Running For Office: Website & Branding
By Darci Larsen
Your branding is how you present yourself to the world. It affects the perception of your race and of how serious you are as a candidate.
Your website is the first introduction many people will have to you and your campaign. Making it easy for folks to learn more about you, sign up to get involved, connect with you on social media, or contribute will make a huge impact on your ability to grow your list and cultivate a community of supporters.
“Branding” is your personal style guide.
It’s your logo, your fonts, your colors. It’s how you retain consistency of your visual presentation across various mediums, from your website to your emails to your print mail to your yard signs. Opinions will be formed from your logo and your branding — or lack thereof.
If you have the budget for it, you may want to work with a designer to help you create the right branding for you. A professional will have the experience to walk you through design considerations, will know about contemporary trends, will be familiar with producing file formats that printing offices require and what assets you need for bringing your branding online.
Your branding designer and your website designer can often be the same person.
Your general consulting firm will probably offer branding design as part of their package.
You will need to have a logo. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be something complicated or the next Obama sunrise. It just has to be something clean, something easy to read, and something that evokes you.
Will you want to use a visual element in your logo, or keep it simple with just words?
Examples of visual elements:
- State outlines
- Tweaked versions of a letter
Will you want your logo’s layout to be a long wide rectangle, or a tall one? A circle? A square?
What will your logo’s actual text be?
- First and last name? Just first? Just last? Will one be more prominent than the other? Will you use your middle name or initial or not?
- Office running for
- Check with local officials about any additional required text, i.e. party affiliation
Some candidates will want to include a tagline/motto as part of their branding. It isn’t imperative and not everyone does it, but it’s one option worth keeping in mind. If you want to use a tagline but don’t want to see it everywhere, because seeing your face and your name around every corner you turn is intense enough, it’s an easy thing to display prominently on your website.
Do I want to have a tagline as part of my logo?
Examples of taglines:
- “Working hard for Leg. District 946”
- “Always on your side”
- “Bringing accountability back to Capitol City”
PRO: A tagline assists with name ID and self-introduction for newer candidates
CON: Can make messaging shifts or focus changes harder down the line.
CON: All that additional text can be hard to work with or hard to make fit in various places or on various materials.
If you do decide to use a tagline, you may want to have two versions of your logo — one for when it makes sense to leave the tagline off.
Things to think about when deciding on a font
- serif vs sans serif
- different font weights
- uppercase vs. lowercase
- do you want to use a free font or will you buy one?
There are many tools out there for choosing color palettes. A quick google search will produce lots of resources.
- Classic vs. contemporary shades will say something about who you are and what your campaign is like. Consider the difference between the branding of traditional red and navy, and of the more modern salmon and aqua.
- Check on your opposition before you commit to a color palette. It’s easy to think that you’re the only campaign who wants to use red and blue with off-white accents, but you don’t want to end up looking like That Candidate Who Ripped Off Other Candidate’s Color Scheme.
- Don’t feel locked into something traditional and safe! Not every Democratic candidate needs to use blue. Try using green, maybe purple or pink. Stand out from the crowd a little.
A few technical notes
- By the time you’re done with your branding, you should be sure to have file formats in high res JPG, low res JPG, transparent PNG, and PDF.
- The best software out there for creating your branding is Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop. A license for these programs are definitely an investment, as these programs are the industry standard. There is free and lower-cost software available, although there are limitations and learning curves to these programs.
- If you decide to DIY your branding using one of those other programs, ensure that the one you choose can handle the formats and needs of your branding down the line (can it do transparent PNGs for your website? Can you get 300dpi JPGs for your mail pieces? Can it output a PDF or outlined EPS to give to the printers making your signs and banners?)
You need a website to be relevant and taken seriously nowadays. Furthermore, you need a place to collect online signups, take online contributions, offer your platform and policy points, and give to potential donors on the phone when they want to learn more about you during call time.
Can I do this myself?
SHOULD I do this myself?
PRO: It’s certainly cheaper to do it yourself.
CON: It can be quite complicated to set up a campaign website especially if you aren’t familiar with basic website management already. Do you have the time to figure this out? Do you have the desire to figure it out, decide between vendors, troubleshoot the thing, and manage it once it’s up? Do you want to have to deal with it yourself when it breaks?
What about the design of the site?
You may choose a basic template from somewhere like Wordpress or Nationbuilder, or your or your designer can customise a theme, build a full theme from scratch, or just design a static site.
Keep in mind that without some basic knowledge of CSS, HTML, and/or PHP you may be limited in your ability to do this yourself, and certain common aspects of a campaign website do require fairly advanced CSS/HTML.
Should I use NationBuilder?
If you have zero dollars to spend on designing and building your website and you don’t care how it looks, NationBuilder offers you an easy plug-and-play setup.
However, NationBuilder sites are EXTREMELY limited in their layout, aesthetics, and editability. There are around 6 templates to choose from, and none of them are particularly customisable or unique. If you desire advanced NationBuilder customisation, you may want to just skip NB altogether and go a different direction.
THINGS YOU NEED TO BUILD A WEBSITE
1. A URL (your domain)
You’ll have to go and buy www.whatever.com. You can buy this from somewhere like GoDaddy or you can buy it directly from your host. Most domains are around $12-$14 for a year.
Will you want to also buy www.whatever.org and www.whatever.net and just sit on them so nobody else can use them/to keep your opposition from using an iteration of your URL against you? This is usually not a necessary consideration for races smaller than statewide.
You have to pay for space on the internet where you want your website to live. Think of it like renting a room. You bought your bed (the URL) and now you have to pay rent at the place you’re putting the bed. Hosting can be anywhere from $10/mo, $30/year, to hundreds of dollars a year depending on which package you choose and how much traffic you will get.
You may want to buy your URL from the place you want to host your URL, which makes things a little bit easier on setup.
You might want a Content Management System. This is like Wordpress — it’s tech that allows you to simply upload new content and have it displayed dynamically in various places on your website.
Once you have your website set up with hosting, you will likely be able to implement a “one click install” of Wordpress, and get it running on your site fairly easily. You can also install it manually.
If you won’t be updating your content very much (if you don’t need a blog or need to have a LATEST STORIES section, e.g.) you can just build a static website. It’s important to think realistically about your needs here — if you’re hiring a professional for website design and build, a static site will often be less expensive than a site that needs a CMS.
How are you going to collect email addresses who sign up on your website? Volunteer signups? Signups to get a yard sign? Special actions or open letters? You’ll need a database for that. Will you choose ActionNetwork? NGP? Salsa? BSD? MailChimp? Google Forms? A Wordpress plugin? NationBuilder’s internal toolset? Consider the cost, ease of use, options and amenities available for each of those services. Consider your campaign’s needs — will you need to split-test your emails? Will you need to tag signups with source codes? Are you going to run online ads and need to optimise your email messaging for each ad group? How much money do you have to spend on database management? With answers to these questions you’ll have a better idea of which option is best for your race.
Once you choose your database and have an account, you’ll need to integrate this database with your website — directions and complexity vary for each service. If you decide to work with a professional web person, they will handle that and work with you to get to a design and integration level you’re comfortable with.
How will you collect money online?
If you already use NGP, speak with your finance person to get the appropriate source coded-link for your website. If you haven’t chosen a contribution system yet and you’re already using ActionNetwork for your website, perhaps you want to use their easy-and-fast contribution system. If you’re a nonprofit, PayPal offers you some options.
6. What about E-Commerce?
If you intend to sell anything on your website — tshirts, yard signs, stickers — you’ll need to think about the logistics of having a store.
This is a straightforward but also quite complex addition to a website — both the e-commerce page itself, as well as to your campaign operations.
You should consider carefully if a store will be a true value-add to your online presence. You will likely not want to set up or manage this yourself, and it will most likely be an additional fee to add on to your website. You may need to set up credit card gateways, apply a different payment system than the one you already use for your online donations, purchase additional security measures for your website, and you’ll need to implement a structure on the ground for inventory management and shipping.
At the very least you’ll need firstname.lastname@example.org for the FROM: field when you email your list. The easiest option for email is to set up Google Apps for Business. After your trial period ends, it’s $5 per email address per month. You can learn more online about getting this set up.
Do you want a full website from the beginning or do you want to just start with a simple splash page?
PRO to starting with a splash page: It’s faster! to throw a quick splash page up than to build out a whole website with a CMS throughout the next few weeks/month/whatever your timeline is.
PRO to starting with a splash page: You may get some earned media on Website Launch Day; it’s a good piece of news to email your list; and “contribute $5 to help us get our full website up” is a compelling money ask for the weeks leading up to Full Launch Day.
CON to starting with a splash page: You’re essentially building two separate websites, which is often not very pragmatic or a good use of time. If you’ve hired for it, you will end up spending more money because you’re paying for two websites, rather than just one.
PRO to starting with a full website: Your website is entirely functional and ready to go from the very beginning of your campaign.
CON to starting with a full website: If you don’t plan ahead and either give yourself (or your website person) enough time, you may have to delay your planned launch if (and when! bugs and unexpected technical difficulties are unavoidable) things take longer than anticipated to build out.
CON to starting with a full website: If you’ve hired for it, you need to have the capital to pay for a full website, not for just a splash page, at the time of launch.
Basic elements of a campaign website:
* Headshot of candidate (HIGH RES, ideally wide aspect ratio, neutral background)
* Signup function (email and zip code)
* Donate button
* Get involved/volunteer area
* Text pages: About, issues, contact, etc.
* Social media links
* Options: In the news? Blog? Events?
Whether you design your branding and website yourself, work with your consulting firm, or hire a designer, the following questions are a start and will help you help them figure out what you want.
* What are some words to describe me/my campaign? (Sophisticated, mature, contemporary, young, youthful, playful, serious, gravitas, female, etc.)
* Is there a particular word or feeling I want to make sure not to evoke at all?
* What colors/color combos do I like? Dislike?
* What fonts/font styles/font combos do I like? Dislike?
* List five campaign websites/brands that I like
- What do you like about them?
* List five non-campaign websites/brands that I like
- What do you like about them?
* List five websites/brands that I hate
- What is it that I find unpleasant?
* Are there any trends I’ve seen that I like and want to use?