COMMENT: PLATFORM; This evaluation method is better by design

The PR industry should follow the example shown by the Design Effectiveness Awards to prove its worth says Deborah Richardson

The PR industry should follow the example shown by the Design

Effectiveness Awards to prove its worth says Deborah Richardson

The industry’s search for a fair way to measure effectiveness is not an

activity exclusive to PR but is relevant to all the service industries

involved in the communications and marketing mix.

Many in the design industry are also keenly aware of the need to prove

their worth in terms that clients can appreciate and to this end the

Design Business Association, the industry trade body, set up the Design

Effectiveness Awards in 1989. These awards provide some interesting

pointers for our own industry.

The Design Effectiveness Awards judge projects entirely on performance,

regardless of whether this is expressed in unit sales and profit or

something less tangible like changes in audience perceptions or staff

morale. The nature of the evidence submitted is left to the entrants,

while the proof of success varies from one submission to the next. The

factor the entries have in common is that they began with a client

brief. The jury’s main concern is whether the data shows that the

project has achieved or succeeded the targets set by the client, with

extra points scored if the brief is particularly challenging. Because

the judges all come from industry and commerce, not design, there is

little inclination to reward creativity over end result and a healthy

scepticism is brought to each claim.

The onus of proof at each stage is placed on both the designers and the

client, with programmes entered and awarded jointly. This gives less

scope for consultants to fudge the data but there are other benefits

too. Designers are not put in the position of having to prove anything

to their client and both are clearly ‘in this together’. Out of their

collaboration comes an equal commitment to design as well as an

incentive to get the brief right from the outset.

Since success is not measured against any universal standard, a great

deal of responsibility is also placed on the judges. With the very

credibility of the awards dependent on their sound judgement, they are

identified by set criteria and selected with care. The opinion of

industry peers matters little; the ‘buyer’s’ view is paramount and the

judges are all from the client side of the relationship.

While there are those in the design industry, as there are in PR, who

would prefer to be judged on the basis of creativity regardless of

results, there can be little doubt that such awards help a service

industry gain respect. Perhaps more importantly, they can give

consultants and those who buy their services, the confidence to claim a

fairer share of the budgets and the ear of decision makers at board


Last year over 50 business to business articles appeared on the event

with coverage in the nationals as well. This year entries to the Design

Effectiveness Awards were up by more than 104 per cent, with 80 major

companies through to the second round. Regardless of who wins that means

a lot of companies are now more aware that design pays.

If it proves impossible to establish universally acceptable measurement

criteria for PR, perhaps an equivalent awards scheme, also based on

results and consultancy/client collaboration, would do our industry the

world of good.

Deborah Richardson is a specialist in design PR

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