable versions the following:

• All of your campaign literature, especially your main campaign brochure in low-resolution PDF (Adobe Acrobat  Reader) files.

• An announcement news release about your campaign including who you are, why you’re running and your stand on the basic issues.

• Thumbnails of black and white and color campaign photos that the media visitor can choose from on an interactive menu form, and request in the resolution and format preferred by their publication.

• A detailed bio highlighting the qualifications and accomplishments listed in your main campaign brochure.

• A series of position papers on five or six main issues in your campaign.
 
• A link to the master campaign calendar highlighting the schedule of public campaign special events and appearances.

• A list of your campaign committee members, their addresses, phone numbers and e-mail.

• A list of your phone numbers and e-mail addresses, especially your personal cellular phone number and e-mail, so reporters can contact you at a moments notice.

Don’t forget to ask these visitors for their e-mail addresses so you can send them regular updates and releases. This can be done with a pop-up dialog box that appears when they first log onto this page. Your Webmaster can even preprogram the e-mail address in the dialog box so all they have to do is check “yes” or “no.”

* Notes on Computer Graphic Files: Setting up these files, especially higher resolution, color photo and graphic files, is a job for a professional. The actual photos and graphics on your Web site are three-color (RGB for the red, green and blue triad), low resolution (72 dpi) files that enable the Web site to load quickly, but make these files unsuitable for publication.

I’ll go into this in more detail than you probably want or need under the Web Site Design Tips section later in this chapter, but basically there are two types of popular photo and graphic files for this purpose – GIF and JPEG. Both are be used to convert electronic files to printed materials, depending on the density, resolution, and color saturation desired.

Color photos and graphics have different formats as well. A four-color version of your photo will be rendered in CMYK (for cyan, magenta, yellow and black), and a three-color version of your file will be converted to RGB (for red, green and blue).

Just to be sure that you cover for the inevitable screw-ups in the downloading and e-mail process, it’s a good idea to mail, or hand carry, a hard copy, and CD or Zip files of you media kit and updates to directly to the media outlet in a timely fashion.

Media types love campaigns that make their work easier, and it speaks volumes about your ability to organize and govern, and that impression may be the most important one of all.

Endorsement Page

This page can be more than just a growing list of media, organization and individual names, it can also provide action photos and highlighted text of endorsement letters and articles. Through the use of plug-ins viewers can also see and hear recorded video and audio of endorsement ceremonies and speeches.

Following up on the Steve Forbes campaign idea, you could use digital video clips of the more prominent endorsers to supplement the still shots that I wrote about earlier.

“How You Can Help” Page

This is the page that tells people How they can volunteer their time, skills, assets and money.

This is the business and call-to-action end of your Web site, the one that helps your campaign identify, recruit, inform, energize and mobilize supporters and campaign “investors.” The central item on this page is the volunteer sign-up sheet with all the information that we listed in the “Return Card” found on Pages 141 and 142 in (MISSILE #2). The form can be preprogrammed with the visitor’s e-mail address, but be sure you include a “yes” and “no” check off box to ask for permission to send them regular updates.

Here’s a great idea that one of our candidates uses on his Web site. He asks for permission to place a banner ad on the visitor’s personal or business Web site with a hyperlink back to the main campaign site. The html-coded banner is right there on the page for the visitor to copy. Is that slick, or what? He gets hundreds of banner ads and links out there in cyberspace for Free!

You can also ask them to give you the e-mail addresses of five of their friends (and provide blanks or boxes for that information), explaining how this grass roots effort will result in thousands of informed voter contacts, and how important that is to you and the campaign. You can also give them the option of forwarding a non-traceable campaign letter from you if they are uncomfortable about divulging their friend’
s e-mail addresses.

In the follow up to this visitor-supplied list it is crucial that the source of the e-mail is disclosed up front. “Dan Monahan said you might be interested in learning more about my campaign for County Commission.” The note should come directly from you, and it should give the recipient the instant opportunity to either accept or decline the offer to be on the e-mail list.

At the end of this chapter we discuss e-mail etiquette and how critically important it is to generate and send only voter requested e-mail. If your electronic communications have even a whiff of spam to them you’ll run the risk of irretrievably turning most of the recipients against you.

Have your Web site designer set up the completed information on this form to match and interface with the fields on your software database. All of the popular campaign software programs have Windows-based databases that will allow you to store the information in an online file and download it into your software application either manually or automatically. Once you have this information, you can direct these volunteers to sub pages that give them the tools to translate interest into action. If a visitor clicks on the box that tells you they have a commercial property location for a 4’ X 8’ campaign sign, a link can take them to an instructional site with the required permission forms, and a number where the volunteer can Fax the completed form.

In one sophisticated local campaign Web site we designed, this page also featured a link to the County Property Appraiser’s property ownership database. By clicking this link the visitor could retrieve the required STRAP number and site plan of the commercial property, print it out, and send it along with the completed permission form. If the visitor offers to write or sign a letter or e-mail to the editor, a link will take them to another instructional page of sample letters and subjects, and the complete contact information of all the area media that accept these letters.
We’ll discuss Letter to the Editor campaigns in detail in the next chapter.

If the visitor checks off one or more volunteer activities, a link should take them to welcoming and instructional pages including e-mail and other contact information that connect the visitor directly to the campaign chairpersons or coordinators for those campaign volunteer functions.

For example, if the visitor indicates that they would like to distribute your campaign literature in their neighborhood, the link would take them to a form to request quantities of literature and a precinct walking list and map. This list and map ensures that they will deliver materials only to those residents who are registered to vote in your particular race. You can get this information from the MIS director at your local Elections Office, or you can buy campaign mapping software like GeoVoter. This same information can apply to a host of other volunteer activities such as phone banking, street corner waving, poll watching and hosting neighborhood receptions.

Here are four important pages that you can include in this section that even seasoned politicians sometimes overlook.

• Absentee Ballot Requests
 
• Voter Registration Forms
 
• Change of Party Forms

• Candidate Qualifying Petitions

For all of the above you can:

a. Tell visitors who to call to request one,
b. Post the form on the page to download and print as a PDF file, if your local Elections Office permits this,
c. Mail a form directly to the visitors, or
d. Link them directly to the Elections Office so they can apply online. Again, only if your local Elections Office permits this.
 
I know one local candidate who says that she picked up 800 extra votes through these online forms.

“How You Can Invest in the Campaign” Page

This is the page that will help pay for your Internet site, and much more, if you make it easy for your visitors to follow and respond with an “investment.”

Obviously you’ll want to provide the address to send “investments” in suggested amounts, but don’t be lazy and hope that passively trolling for contributions will be enough. Ask potential campaign “investors” where and when would be a good place and time for someone (especially the candidate) to drive over and pick up a check.

Yes, you can even collect funds via credit card over the Net.

There are basically two secure ways you can accomplish this:

a. a separate merchant account with credit card vendors, or
b. a specialized Internet service like PayPal (www.paypal.com)

We like PayPal best because the service is free, universal and safe, and you can set up an account and start using it on you Web site immediately. They also report and summarize activity on your account. 

Campaign Directory and Organization Chart

This section gives visitors the names and contact information on all of the key contact people in the campaign organization, especially the candidate and the local campaign coordinators.

One of the sharpest sites I’ve visited includes a precinct map of the county. By clicking on their precinct, a visitor would learn the name and contact information of the campaign coordinator in that area, town, neighborhood or precinct. If there was no coordinator in that precinct, a prompt would ask if the visitor would like to volunteer for that position.

If you have a well-staffed and well-organized campaign it is also a good idea to show an organizational chart. Again, by clicking on a name or campaign function, a visitor can be linked directly to the appropriate page and/or e-mail address for further action or information.

Site Map

This “cut-to-the-chase” text and connecting line chart gives visitors a quick overview of all the pages and sub pages on the site. Some surfers go here first and click on the text link on the site tree to get to the information they want and need.

BASIC WEB SITE DESIGN TIPS

Obviously we’ve covered a lot of the basic design rules in the earlier chapters in this book, and, as I have frequently written, most of the same rules apply here, with a few exceptions and limitations.

Getting to the Top of the Search Engine Pile

Remember Rule #1?  Like your campaign slogan, your Web site name should instantly communicate as much about you, your name and your campaign theme as possible. Obviously it should be easy to spell and decode, and, if possible, in this extremely limited space, it should be easy to remember and type.

Because Web sites are so hard to find to begin with, I recommend a straightforward URL (Universal Resource Locator) that begins with your name. One great example of a campaign theme that translated well into a Web site name was Pat Buchanan’s in the 2000 Presidential contest – gopatgo.com. I could hear echoes of his war chant when I typed that. Yes, you can get too cute. The John Kasich campaign named their site k2k.org. How clever – “k” for Kasich and 2k for 2000. That’s asking people to decode the candidate’s name, making it even harder to find.

Aside from getting people to remember and type your Web site name, you have to understand how search engines work. Basically they use fuzzy logic to recognize key words, key phrases and cognitives called meta-tags.

The ultimate goal of a Web site name and positioning on the Net is what the Webheads call search engine optimization – designing, writing, and coding (in HTML) your Web site to increase the odds that it will appear at the top of search engine queries for your selected meta-tags. To get the most listings in search engine and directory queries, keywords and key concep
ts must be placed strategically throughout your Web pages. The words and phrases should include your name, the office you’re running for, your jurisdiction, county, district or political subdivision, and even your slogan in titles, meta-tags, headings and the main body text. That’s why you’ll see us repeating the candidate’s name over an over in the text of our literature and our Web sites.  Other factors that affect search engine rankings are HTML layout, keyword density, keyword prominence, keyword placement, and how long it takes the site and the individual pages to load.

The best time to request search engine optimization is before you design your Web site. As your web site designer creates page templates, they should consider which name and layout are best for optimum indexing.

In some major races, when you type the candidate’s name in the search engine box, you can just as easily land somewhere else. A place that neither you, nor the candidate, had originally intended. You could have found an attack site, a parody site, an unauthorized rogue site, or even a speculator’s site that just grabbed the name only to try to sell it back to the candidate later.

Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong. Here are four examples of simple Web site names from some Congressional races in Florida in the 2004 election cycle:

markfoley.com
mccollumsenate.com
andycoy.com
elainebloom.com

So how do you know if your preferred domain name is available? The rules and registration forms can be found on the Network Solutions Web site at: rs.internic.net. This organization currently polices the global registration and use of all .com, .net and .org domain names.

The Use of Typography in Web Site Design

The application of different fonts and typefaces on Web pages is not quite as simple and straightforward as it is on printed materials.

For example, if you wanted to use Egyptian Bold for your headlines to match the same typeface that you used in your campaign brochure, it could only be applied in two ways:

1. The viewer would have to have the typeface loaded on their computer, which is not likely since Egyptian Bold is not a common typeface in any computer font library that I know of, or

2. You would have to create your headlines as separate graphic files.

Otherwise the typography would default to some common face on the viewer’s computer that would make your page look completely different, and oftentimes awkward and unreadable. 

To play it safe, and we always do this with large blocks of text, use the “lowest common denominator” typefaces that are loaded on almost everyone’s personal computer.

The most common serif faces are Times and Times New Roman.
The most common sans serif face is Arial.

NOTE: White space and large, clear, readable typography is even more important in Web page design than it is in printed materials. Research proves that there is more eyestrain when you read from a direct light source like a monitor, than there is from a reflected source like paper.

I can vouch for that. After writing this book exclusively on a computer I had to increase the strength of my reading glasses.

Campaign Web Site Graphics

I need to repeat this because it is a common problem with amateur Web site designers. Frustrated, artsy Webheads will fall in love with the latest technology and want to experiment with it on your campaign Web site.

Web site designers will tell you that they have a different “mindset” about design. They claim they focus more on content and the mechanics of the Web than on graphics. I don’t buy that at all. The most cluttered looking sites are invariably those that are designed by 20-something video game aficionados who try to impress you with really cool whizbangs. Trust me, less is more in campaign Web site design. Don’t let the gimmick overwhelm the message or the function of your Web site. And don’t sacrifice simple readership for some new gizmo.  It may look “cool,” but what good is a gimmick if it kills viewership and takes longer to download?

The following is a list of graphics that are found on any simple, well-designed, and easy to navigate Web site:

• Mastheads – These are the title graphic on each separate page which repeat your campaign logo and graphic theme. The main function of this visual device is to let your visitors know which page they are on inside your Web site. Adding a photo or an illustration of the subject matter of the page increases its visual appeal and instantly communicates what the page is all about.

• Navigation buttons – Like the station selection buttons on older car radios (which is exactly the way they function), these navigation tools can quickly guide visitors around your Web site. If they are designed simply and effectively they can be easier to read and use than text links.

• Image maps – These tools are also used to help visitors get around your web site. If designed well, image maps greatly add to the visual appeal of a Web page, but can increase download time.

• Bullet points – Like the ones in this book, they are used to draw your visitors eyes to the key points of your document. They are also used to break up Web pages that are filled with large amounts of text.

• Divider lines, horizontal rules, and rows and columns of color blocks – Commonly used to separate footers and categories within a Web page.

• Background images – Used to enhance the visual appeal and magazine look of a Web page. One of the most common background images is a sidebar, which usually contains the text links to the other pages within your site.

• Headings (text graphic) – Commonly used display a typeface in your graphic theme. This is the graphic file version of a typeface that many people do not have on their computers.

• Photos – Always used to make political Web pages more personal, interesting and inviting. People like looking at pictures of other people. If you find yourself short of high quality photos, do what we do in the commercial advertising field, buy them from a stock photo vendor on the Net. We use Getty Images and Eyewire.  

Again, remember RULE #1.  All graphic images on your Web site should match the colors, typefaces and graphic theme of all your campaign collateral materials.

The basic types of graphics you should use on your Web site include: mastheads, your campaign logo, your money shot, navigational tools and bullet points to liven up your text blocks. If all of these graphics do not significantly slow download time, then you can add other graphics. The general rule is to keep your Web page size between 40-75K. At 75K a Web page will still download fairly rapidly even with a 28.8 Kbps modem. Make sure your Web designer creates and saves images that download quickly and always look crisp. As a general rule, graphics should be downsized (in K) to a point where it doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the images.

Using GIF and JPEG Files in Web Site Design

GIF, as you’ll recall from MISSILE #2 is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format.

Strengths:

• They are supported by virtually all Web browsers,
 
• Graphics can include transparent backgrounds,

• They can support interlacing (low-resolution previews of the graphic while it downloads), and

• They can be used as an image map (allowing the viewer to click on the graphic so it functions like a regular link to another site).

Weaknesses:

• They can only support 8-bit color (or a palette no greater than 256 colors). This sometimes causes blurry patterns when chunky pixels try to mix themselves up to emulat
e different colors, and
 
• Photographs saved as GIFs can also lose their detail and a wide range of color values.

JPEG, as you’ll also recall from MISSILE #2, is an acronym for Joint Photographers Experts Group.

Strengths:

• They are better for rendering the color and detail in photographs and fine graphics using blends, gradients, and tonal variations, and
 
• They permit greater compression options (Low, Medium, High, and Maximum) offering the perfect balance between quality and file size.
 
Weaknesses:

• They cannot be saved in index-color mode, meaning that people who view the images with 8-color monitors will experience unusual patterns.
 
• They do not permit transparent backgrounds, so you are limited to either leaving the background of the image the same color as the background of your page, or you’ll have to settle for a border around your image.

Metallic images (gold, silver, copper, steel, bronze) are created using different types of gradients. Some of the gradients can be very complex. That’s one of the reasons we hate to see campaign logos and other campaign graphics rendered in this fashion.

If you insist on using metallic images, they should be exported or saved as JPEGs rather than GIFs.

When you select GIF or JPEG for your graphics, it is important to consider the source and the end result. Use a GIF format if your graphic consists primarily of line art or flat colors without gradients.

JPEG-converted graphics are best for photographs or images with fine tonal variations in color.

Choosing the right file format is not only important for the quality, but for keeping the image file size to a minimum. Whichever format you choose, avoid making your revisions on a GIF or JPEG file that has already been downsized and converted for use on the Web. Always use the original files (or artwork) they were created from.

Professional Web site designers will usually scan a photo or graphic image at a much higher resolution before shrinking it down for use on a Web site. This preserves the quality while making any necessary graphic adjustments. Adjustments may include cropping, rotating, compressing, and retouching (often with the aid of software like Photoshop).

Professional Web site designers can scan and correct photos that are either under-exposed or over-exposed, have glares or hot spots, are blurry or dull, or have coffee stains, rips and creases in them.
 
GIFs are generally safer for recompressing, since they utilize lossless compression — meaning that when the image is compressed, no information is lost from its original contents. JPEGs, however, utilize lossy (another ridiculous word) compression (meaning that information is lost from its original contents) so, the image will invariably look worse if it is retouched and resaved as a JPEG.

The important thing to remember is that, unlike a printed piece, your Web pages will look slightly different to almost everyone who views it. There are so many variables that determine how your scanned image will look: computer monitors, Windows or Mac computer systems, web browsers (Netscape, Explorer, etc.).

A professional Web site designer will test your photo or graphic image to make sure that it will show up properly under all of these conditions.
 
CAMPAIGN E-MAIL

E-mail is the great political communications weapon of the Twenty-first Century. For political campaigns it is an essential tool to: communicate quickly, efficiently and cost effectively; receive instant voter and volunteer feedback, and direct and redirect campaign resources at a moment’s notice.

Campaign e-mail is at its best when it is a voter requested correspondence that supports and promotes a dialog between your campaign and willing voters, volunteers and campaign “investors.”

Campaign e-mail can be used to complement the other weapons in the campaign arsenal. It can mobilize your troops to attend rallies and fundraisers, it can get out the vote on Election Day, and it can counter last minute negative campaigns by the opposition.

Among Democrats in the 2004 election cycle, Presidential candidate Howard Dean seemed to have the best Internet presence and his campaign seemed to understand e-mail etiquette better than others. The e-mails were always from him (personally), they were always personalized to the recipient, and they always began with Please and ended with Thank You. “Please, Steve, I need your help. Thank You. Howard.”

This Internet savvy on the part of the Howard Dean campaign partially explains his overwhelming victory in the first ever “online presidential primary,” in July of 2003, sponsored by MoveOn.org, the pro-Clinton grassroots support site that has evolved into the left wing equivalent of the Christian Coalition.

One thing e-mail can’t do well, if at all, is support outreach programs that target audiences of total strangers. If you’re like me, sometime today you clicked over to your e-mail inbox to delete dozens, maybe even hundreds, of unsolicited messages from those tireless spammers. Remember how frustrated you were? Don’t forget that feeling if you’re ever tempted to spam the voters with campaign e-mail. Even when you are asking your supporters to e-mail your messages to their friends, you must always give those friends the option of remaining on, or being removed from, your campaign mailing list. At this writing there are all sorts of laws on the books, or pending legislation, that will make unsolicited campaign spamming illegal.

CASUALTY REPORT: Buddy MacKay, the Democrat candidate for governor of Florida, who ran against Jeb Bush in 1998, used a “spampaign” that seemed to be innocuous enough. His handlers decided to e-mail an unsolicited letter to everyone who had visited a Democrat sponsored Web site in the state that year. The problem was that there was no way to track who these visitors were. Consequently his campaign mailed unwelcome spam to a lot of reporters, editors and undecided voters whom he didn’t need to offend during the last days of his campaign.

Buddy wasn’t their buddy after that fiasco. And Buddy lost by more than 10%.


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