Best practice campaign evaluation for the public sector

Dave Elliott, Public Sector Communications Unit lead in Australia and head of Ipsos Public Affairs NSW, discusses the PSCU and all things campaign evaluation.

So Dave, what is the Public Sector Communications Unit, where and why did it originate?

The Public Sector Communications Unit is a specialist global team within Ipsos that is made up of social and advertising research experts who work with government to design and evaluate campaigns across a host of government portfolios.

The Unit was born out of a recognition that our clients who work with our social research teams would benefit from the knowledge and expertise from the part of our business that specialises in advertising and brand tracking research. This part of the business, known as Ipsos Connect, is an industry leader in advertising research. Connect knows which levers to pull to optimise advertising performance. One of the key tools at our disposal in the PSCU is a normative dataset. This dataset – which includes both government and commercial advertising – allows clients to benchmark their advertising against advertising from all over the world, within Australia or even within their own category. Normative data is critical when trying to establish communications and campaign success.

In Australia, some of the PSCU’s clients include Transport for New South Wales, WorkSafe Victoria, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and beyondblue – to name a few.


In your experience what constitutes a quality campaign evaluation?

Essentially, we believe four things need to happen:

1. Set clear, measurable and realistic objectives at the outset.

Advertisers and researchers really need to think hard and settle on clear and discrete campaign objectives in terms of what it is trying to communicate and what it is trying to achieve. Ultimately the starting point for a quality evaluation is a campaign that has a clear set of tightly defined measurable objectives. An evaluation that sets out to measure a huge raft of attitudes and behaviours in the hope that something might move is doomed to failure as it becomes impossible to determine what constitutes success. Whereas an evaluation that sets out a handful of key performance indicators has a far greater chance of being conclusive about success or failure.

2. Understand what happened.

This second point is obvious, but doesn’t always happen to the extent that it can or should. Does the evaluation genuinely identify what has changed as a result of the campaign versus external factors? Are differences seen among those exposed to the campaign revealing an impact from the campaign, that we are preaching to the converted, or other external influences are at play?

3. Understand why the campaign performed that the way it did.

One of the key frustrations among marketers is that evaluations don’t always help them understand the ‘why’ of campaign performance. Campaign evaluation should identify whether what is happening is a result of messaging strategy, executional elements, media spend, channel mix, media laydown, execution fit with channel, etc. The overarching key question is therefore whether it is creative or media or both that is driving results.


4. Identify how the campaign’s performance could be improved.

If you genuinely understand what happened, and why, you should be in a good position to understand how to improve performance. Do executions need to be tweaked or changed? Are certain channels underperforming, could adjusting the media mix improve performance? Are there signs of wear out? Is a change to the media laydown needed? Is there an opportunity to dial back activity to extend campaign spend and duration?

Ultimately I believe that ‘quality campaign evaluation’ is influenced by both client and supplier.  However, it is crucial that those evaluating the campaign understand advertising and media, not just government and social research – and that’s what differentiates the PSCU’s offer.

Finally, I would just say to clients that when conducting a campaign evaluation make sure it is telling you what is happening, why it’s happening, and how it could be improved because that is when you get genuine value for money.

What’s next for the Public Sector Communications Unit?

The global PSCU team is developing a shared government communications dataset of norms for attitudes and behaviours that will not only give clients a sense of how their campaign is performing, but could also be used to assist in understanding relative success The idea is that if we know the incidence of a particular attitude or behaviour within the target audience before the campaign and we know what kind of spend will be put behind the campaign, and what channels are going to be used then we can look at our normative data to make an educated guess about what level of attitude and behaviour change we might expect to see. This evolution will be critical in helping advertisers deliver best value for their campaign and, in the world of government advertising, the taxpayer.

About Dave

David joined Ipsos Public Affairs as Head of the NSW team in 2013. As lead for the PSCU unit, Dave is deeply involved in the design of our offer, understanding client needs and delivering all campaign evaluation work that Ipsos undertakes in Australia. Away from the office, Dave is a passionate Sydney Swans supporter – and when he’s not cheering on the red and the white at the SCG, he’s spending time on Sydney’s northern beaches with his two young daughters.

Media & Brand Communication