Warc Prize for Asian Strategy 2013: Proving the work worked - one juror's advice
Martin Weigel was a judge for the 2013 Warc Prize for Asian Strategy. Here, he provides advice for writing communications effectiveness case studies.
Relate results to objectives and vice versa
Judges expect to see joined up thinking. The minimum requirement of any submission is a connection between the stated objectives and the stated results.
If your objectives and results don't join up, it's rather hard to take your submission seriously.
Strategy after all, is about intent. Not luck or serendipity.
Articulate the 'how'
Juries will expect you to demonstrate how an idea or campaign or media strategy was intended to work.
This is more than simply declaring that "we wanted sales to go up and they did!"
"It is a more nuanced and textured account, often rooted in a firm grasp of your consumer's behaviour and psychology – of how one thing was intended to lead to another."
Cannes Effectiveness Lions: Advice to Entrants
Since it isn't too much to expect that you developed a point of view on exactly how your work would work before it actually ran, failing to articulate your model of effectiveness only casts doubt on the degree of strategic intent.
As Stephen King put it:
"I don't think we should try to produce advertisements or evaluate their effect without having some theory of how they are meant to work."
'Practical progress from a theory of advertisements'
If your campaign was designed to work through prompting conversations about an issue then demonstrate that conversations did actually increase. If it was intended to reframe a brand's benefit, then prove it shifted perceptions. If your goal was to become part of culture, then demonstrate that it did become just that.
There's not much point in stating things as your objectives and then completely sidestepping the issue of whether they actually happened.
Discount other factors
Creativity never works in splendid isolation from the endless array of both internal and external factors at work. Distribution, pricing, share of voice, product performance, seasonality, price promotion, legislation, average temperature… the list of potential factors in the fortunes of companies and, brands and the buying behaviour of consumers is a long one.
"Judges are interested in your level of 'factor awareness' as much as they are in the way you discount those factors. In other words every time you identify a factor, you demonstrate your grasp of the influences on the market place and the consumer and this can only be a good thing."
Cannes Effectiveness Lions: Advice to Entrants
Conversely, choosing to ignore and make no reference of any kind to all the factors that might have had a bearing on the results provides evidence of nothing other than a spectacular level of strategic naivety.
Having identified the possible factors, think about the different ways in which they might be discountable.
Do not simply assert that nothing else had an influence and expect a jury to believe you. Identify and discount the possible factors one by one, providing evidence.
"Think of your paper as a legal case. Your aim is to prove that the campaign was effective beyond all reasonable doubt… Judges can be cynical if the evidence appears flimsy or circumstantial."
IPA Effectiveness Awards – advice to entrants.
Calculate a cash impact
Cash, not social media metrics or tracking study scores are what businesses exist to generate, so calculate the financial return.
"Many papers fall down at this stage, as they simply express payback in terms of sales (rather than profit, as should normally be the case) and/or take a short-term view of the evaluation period (ignoring the fact that communications are typically designed to work over the long term and rarely pay back during the campaign period itself)."
IPA Effectiveness Awards – advice to entrants
Be aware that creativity generates money for client businesses in different ways:
"It can drive top-line sales. It can help secure new distribution. It can support a significant price premium. It can alter price elasticity. It can reverse reputational damage. It can reduce the cost of sale and thereby improve profitability. It can drive sales of a particularly profitable variant. It can create operational efficiencies, for example by performing a customer service function. It can create efficiencies within a business which improve cash flow. It can save society money by preventing expensive things happening (road safety, for example)."
Cannes Effectiveness Lions: Advice to Entrants
Given the many ways in which creativity can generate money, the best papers, as the IPA notes, "take a more rigorous and expansive approach to return on marketing investment."
However you think your work has delivered a cash benefit, calculate it.
Prove creativity scaled
Engagement has not replaced reach.
Think about the responses of 90% of the audience, not just what the highly involved 1% did.
Don't try and hide the true reach of your campaign by just citing absolute figures without any context and expect (or hope) judges to be awed. Three million downloads in China for example is, in the grand scheme of things, not a lot.
Don't commit data visualisation crimes
If you are going to provide data graphs as supporting evidence ensure they require no decoding.
Clearly indicate the data source, currency, metric, time period, geography, audience, sample, etc. Failing to do so renders your evidence worthless.
Art direct your graphs so they are paragons of clarity. Edward Tufte has written extensively on the matter, and you would do worse than familiarise yourself with some of his advice.
Respect your audience
Yours is not the only paper a jury will read. Indeed it likely to be one of somewhere between twenty and thirty other papers. Often jurors will be reading these in their spare time, burning up (for you) their weekends and free time. Treating that truth with casual indifference or arrogant disregard risks turning an open-minded jury into one that's not exactly rooting for you.
So make it easy on them. Vagueness of language, jargon, poor formatting, typos, grammar bombs, and all the other offences a good editorial eye would have caught merely serve to make a paper hard to read.
Addressing the jury in a chatty, matey style is not a substitute for clarity.
Tell a story
Every story ever told is a story about somebody overcoming a problem. Therefore provide a compelling, nuanced, and insightful account of exactly what the challenge was. Your story hinges on this. If you can't, you've failed before you've even started.
Don't assume the jury have heard of your brand. Or know anything about your market. Provide them with relevant context or history. If a juror reads your paper to the end and still doesn't know what your product is, you're unlikely to have their vote.
If you don't want your paper to read like it has been lazily copied and pasted from a dull client brief, avoid marketing jargon and abbreviations like the plague. You should be able to tell your story without recourse to them.
Avoid hyperbole. Telling the jury that the results were "phenomenal" or that your "brand kicked ass" will not endear you to them. Demonstrate, don't boast. Hyperbole is, after all, not the same as persuasion. Let the jury decide for themselves if your results were "spectacular".
Do not subcontract the task to the most junior member of your team. Don't expect a jury to take your paper seriously if you couldn't be bothered to.
Do not submit your paper until it has had a critical and dispassionate eye cast over it. Employ an internal 'editorial board' (even if that is just one person) that can provide feedback on logic, storytelling, style and data analysis.
Never do your own proofreading.
Learn from the winners
The IPA Effectiveness Awards, APG Creative Strategy awards, the Effies, Warc's strategy prizes and the Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions together provide you with an incomparable reservoir of best – and new – practice.
If you are not reading them you are unaware of the standard to beat. And frankly it shows.
Why any of this matters
All of this is admittedly hard work.
It requires supportive clients.
It requires an investment in training and experienced resource.
It requires a degree of numeracy that seems to be increasingly hard to find in creative agencies.
And of course it must invariably be done after the working day has ended.
And yet do it, wherever possible, we must.
Clients have already succeeded in eroding agency fees and margins, and the pressure downwards is unrelenting. So if we are only ever interested in and skilled in evaluating communications effects – awareness, comments, views, likes, shares, and so on – then we condemn ourselves to being merely execution vendors. And will encourage that trend.
We will deny ourselves us the opportunity to learn from and build upon the most important research of all – what actually worked and did not work in the marketplace.
We will encourage that enemy of effectiveness and sustainable value creation – short-termism.
We will deny ourselves the opportunity to be long-term business partners.
We will allow clients to value us for execution delivery, not value creation.
And we will make it impossible for agency fees and bonuses to reflect the real value of what we do for a business.
In other words we will undermine the case for creativity. Our lifeblood and livelihood.
The whole point of creativity is the effect it has in the real world. If we cannot identify with confidence what effect it has had, we make a mockery of the whole enterprise.
Martin Weigel, Head of Planning at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, was a judge for the 2013 Warc Prize for Asian Strategy.