Building a Presidential Website: Our Journey with Petr Pavel's Website
The search for a president is a demanding process that involves a tremendous amount of work, constant changes, but also improvisation in unexpected situations. When we agreed to create a website for a presidential candidate, did we know what we were really in for? What kind of pressure did the site have to withstand? How did we address the topic of security? And how did we manage to take down a fake website with alarmist information before the second round of the election?
Having an online presence has been a given for presidential candidates for some time now (though it might not seem like it for some of them). And while there is still a strong emphasis on traditional forms of campaigning in the Czech Republic, such as billboards, leaflets or TV ads, candidates in the last presidential election have shown that using digital media to communicate is an absolute necessity. In the hot phase of the campaign, which starts several months before the election itself, it is practically a 24-7 live coverage of the candidate's daily agenda, and social networks are the space where this communication takes place.
The search for a president(ial website)
At the same time, social networks, the huge media attention, the campaigns of the opposing candidates, and fake news can create an environment in which it is difficult for voters to find their way around and get relevant information. That is why the election team of Petr Pavel decided that its website, with its scope and emphasis on clarity, would help to better inform the public and the media during the campaign. What were the goals and requirements for the planned website of the candidate for the new Czech president?
"Two things are essential for a presidential campaign website. It must be prepared for daily changes of any magnitude, and it must be as secure as possible to withstand attacks during the campaign, which will of course come eventually. We ran the entire campaign on a professional level, so the visuals and every detail on the site had to match that. So we were looking for a fully administrable solution with a senior team as background support." says Jan Kříž, who was in charge of online marketing in the team.
"Initially, our team had the ambition to create a classic brand manual, but it quickly became apparent that this was not possible and that the campaign had to respond to the current situation quite quickly and flexibly, and this was also reflected in the visuals and layouts, both in the main channels such as outdoor media and in the communication on the website or social media."
Martin Klčo, marketing & Co-Founder Unicorn Army
Don't underestimate the visual
Digital communication is of course largely based on the visual identity of the candidate. It is essential that its outputs are recognizable at first glance, not only among competitors, but among all the information that floods the feeds of social media users every day. "We did a thorough research regarding the visuals of the website, but we knew that campaign websites have a short life with a clear end when the results are announced. So rather than a template for the site, we were looking for best practice for the overall concept of visual style, and this had to be incorporated into all our outputs, including the website" reveals Martin Klčo, who was head of marketing in Petr Pavel's election team.
"Initially, our team had the ambition to create a classic brand manual, but it quickly became apparent that this was not possible and that the campaign had to respond to the current situation quite quickly and flexibly, and this was also reflected in the visuals and layouts, both in the main channels, such as outdoor media, and in the communication on the website or social media." he adds.
How it all happened
The choice of the system on which the Petr Pavel website will be built was based on the positive experience from a previous project. "We have known solidpixels for a long time, they helped us during covid to build a website for the Spolu silnější fundraising and initiative founded by General Pavel, and we knew they brought an exact fit for our needs. And let's not forget the chemistry and humanity too, it's not just about technology, ones and zeros. The whole team around General Pavel was distinguished by the fact that they got along virtually without words. And it must have been the same with the solidpixels team. At the height of the campaign, it was all about people. The technology just worked as it should." Jan Kříž describes the selection.
Did we at solidpixels know what to expect with the website development for Petr Pavel? Yes and no. What was clear to us from the beginning was that everything was going to change a lot and often. "In the beginning, our main challenge was to prepare for as many different scenarios as possible. The website had to react quickly to the different phases of the campaign. The team had different communication needs during the gathering of signatures, different ones before the first round of elections and different ones in the very final phase. It wasn't a typical situation like other clients who react to their needs more retrospectively. Here we knew how the site would change over time." Martin Hakl from solidpixels comments on the web development phase.
A specific challenge for the election team was the discretion that had to be exercised prior to the start of the campaign. "Where the whole web design was different was the absolute effort to keep information under wraps until the campaign started. Alongside that was a strong focus on detail. The solidpixels team approached both in a totally professional manner. In retrospect, it's incredible how smoothly the site preparation went." concludes Kříž on the topic of web preparation.
"Over 1 million unique visitors visited the site over the 5 months of the campaign."
Jan Kříž, online marketing & Co-Founder Unicorn Army
How many website changes per day is too many website changes per day?
How much time do you spend a day editing your website? Petr Pavel's election team was working on it practically around the clock. "We were editing something every day, even every hour. We were adding event calendars, media outlets, recommendations from the expert team, contact points to the map, adding campaign videos, downloadable materials... Hundreds of updates are necessary during a campaign. Campaigns also have phases and each phase has its own message. So we needed to edit the whole homepage, add subpages, we had dozens of forms for volunteers. It's simply a living organism," comments Kříž on the painstaking work on the website.
Something to take into account during the campaign is the possibility of a jump in traffic. There is a difference between making a website for a regular candidate and a candidate who will win the election. Not because of the initial work, that is always comparable outside of specific needs. "The favoured candidate who does well during the campaign receives much more attention, which is logically reflected in the increase of users on their website as a result. The strain they have to withstand thus increases exponentially over the course of the campaign." says developer Martin Staněk. What number are we talking about here? "In the 5 months of the campaign, over 1 million unique visitors visited the site." summarizes Jan Kříž.
"In general, we have always tried to be prepared for the worst. So I don't think there were any big surprises. The only thing that really spoiled the mood was the creation of a clone of our website and the spreading of misinformation during the final part of the campaign. That's a difficult thing to work with."
Jan Kříž, online marketing & Co-Founder Unicorn Army
The story of the fake website
Throughout the campaign, the election team followed the Scout motto "be prepared". "In general, we have always tried to be prepared for the worst. So I don't think there were any big surprises. The only thing that really spoiled the mood was the creation of a clone of our website and the spreading of misinformation during the final part of the campaign. That's a difficult thing to work with." Kříž comments on the appearance of a copy of the official website on which the candidate's death was announced before the second round of the election. We really didn't expect that. Still, we at solidpixels were able to cope. "It was a rather uncharacteristic situation for us, because instead of us being on the defensive, we had to go from defense to offense ourselves. Thanks to that, we at least found out that we can react in quite unexpected conditions. Within an hour or so, we managed to defuse the fake site." Martin Staněk describes the situation.
Castle Guard, attacks and the last phase of the campaign
The final phase of the campaign was, in a single word, challenging. In addition to the successful blocking of the fake website, it was necessary to face a huge number of DDoS attacks intended to make the website inaccessible. The solidpixels team was therefore on constant alert during this time. "We were on guard virtually around the clock, with a few of us eating breakfast in the afternoon on the busiest days." Martin Staněk laughs. "We always deal with security, but when it's the last 48 hours before an election, the sense of responsibility is incomparably greater than any other time. You only experience that once every five years at most." He adds.
"When I was put in charge of Peter Pavel's project for our technical support, I was not at all prepared for the intense experience that awaited me." says Ivana Maňasová, an experienced member of solidpixels technical support. "Even though we had to face great challenges and the associated stress especially during the attacks and the last phase of the campaign, the enthusiasm of all our colleagues and the almost intuitive communication with Peter Pavel's election team made the situation much easier. The way in which we experienced the whole situation together brought us closer and stronger as a team." she describes. "The emotions culminated in the end, when I had the opportunity to watch the victory of the new president in person at the campaign headquarters, where I finally got to meet the members of the election team in person after a long period of online communication only." she adds.
At the end of the campaign, the task of the campaign website ends. What does the campaign team plan to do next? "Currently we are revising both the website of President Pavel and the Prague Castle website, but of course the presentation of the First Lady's activities is also important. But we are no longer campaigning and things cannot be dealt with at the same fast pace. There are a number of rules, existing contracts and established processes. So we need a few months to review and build an ecosystem of sites that will cover all the needs for a full term." Jan Kříž explains.
What has not changed in the post-election period is certainly the tone of communication that the now-elected Czech President Petr Pavel intends to maintain in the digital space. "Authenticity was the key word for the creation of the campaign, and it should be so in any positive political campaign that has nothing to hide. So the communication will undoubtedly remain the same or very similar during the presidency. The President himself says that although he is based in the Prague Castle, he wants to work mainly in the surrounding area. Therefore, he and our entire team will continue to emphasize truthfulness, civility, transparency, dignity, respect for the rules and a values-based policy based on truth, even though it may not be to everyone's liking at the moment, honour and, above all, service to all citizens of our country." concludes Martin Klčo.
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