How to write an IPA Effectiveness Awards paper

Les Binet, Group Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, gives his advice.

Are you thinking about submitting an entry for this year’s IPA Effectiveness Awards, but not sure where to start? Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, gives his advice for the whole process – from start to finish.

Getting started

Allocate time, people and budget. Write a timetable and stick to it.

Review all possible cases to identify likely candidates. Use IPA Effectiveness Resources especially old papers, to prompt your thinking. Can you prove the activity worked? Is the case interesting? Did it have a (profitable) impact? Do you have the client’s permission?

A typical plan

The first section equates to about 1/3 of the paper, and the second section equates to about 2/3 of the paper.

The first section

  • Think of the introduction as an ad for your paper. Write it last.
  • State quantified objectives for the marketing problem. Also include details of the market background and brief to the agency.
  • Communications activity solution and make sure you include the action plan.

The back section

  • Results: show how well the activity worked, ideally in hard business terms. Illustrate that you achieved your objectives. Remember: maintaining sales or slowing decline can be deemed a success in a challenging market.
  • Proof that the activity worked: link success to activity. This the longest section of the paper, and a lack of proof is the main reason why papers usually fail.
  • Payback
  • Conclusion
  • Appendices

Writing the paper

  • Don’t start writing prose too early; start with the theme, essay plan and the evidence.
  • Make it clear, interesting and fun to read.
  • Break your argument into clear sections.
  • Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Don’t try to outsmart the judges; they know all the tricks so ensure that your logic is faultless. Anticipate and deal with likely objections and expose your argument to robust criticism.
  • Highlight new learnings where possible.
  • Difficult communications objectives/evaluation task may help your case.
  • Allow time for many rounds of editing.

How to prove that your activity worked

The perfect proof would show a logical, causal chain from communications activity to sales, in line with the brand’s strategy. All along the chain, show that changes in brand performance correlate with exposure to the communications activity. For each correlation, show significance and direction of causality and eliminate other factors. But don’t worry, no proof is actually this perfect.

Econometrics detects and measures communications effects, even when other factors are confusing the picture. Get an expert econometrician and involve them in the process early. Look at all variables that affect sales and test models thoroughly. As econometrics is difficult to understand, use it for quantification rather than as the core of the argument. Integrate findings into your main case, but put the workings in the appendix. Ensure your econometrician also reads the econometric appendix guidelines.

Four ingredients of proof:

  1. Effect correlates with cause

Soft data is good, but hard data is essential. Value data is usually better than volume, and market share is usually better than sales. Look for correlations between brand activity and performance over time. 

  1. Correlation is not a coincidence

The more data points the better. Show correlations are statistically significant, and the more correlations the better.

  1. The mechanism linking the two is clear

Build up a ‘causal chain’ of correlations. Measures used should reflect the way the activity worked. Standard measures like awareness are not always the right ones. Ideally show that the activity worked more or less as planned.

  1. Other explanations can be ruled out

If A correlates with B, there are four possible explanations: A causes B, it’s a coincidence, B causes A or A and B are caused by a third factor C. Therefore to prove A causes B, you need to rule out the other three possibilities.

The Rosser Reeves Fallacy: this is the commonest example of confusion between cause and effect. An example of this is “sales gains correlated with activity (e.g. ads) therefore activity increased sales.” The problem here is that sales increases can cause increases in ad awareness. The solution is to show that sales increases correlated with exposure to the activity, not just awareness of it.

Some factors to rule out: seasonality (look at market share, year-on-year changes or MATs), market size effects, improvements to products, packaging, etc., increases in distribution, other channels, price, and reduced competitive activity (ideally show that the competition got tougher).

How to demonstrate payback

  • Sales growth is not the same as sales generated by your activity.
  • Ask yourself what would’ve happened to sales without the activity?
  • Methods of demonstrating payback include trend extrapolation, regional analysis, and econometrics.
  • Work out extra revenue and profit generated.
  • Remember: sales figures may be underestimated, while spend figures may be overestimated.
  • Sensitive data can usually be indexed and/or put into a confidential appendix.
  • Ideally use discounted cash-flow analysis to calculate ROI.
  • The activity may take more than one year to pay for themselves.

Things to remember

  • Send the paper to your client for approval at least a week before the deadline. Ensure that they are around and they will need to give speedy approval.
  • Order images, video footage, etc. well in advance.
  • Make sure you have IT and admin support during the last couple of weeks.

Writing an IPA Effectiveness Awards paper is no easy feat but it is an invaluable exercise in its own right in terms of being able to see the power of your communications activity and the value that you give to your clients. Best of luck.

Find out more about the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2024 and download your entry pack


Les Binet is Group Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB. Please download his full presentation on how to write a paper.

Last updated 01 May 2024