Phil Angelides – A Strong Presentation With Unattractive Wrapping

My day job has kept me swamped the last few weeks, so I apologize for the delay in getting the next website review done. Micah and I were kicking around some concepts for the review and settled on taking a close look at all the candidates in one race. I wanted to look at a statewide race and that led me to the inevitable conclusion that I’d need to do this twice – once in a state where statewide races mean big bucks, and once in a state where that’s just not the case.
I know I said I’d look at races with less dough this time around, but I hope you’ll forgive a diversion. Since the big game this year is shaping up for a showdown in just a few weeks, I decided to look at California and, in rapid succession, tackle the two leading Democrats (Steve “Go Westly Young Man” Westly and Phil “the Angel” Angelides) and the guy they hope to face in November – the Terminator himself – Arnold “I hope I can spell this right” Schwarzenegger. The OC Register recently ran an interesting article on the candidates for governor and their sophisticated online operations. I thought I’d take a look.
I swear I’ll hit some lower-tier races, and campaigns that are doing more with less, in the next go around.
Now, without further adieu (yes, that’s French for my GOP readers, I apologize), I bring you a close look at The Angel’s nesting place on the Net. Again, the scoring is based on six criteria. Each component will get a separate score and the average will yield the sites overall score. The six criteria are:

• Appearance
• Communication
• Depth of Content
• Mobilization
• Technology
• Usability

The first thing that caught my eye about Angelides site was the images at the top. Whenever I look at a new site, I always start by hitting refresh a few times to see if they have dynamic content that rotates based on the page load. Phil does. It mostly involves pictures of him “in action” and “down home.” It’s a good idea to have the images on your site reflect the theme of your campaign.
The images here tell me three things, but none of them are what the campaign is about (more on that later). First, the images say he’s a family man. The picture with the family is a nice touch when you’re facing off against a guy who has been accused of womanizing. Second, he’s a fun guy. All the pictures show him in various stages of smiling or laughing. Third, he’s kind of a goofy looking guy. The pictures feature him with more attractive people and young kids so you won’t focus on his appearance. That’s not a dig at Phil, it’s actually a compliment on how well the images do their job. I originally started with two things, but noticed the third later.
The next thing I noticed is I didn’t have a lot to look at on the page. Most of the real estate is taken up by a really, really large block of text (which was replaced, subsequent to my writing this with a lot of information about their new ad). That cost points. I’m like most people who use the web and I prefer images to blocks of copy. Most of the images on the page are tiny and stacked next to copious amounts of text. It has the unavoidable consequence of making me scroll down the page to get to most of the content – which most people won’t do.
I also noticed that the lower right half of the page had a staggering amount of white space (actually grey, but you know what I mean). That could be used to better effect and provide more space to communicate a message (more on that later, as well).
The vast majority of your web traffic is going to land on your home page – briefly – then leave. The overwhelming amount of first time visitors a) will never go deeper, and b) will rarely come back if they didn’t find anything interesting. I live by the rule that your whole campaign – message, money, and mobilization – should be above the scroll. If I want to volunteer, give money, or find out what you’re all about, I should see an appeal to that – and I don’t consider a 12pt font text link buried in the navigation to be an appeal.
I also noticed the graphics are kind of cheesy. The buttons to the left below the fold look somewhat amateurish. It has the feel of a local campaign, but given the stakes and the budget for this race, they could do better.
The rest of the site is a lot like the homepage. It’s heavy on copy, light on images, and lacks personality.

Appearance rating: 


Depth of content: 

The Issue section alone earns high marks on content. There is a lot to dive into if you’re so inclined. Want to know where Phil stands on anything from education to health care, from the environment to ballot initiatives, you’re in luck.
The site also includes the video from Phil’s ads. The images on the page are all grainy, and the use of YouTube as a multimedia center is kind of odd. Again, it’s awfully low budget for a campaign at this level. Those, however, are style points and are already included above. As a source of content for the site, it’s good to see the video included.
The Angelides campaign also picked up on the coalition concept that was championed in 2004 and includes likes to “Community Pages.” These pages are an odd name for specific coalition groups (Environmentalists, Students and Democrats, for instance.) The only one that threw me off was the Democrats for Angelides. You’re a Democrat, running in a Democratic primary. Does that really need its own page?

Depth of content rating: 



The site is easy enough to navigate, but when you start getting into the Volunteer Center (canvass and phone programs) it gets a little heavy for the novice user. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see they’re providing some robust opportunities for helping the campaign, but the system they’re using (see references to Viva Democracy below) is really clunky. The sign up process tries to rely on the old belief that people are unwilling to give you a physical address, so they never ask for one. Instead, they display about 15 different screens that let you self select (down to the zip code, precinct and even street) that you want to walk.
They could have, instead, simply asked for your starting address and the number of voters you’d like to reach, and use the geography of your start point, and the voter addresses to give you the best match. The inherent limitations imposed by not using some sort of GIS system to match your volunteer to your voters results in a canvass system that feels like an old 1998-era software program.
The other problem with the Angelides offering from a usability perspective is the often redundant sounding navigational structure. I could not understand why they were drawing a distinction between “Get Involved,” the “Volunteer Center” and the “Grassroots Campaign Center." I’m a big believer in belt and suspenders navigation, but that just left me wondering where to start rather than helping me find my way. I had similar issues with the distinction between the “media center” and “multimedia." That’s why many campaigns use some sort of “press” designation to distinguish between their news releases and multimedia content.

Usability rating: 



Get Active powers the site, but I don’t see it highlighted on their client page, so I assume they’re not in a hurry to associate with its looks. I’m not a huge fan of “out of the box” solutions for campaigns. The trouble is they are mediocre solutions to many common issues, but excel at nothing. You’re much better off determining the campaign's goals for its site (which hopefully reflect its strategic goals) and then finding a vendor who does that well.
That brings me to Viva Democracy. I give the Angelides team high marks for some of the stuff they’re doing online. They have found a vendor that learned a good deal from the 2004 campaign and have developed some powerful tools. As mentioned above, though, I think the Viva Democracy tools are flawed in their approach. That affects how useful they are to the uninitiated volunteer, but their concept is sound.
If all politics is local, and you know that the majority of potential (not existing) volunteers couldn’t pick their precinct number out of a line up, why build a tool that requires you to select your walk list using a number they probably don’t know? The technology’s limitations in that regard cost them a half point. I wrestled with a full point, but it also cost them in usability, so I didn’t want to ding them twice.
They are right to believe that people should not be required to go to a campaign office to get involved. That’s the power of the net. It decentralizes the campaign – allowing some guy who sees an ad, and gets inspired, to generate a walk list at 2am and go door to door the next morning. That will only happen, however, if they can understand the tool.

Technology rating: 



This is another area where the Angelides site falls flat. The site has a huge amount of content, but no clear message. There are headlines, video and endorsements, but they have no coherent theme. I believe that any visitor coming to your site should see, above the scroll, the three Ms of your campaign – message, money and mobilization. I see money and mobilization, but have no idea what the message is. That usually means trouble for the campaign. If I had to guess, looking at the site, I would assume that their internet shop is run through their political director. It has a lot to offer for volunteers, but doesn’t effectively convey a campaign point of view.
For anyone reading this that is a) not an internet guru and b) putting together a campaign and looking for ideas, let me offer one. Make your internet guy a senior staff position and make sure he sits in on strategy meetings with political, communications, and finance. He has ideas that will make all three successful online, but sticking him under one shop or another guarantees you’ll do one thing (perhaps two) effectively and the other(s) poorly.

Communication rating: 



Again, the Angelides guys are doing a good job using technology to drive their volunteer programs. Providing online canvass and phone programs is the way of the future. Allowing a volunteer to get their call sheets, make calls, walk their neighborhood and be a significant contributor to the campaign is great.
On the contributor side is the one area where their mobilization seemed to suffer. It’s a common deficiency in campaigns, but one that could easily be remedied. While the campaign asks for contributions, there is little opportunity for the volunteer to become a fundraiser. The campaign should encourage viral fundraising by providing, through their toolkit, a way to solicit and track contributions to the campaign by those you have asked.
Like I said, that’s a common deficiency, so I’m not taking off a full point, but the Angelides folks have gone this far, why not take the extra step?

Mobilization rating: 



This is a strong presentation in an unattractive wrapping with no coherent theme. The depth of content is good if you dig for it, but the things you stand for should be front and center and I didn’t get any of that from their presentation. There is a lot of wasted real estate on the home page that could be better used to tell the campaign story.
They’re doing some really good things with some powerful technology, and some tools that put volunteers back into the process, but they’re missing the opportunity to bring new people into the fold by not using the site to recruit casual visitors through a compelling vision, an attractive presentation, or clear navigation.

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