Designing the Digital Infrastructure for Britain’s Prime Minister
How Theresa May set the tone for the first Conservative Party leadership contest of the digital age
Theresa May is one of Britain's most accomplished public servants and one of the Conservative Party's most experienced leaders. She was elected to Parliament in 1997. From 2002–2003, she oversaw the Conservative Party's HQ as Party Chairman. And since 2010, Theresa May has served as Britain's Home Secretary - serving longer in that demanding role than anyone in the last century.
When Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was stepping down in the wake of the Brexit referendum, Theresa May announced she was stepping up.
We were approached by her emerging campaign team on a Tuesday afternoon with a crucial ask: could we develop her branding, design her website, and deploy her digital infrastructure by Thursday morning? Just 36 hours to get the job done. Well, the answer was "yes:" we could, and we did.
A strong, yet approachable, visual identity
The first step was to establish an overall brand and visual identity for the campaign. We ended up with a strong, approachable brand that was at once modern and consistent with the proud tradition of the British Conservative Party.
Typography is an essential and central part of any visual identity - communicating tone and personality - so we wanted to be very intentional about the type we used in Ms. May's branding. We ultimately settled on a pairing of Freight Sans Pro and Freight Text Pro. Together, they convey both a sense of modernity and approachability as well as a sturdiness and respect for tradition.
In terms of colors, there was no reason to rock the boat. She was, after all, running for leader of the Conservative Party, so while in practice her branding had it's own look and feel, its color palette was an identical match to the Conservative Party's own.
The first digital-first Conservative Party leadership campaign
We knew the campaign would happen quickly - indeed, at a blistering pace compared with American elections-and that we would rely primarily on earned media and organic social sharing as sources of traffic. And there was no doubt that our biggest opportunity for earned media would be on the morning of Ms. May's announcement.
We made it our objective to have her branding established and a simple, NationBuilder-powered landing page launched concurrently with her announcement speech-and we succeeded. Indeed, I was up at 3:00 am (GMT-5) to manage the site's launch that Thursday and I'm proud to say that Ms. May was the only leadership candidate to have her campaign's digital infrastructure (website, supporter database, Facebook, and Twitter) ready and live at the time of her announcement.
That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team - led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day's earned media through effective online organizing.
Overall, the initial holding page saw an 18% conversion rate on day one - meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That's a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.
Prepared for a national campaign
Within just four days, we'd helped the campaign to launch a full-scale digital infrastructure aimed at identifying, mobilizing, and showcasing her supporters across Britain.
Because Ms. May's campaign was-in the most immediate sense-for Conservative Party leader, the website was designed and tailored primarily for the approximately 150,000 Conservative Party members that were eligible to vote by postal ballot.
Our primary objective was to identify supporters, determine whether they were Conservative Party members (via a custom-designed checkbox on every form), and engage them as volunteers in their local constituency. This goal was achieved with tremendous effect: the campaign registered more than one thousand new supporters per day, including nearly 2,000 self-identified volunteers.
Showcasing endorsements from leading Conservatives
Though the postal ballot round was crucial, the more immediate challenge was the first round of voting in the House of Commons. It was vitally important to showcase Ms. May's rapidly growing base of support from leading Conservative Party members across Britain, so we built a robust and easily updated endorsements section on the website.
Each "endorsement block" drilled down to a detailed page about that individual's endorsement, complete with a signup form where the viewer could add their own endorsement if they felt so moved.
Yet while the endorsements of leading Conservatives were important, the support of ordinary party members was just as crucial. Throughout the site "endorsing" Ms. May was the primary action, with supporters being directed to an optimized landing page expressly for that purpose.
Quality Infrastructure. Rapid Deployment.
In the end, we're incredibly proud of the small role we played in Ms. May's historic election as Britain's next Prime Minister. We were able to help her campaign deploy top-notch digital organizing infrastructure at breakneck speed, all without sacrificing either aesthetic quality or technical functionality. And we think the results speak for themselves.