NY Times: Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?

Rare is the day when I agree with The New York Times’ Editorial Board, but it happened today:

American lawmakers are late to the party. Europe has already set what amounts to a global privacy standard with its General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018. G.D.P.R. establishes several privacy rights that do not exist in the United States — including a requirement for companies to inform users about their data practices and receive explicit permission before collecting any personal information. 

Although Americans cannot legally avail themselves of specific rights under G.D.P.R., the fact that the biggest global tech companies are complying everywhere with the new European rules means that the technocrats in Brussels are doing more for Americans’ digital privacy rights than their own Congress.

I’ve spent considerable time learning about GDPR’s requirements in support of projects for European clients, and it’s clearly the (likely) future of data privacy in the United States. Smart digital directors will start preparing their clients/employers, now.

Why You Should Just Wear The Sweater

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (Wikimedia Commons)

I'll never forget Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign. It's not a campaign that I worked on - in fact, I was a registered Democrat during the 2012 GOP Primaries - but as a new Catholic adult convert, I keenly remember being moved by Senator Santorum's unapologetic public witness to his faith.

I also keenly remember the hallmark of that campaign: the sweater vest.

Now, I don't know the origin story of the Santorum Sweater Vest. That was before my time. But I know that it became synonymous with the man himself: a shorthand for his personality, frugality, conservatism, and fatherliness.

The Sweater Vest resonated with people because it felt authentic. Like the MAGA hats that succeeded it, the vest felt real-that rarest of qualities in political campaigning.

In a sea of generic politicians, Rick Santorum was a quirky, sweater-vest wearing, Catholic dad authentically sharing his story with the voters. And the voters rewarded that authenticity by awarding him more than 3 million votes and the second-most delegates at the convention.

So when, in 2016, I was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to work on the Senator's campaign team as he sought the 2016 Republican nomination for president, you can imagine how pumped I was. But in 2016, things were different.

The authentic, sweater-vest Santorum had been replaced by a more polished, more "presidential" Santorum-poll-tested and consultant-managed to "correct" for the perceived weaknesses that cost him the nomination a cycle earlier.

Photo: Former Senator Rick Santorum
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (Wikimedia Commons)

The senator's "Catholic Dad on Donut Sunday" look had been replaced by a power suit and an unbuttoned collar.

This all came into focus for me when, on a conference call, the team found itself in a discussion of whether - and when - the senator should don his trademark "sweater vest" on the trail in Iowa. What came so naturally and unassumingly to the candidate in 2012 had now become just another brand detail to be discussed, debated, and tested.

The senator's primary appeal-his authenticity-was gone. And perhaps not coincidentally, so was much of his appeal to voters. Senator Santorum ultimately withdrew from the 2016 GOP Primaries on February 3, 2016, having secured just 16,000 votes.

Mind you: these changes were all well-intentioned. Everyone was trying to do what was best for the candidate; everyone was trying to win. But bit-by-bit, through a series of seemingly minor pivots, they had drifted away from the very things that made him who he was.

During that 2016 campaign, I was fortunate enough to participate in an all-day strategy and planning meeting at the Senator's home in northern Virginia. During that day, I met him, his wife, and his children and I can say without reservation that they were all delightful, kind people. I can also say without a doubt that, in the comfort of his home, the senator sure felt to me like a guy who'd rather wear a sweater vest than a navy blazer.

People love authenticity - in part because it's so rare in our modern, ad- and data-driven marketing environment.

Like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2016, Rick Santorum was seen in 2012 as a raw, authentic guy running against a poll-tested animatronic opponent. For Santorum, the robo-candidate was Mitt Romney. For Sanders/Trump, it was Hillary Clinton. Both ran presidential campaigns cut from the same poll-tested cloth. And when their opponents embraced their quirky authenticity, they excelled.

In this new world of live video, ever-present photography, and social media, the voters "bullshit detectors" have gotten pretty good.

For me, the lesson of the 2016 campaign cycle was simple: be yourself. Or rather, encourage, empower, and trust your candidates to be themselves.

How U.S. Senator Deb Fischer Reached Voters at a Fraction of the Price of Direct Mail

Senator Deb Fischer (R–NE)
Senator Deb Fischer (R–NE)

Since April 2017, we've had the pleasure to support U.S. Senator Deb Fischer's re-election campaign-and last month, we helped her Nebraska-based team set the stage for her resounding 75.8% Primary Election Victory.

In order to help the Senator share her message as widely as possible among likely voters, we turned to Google's Display Network - allowing us to reach voters wherever they are on the internet with incredible accuracy.

Working with her Nebraska-based team, led by the inimitable Allie Bedell, we helped to craft a range of different campaigns (shown below) to highlight the Senator's priorities and accomplishments. Each follows a consistent design aesthetic, which helps with brand awareness and recall, while also having a unique look and feel.

These ads were seen more than 34 million times by Nebraska voters in the weeks before the Primary.

These ads ran during the weeks leading up to the May 15, 2018, Primary Election and-for a price that's within budget for nearly every competitive congressional or state legislative campaign-were seen more than 34 million times by Nebraska voters.

Putting America First

Senator Fischer has been a strong ally of President Trump’s, working closely with the administration to put America and Nebraska first. These ad units are designed to highlight that relationship—in stark contrast with her Democrat “resistance” challenger.

Ads: Putting America First

A Rancher, Fighting for Ag Producers

Senator Fischer is a cattle rancher with more than 40 years of first-hand experience fighting to ensure that Nebraska producers continue to thrive. In the Senate, she leverages that experience as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, where she is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock, Marketing, and Agriculture Security.

Ads: Rancher, Fighting for Ag Producers

Helping Make America Safe Again

There is no greater responsibility for the United States Government than to keep Americans safe. As a member of the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee, where she is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senator Fischer is working every day to help make America safe again.

Ads: Making America Safe

Pro-Life & Proud

Senator Fischer is proudly pro-life, and throughout her career, she has fought for pro-life policies that defend the unborn and offer compassionate care to women in need. She has earned the endorsement of National Right to Life, Nebraska Right to Life, and Susan B. Anthony List.

Ads: Pro-Life

Designing the Best Overall Campaign Website of 2016

When people think about Democratic Party dominance, they tend to think of states like Massachusetts or Maryland. But in reality, it's Washington State that's had the longest drought of Republican leadership in the nation. And if you're going to run for governor in the bluest of blue states, you need to bring your "A Game"-and that's exactly what we did.

In 2015, we partnered with Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant as he launched his campaign for Governor of Washington State, designing what Campaigns & Elections Magazine would recognize as "Best Website Overall" at the 2016 Reed Awards.

Screenshot: Bill Bryant for Governor 2016 Homepage
Click here for a full-length homepage screenshot.

I'm particularly proud of this website because of how we used color, typography, and an array of small details to create an experience that's at once familiar and unexpected. The website feels appropriate to Washington State; it's not just another cookie-cutter campaign site.

Under the hood, the website was built on NationBuilder's software platform- allowing us to quickly deploy new content and capture relevant supporter data, then leverage those assets in our email and fundraising programs.

The lessons we learned from this website's design and development-its combination of beauty, simplicity, and functional power-have shaped how we've built and deployed client sites in the years since.

Restoring the American Dream With Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum

In May 2015, we had the opportunity to design & develop the website for Rick Santorum's campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Well known for his grassroots campaigning style, Senator Santorum decided early on that the campaign would lean heavily on NationBuilder's state-of-the-art grassroots organizing platform. Working with his campaign team, we developed a website that is built for action - featuring an action on every page and a personalized "Action Center" for grassroots supporters.

Screenshot: Rick Santorum for President Homepage
Click here for a full-length screenshot.

In the months that followed, we stepped in as the campaign's lead digital consultants, responsible primarily for supporter engagement, online fundraising, and management of the campaign's national digital & data infrastructure.

Senator Santorum's commitment to cutting-edge technology allowed the campaign to be a leader in digital organizing in a way that - we believe - led the charge among Republican candidates during the early part of the 2016 presidential primary election cycle.

Award-Winning Website Design for the Florida GOP

Photo: Former Florida Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio.
Photo: Former Florida Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio.

In early 2015, we had the honor of partnering with the Republican Party of Florida as they retooled the digital & field infrastructure for the 2016 election. It was an ambitious project - the full implications of which won't be known for some time - and we are excited to have been a part of it.

In the time since, the new Florida.GOP website has been awarded the 2016 Reed Award for Best Independent Expenditure Website, and has helped the party grow its email, volunteer, and online fundraising lists dramatically.

Screenshot: A NationBuilder-powered action page

As of April 7, 2016, the new website & digital strategy had helped the Florida GOP grow its email list by 30,000+ organic signups and its volunteer list by more than 2,600 people. That's real, meaningful, measurable grassroots organizing that helped stop Hillary Clinton in November 2016 and elect Donald Trump as President.

Click here to view a full-length screenshot of the RPOF homepage design.

Supporting of Ed Gillespie for Virginia Governor

Former Republican National Committee and Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Ed Gillespie
Former Republican National Committee and Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Ed Gillespie

Going into the November 2017 elections, Republicans were four for four in special elections during the Trump Administration. But yesterday's fight in Virginia's gubernatorial election was always going to be tough. Since the early 1990s, first term presidents' parties have always lost control of the Virginia governors mansion.

While he was ultimately unsuccessful, the truth is that Ed Gillespie ran a phenomenal campaign for governor. To wit:

  • He earned the more votes than either former Governor Bob McDonnell earned in 2009 or Governor Terry McAulliffe earned in 2013.
  • He almost certainly exceeded his vote goal, based upon past turnout figures and the best data models. In fact, he earned more votes than any Republican candidate in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • He even picked up a percentage point on President Trump's 2016 result in the state.

But despite these considerable achievements, Gillespie was unable to overcome a massive wave of Democratic voter turnout. So it goes.

At Hines Digital, we are proud to have been a part of Team Gillespie-helping mobilize our grassroots network in support of Ed's campaign.

Screenshot: Landing Page
Screenshot: A landing page in support of Ed Gillespie for Governor (November 2017).

In the final weeks, we actively engaged targeted people in our grassroots network most likely to support Ed's campaign. By the end of the campaign, we were sending ~50,000 emails per week with a sustained open rate of 32.5%.

Screenshot: Fundraising Email
Screenshot: A fundraising email supporting Ed Gillespie for Governor (November 6, 2017).

Ultimately, we were a very small aspect of a much larger and well-run campaign. Eric Wilson, Gillespie's longtime digital director, led a tremendous digital organizing effort-marrying sharp design with smart targeting and a clear focus on results that matter.

And to be clear, the campaign did get results that matter: Ed Gillespie earned more votes for governor than any candidate in Virginia history except for one-his opponent.

The Democrats outspent Team Gillespie by $9 million and generated voter turnout at levels that shocked election observers across the political spectrum. That historic Democratic turnout cost Ed Gillespie the election, but it doesn't change the fact that he and his team ran an excellent campaign that we were proud to have been a part of.

Building a Grassroots Donor Network Across Arizona and the Country

When Dr. Kelli Ward decided to take on longtime Senator John McCain in the Arizona Republican Primary, she knew that she would need an active, engaged grassroots movement to succeed.

Starting in December 2015, we had the opportunity to partner with her campaign to develop and lead her digital strategy-building that grassroots supporter network across Arizona and the country.

We redesigned and relaunched her website, helped grow her campaign's email list by a whopping 760%, and set a blistering pace of online fundraising - raising some $800,000 online in just eight months and more than 75% of her total fundraising revenue during our time with the campaign.

Screenshot: Kell Ward Homepage (2016)
Click here for a full-size screenshot.

In the end, Dr. Ward's campaign fell short, but her 40% of the vote was the strongest result for a Republican primary challenger to Senator McCain in his career.

Kelli's campaign set a new standard for running an efficient, effective digital organizing campaign. And the strong grassroots foundation we helped lay in 2015–2017 helped position her as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Senator Jeff Flake in the 2018 Election.

How NationBuilder Infrastructure Powered the National Party of New Zealand

Over the past nine years, National has helped New Zealand emerge as one of the brightest, most successful examples of conservative government success in the world. But rather than rest on their laurels, the governing New Zealand National Party made significant, forward-looking investments in digital campaigning infrastructure.

Those investments paid off with a historic result in New Zealand's 2017 General Election. They earned nearly one million votes and securing a fourth consecutive first-party general election finish.

We're proud to have been a critical part of National's 2017 campaign team. Our role was to lead the design and development of their NationBuilder-powered digital campaigning infrastructure alongside their Kiwi-led digital team, Topham Guerin. This case study describes what we believe are the most exceptional achievements of that collaborative effort.

Choosing Key Partners: Hines Digital (Strategy) & NationBuilder (Software)

One of the earliest decisions National made was to build the party's digital infrastructure on NationBuilder's software platform. This platform, which NationBuilder rightly describes as "software for leaders," ultimately powered National's website, email program, volunteer program, and online fundraising.

As internationally recognized experts in NationBuilder's platform, the party brought us in to help deploy and maintain that digital infrastructure throughout the 2017 general election. Specifically, our role was to:

  • design and develop the party's website (including a suite of microsite templates for individual candidates);
  • provide training and support to its internal team on how to get the most out of NationBuilder's platform; and
  • remain on hand to do anything the campaign's exceptional internal team needed to get the job done.

Mainly, our job was to put the party in a position to succeed by giving them the best tools & training available. And they did.

Building a robust, scalable website framework

Our core role for National was to design, develop, and support on the party's NationBuilder website and digital infrastructure: building the party's suite of website templates on NationBuilder's platform and advising the party on how to get the most out of that investment.

We took everything that we'd learned designing more than 100 sites on NationBuilder and developed a website that perfectly matched the party's branding. Moreover, we gave their in-house digital team the tools they needed to campaign effectively.

Screenshot: Homepage
National's homepage, national.org.nz, on September 23, 2017. Click here to view a full-length screenshot.

Rapidly deploying landing pages-without an everyday developer

National's website template supported more than thirty different types of pages-from Posts to Petitions, Events to Endorsements. Each could be created, populated, and published without the assistance of a trained web developer.

Screenshot: Signup page
National's internal team was able to rapidly deploy high-conversion landing pages, without the help of a developer.

National's website template supported more than thirty different types of pages-from Posts to Petitions, Events to Endorsements. Each could be created, populated, and published without the assistance of a trained web developer.

That flexibility gave the party's internal team incredible flexibility to act independently and scale their efforts as the campaign evolved. And scale they did. By Election Day, the party had published more than 8,000 pages and saw tens of thousands of activists sign up to get involved with the campaign.

Combined with an exceptionally well-executed digital media campaign, and effective use of online video, National's party website proved to be an incredibly effective hub for online campaigning activity.

An entire fleet of websites for National's candidates

A powerful website for the national party is important, but we didn't stop there. To ensure brand uniformity and cross-candidate campaign strategy, we helped National deploy an entire fleet of NationBuilder-powered websites-all with a single look, feel, and under-the-hood functionality.

Screenshot: Paula Bennett MP

The party was able to deploy a fully functional, totally stand-alone website for each candidate or member of parliament. This empowered individual and aspiring members of parliament to run fully independent, but also fully integrated, digital campaigns in their constituencies.

Strong email engagement powered by deliverable email templates and respect for their supporters

Email is —without a doubt—the best, most effective way to stay in touch with supporters. Even in this age of social media, that remains the Golden Rule of digital engagement.

And email deliverability - the part art, part science of getting your email blasts into the inboxes of your supporters - is one of the most important (and least sexy) parts of digital campaigning.

National's internal digital team ran among the most effective email programs we've ever been a part of. They got off to a smart start by investing in NationBuilder's email platform-which is known for its strong deliverability and smart targeting functionality - and things only got better from there.

Screenshot: NZNP Email
A brilliant example of a clean, simple, respectful email from the National team.

While the audience, content, and timing of individual emails were all led by the National's internal team, we played a key role in designing the email templates and training the team on how to leverage NationBuilder's email platform.

As of Election Day, the party sent millions of individual emails, with an all-time open rate of more than 40% and a spam complaint rate of ~0.01%. (No—that's not a joke. Those are the real numbers.)

The key to their success over email was a deep and consistent commitment to authenticity. They never "blasted" their "list;" they communicated with their supporters. And by treating their supporters with courtesy and respect, they learned to anticipate and look forward to receiving new updates. Put another way: their spam rate was so low because they didn't send spam.

The Bottom Line

National wasn't the only party in New Zealand to invest in NationBuilder as a cornerstone of its technical infrastructure. In fact, NZ Labour relied on much of the same technology to power their campaign. But National's decision to hire Hines Digital to develop, deploy, and maintain that infrastructure was an important one-and the results speak for themselves.

We're honored to have played our small role as part of the larger National campaign team, and offer our congratulations to Prime Minister Bill English on an outstanding result.

Australian Conservatives set a record fundraising pace by… focusing on fundraising

Australian Conservatives’ donation page. (July 2017)
Australian Conservatives’ donation page. (July 2017)

Fast forward to the end of June, and we can now share that Australian Conservatives have raised a whopping $788,600 AUD since their launch in February- mostly from small-dollar donors-with an average donation of just $42.

If you exclude the one-time transfer from the Family First Party (which merged with Australian Conservatives a few months ago), the average donation drops to just $35.

That's approaching Bernie Sanders territory, and it's unlike anything that anyone's ever seen in modern Australian politics.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to AC's small-dollar fundraising prowess-with the two most important being Senator Bernardi's consistent, principled leadership, and the party's supporters' generosity and enthusiasm. But a third, and I believe a very important factor, was the party's website redesign earlier this year.

When the party first launched, back in February, it used a free website template-lightly modified-from NationBuilder. On February 20, we set about designing a new website focused on list growth and online fundraising. The results were immediate.

After launching the new website:

  • The party saw a month-over-month increase in non-membership donations of 40%. That means that the receipts from people voluntarily donating, rather than donating as part of a party membership purchase, increased by 40%-including, for example, people who "chipped in $5" after signing up for email updates.
  • The party saw its first month where direct, non-membership website donation receipts exceeded membership fees. To be clear, Australian Conservatives has a large and rapidly growing membership base-but it would be a mistake to credit their fundraising haul solely to membership sign-ups. In the month following the launch of their new website, non-membership donations accounted for 61% more overall dollars than membership fees, including a significant amount from supporters who bought their membership… and then gave more.
  • The party raised $1.08 per supporter per email solicitation. That means that if an email had gone out to 10,000 supporters it would've raised $10,800 AUD. If you've ever sent political fundraising email, you'll know that those are tremendous returns, and a testament both to the party's energized supporters and the efficacy of its message strategy.

Put simply, AC's new website supercharged its online fundraising effort and allowed them to recoup the full cost of the website design and development within a week of launch.

Since the site's launch, we've been proudly watching as Australian Conservatives grow-swiftly-into Australia's most important and impactful conservative movement. Senator Bernardi has given Australian conservatives a voice and a home, and it's clear that the party's growth and success is only just beginning.

We're glad to have been able to play a small role in that early success, we're looking forward to seeing what's next!