Jo Arden, Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis.Poke and Deputy Convenor of Judges for the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2022, outlines her top tips for writing an IPA Effectiveness Awards paper.
If you're reading this, then hopefully you've already made the decision that you're going to write an IPA Effectiveness Awards paper. Congratulations, you've already got to the point where your brand or a campaign has proved to be successful. And let's face it, that is the first and most important step.
Whether this is your first paper or your 10th, I hope you treat it like the genuine privilege that it is to be writing the story of the work you've made. It's your chance to write a little piece of history, so I would urge you to write it in the knowledge that in 30 years’ time, another strategist is going to be sitting here having read a paper that you've written and learning from the very best.
With that in mind, let’s dive into my five tips for IPA Effectiveness Awards success.
Everyone needs a good plan, but you have to be prepared that there'll be some flex within that. Start early, get an outline done before Christmas. It will give you the confidence and the commitment to keep cracking on.
Take advantage of your IPA guidance sessions. They are absolutely brilliant, and you can learn lots from them about how to keep the pace and momentum going as you write a paper. Think about whether you're going to use an advisor or somebody to help you author the paper and get that session planned in early to brief them on the case you want to tell.
It’s vital that you plan out your own time and think about the periods that you're going to make available to work on this paper. I would try to work in chunkier bits of time quite regularly as opposed to coming back to it in-between zoom meetings. It's really hard to switch into the right mind-set if you're writing an hour here and an hour there.
You also need to map out what will happen if the inevitable pitch comes your way - because we still have our day jobs to do. Lastly, have a think about what you're going to read. There are some awesome resources out there from the IPA, but also from the whole effectiveness community. A great place to start is Les Binet's paper on how to write an effectiveness paper. It will help give you an idea about how to structure what you're going to put together.
I think this is probably one of the best bits of writing a paper because it's a chance for you to think back about the work that you made, who was involved in it and bring them into the team. There's a balance to strike here between the right people, and too many people.
There are no extra marks for heroic solo efforts, but there is a chance that bringing out the full brilliance of your case will get you further to the gold you want to win. Get the right people involved, and don't forget, there's extra word count available for joint entries.
A huge part of the point of these awards is to help build our shared learning. So I really urge you to ensure that every element of the campaign is fully and faithfully reflected in the paper you put together.
And don't forget to that your client is part of the gang, they will need to sign off what you submit. But more than that, they will help you along the journey, your requests for data, the way that they give you access to other people in their organisations. They were part of the team who created the work in the first place, so go and speak to your clients early and get their buy in, make sure that they have got the appetite to work on this paper with you and that they're going to provide you with everything you need. Finally, you need to decide who holds the pen, because papers are so much better when they have one coherent voice regardless of how many authors have contributed.
This is the biggie. This is the very heart of your paper, gathering the evidence. This is where reading lots of IPA papers will really help you to understand the depth and breadth of the exercise.
Remember that you've got two things to prove. First, that the results are good, which is obviously really important. But secondly, you need to prove that they happened as a direct result of the activity that you executed. Causality can be really, really difficult to prove, but that is your task. That's what these papers are about.
Econometrics will be really helpful but we know that lots of client and agency teams don't have the budget to have really great econometrics in place. There are loads of papers in the databank that didn't use econometrics, but still went on to be successful cases. Think really broadly about the data that you've got to hand, how you might supplement it with new data, and how it helps you build a story that is absolutely bulletproof, in terms of the evidence that you supply.
Whether you're proving financial or societal payback your objectives must be clear, and they must be credible. It's really obvious to judges when the objectives have been retrofitted, and it undermines the credibility and integrity of your paper. Be really clear about the objectives upfront. But also be honest.
There are some excellent sources within the IPA ecosystem on how to get your data straight, so go and explore it, because there are multiple ways to make a really great case for the work that you've put out into the world.
Give yourself plenty of time when getting the data together, it can be trickier than you imagine. Lots of clients really struggle to give you access to the data or to get hold of it from the right person. I think it's always great to remind the clients that any sensitive data can be redacted, and you should reassure them of that repeatedly because it's something which is really sensitive to their business. So make sure that they know that you are always a good custodian of their data, but ever more so when you're writing this case study.
Papers are judged on the credibility of the case made but a good story will help lot. Judges read a lot of papers and they are all extremely long. Making it easy and compelling to read yours will get you to that important debate stage at the very least.
Read other IPA papers, but also just read. You are all incredible planners, that's why you're writing this case history. So use those storytelling skills to be captivating in the way that you get your case across. But don't try flannel the judges. A good story doesn’t obscure the facts that sit behind it. It's important that you tell a truthful story in an interesting way.
Make sure that you read the awards criteria over and over again, I think it's really important that at the start of each session that you sit down to write, you get that criteria back out. And just make sure that you're really clear on the job that you need to do.
Give your story context. So what was happening in culture, what's happening in the news in your category and beyond when you were putting the work into market, what drove your decisions and perhaps, acted as obstacles or challenges along the way. Think about what was going on in other parts of the client's business. You will need to prove that other factors, were not the driving force behind the results, this is a chance for you to really explain to the judges the world in which your work sat.
Finally, what did you learn and what can your peers learn from your experience? Have a think about the best way to make what you've learned really, genuinely interesting and important for people that come after you. Obvious or uninteresting learnings are a really rubbish note to leave your paper on, so try and make those as interesting as the rest of the tale that you've told. I know, they come towards the end of the case study but that doesn't mean they should be left to last.
It’s really hard to edit when you’re under time pressure. Sometimes you get to the end of draft three or four, and think, good, I'm finished now. But you need to look at it again and just make sure it is the sharpest version of the truth.
Find new ways to say the same thing, but better. Think about where you could perhaps put an image or a chart or a graphic into your story which will help do some of the heavy lifting for you.
Don't be afraid of starting over, which I know can be a terrifying thing to do. Once you've got the ingredients collected, you can look back what you've written and go actually, there's another way to tell this, which would be even more compelling. So give yourself a bit of time just in case, that could an option when you get to the end of it.
I'd also speak to a trusted friend or a peer, somebody who's a bit removed from the paper and ask them for their perspective - somebody who understands the world in which we live in but perhaps hasn't worked on the on the same category or brand that you're telling the story of. Obviously be cautious about client data, but getting somebody who doesn't know the ins and outs of the paper and hasn't lived with it for months on end, is a good way to understand what could be a bit clearer.
Make sure you think about the tone of the paper and whether it is true to you, as an author. This is a chance for you to put something out into the world that you can be really proud of so make sure that the story you've chosen to tell is told really well. And then most importantly, keep going, keep going until you've written a paper which is truly worthy of the piece of work that you have created. It would be awful. If all that stood between that piece of work winning a Gold is the story that you told. It’s a good pressure, a helpful pressure to have in your minds.
So those are my top tips for IPA Effectiveness Awards success. Writing an IPA paper is an incredible thing to do and win or lose, you will be better off for the experience. It will make you feel differently about effectiveness, and the way you can build a culture of effectiveness within your agency or brand or your brand. Best of luck with starting to get your papers drafted.
Jo Arden is Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis.Poke and Deputy Convenor of Judges for the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2022. Entries for the awards are now open.Find out more and download your entry pack now.