Dubai: There will be no easy wins at this year’s awards to identify the top PR campaigns and the people and agencies behind them. The industry body, Mepra, has just upped the criteria that will be used to judge the campaigns.

“Each year, we look at the judging process and how it can be improved upon or if there are changes to be made,” said Nicola Gregson, Mepra’s vice-chairperson and head of the measurement and evaluation committee.

“This year, with such a strong drive from Mepra in the measurement and evaluation field, it was important for us to ensure that we encouraged entrants to use analysis beyond Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE).”

In fact, while Advertising Value Equivalent can still be presented, the format on its own will not have any weightage in the measurement process for the awards.

Submissions must take place before midnight on October 11 and the awards will be announced on December 5.

“There are clear guidelines for judges and we hope to have simplified the process this year with adjudication in place at the very beginning of the entry,” Gregson, who is managing director at Ketchum Raad Middle East, added. “So, for example, an entry that goes over the word count will not be able to proceed any further until this is amended.

“The judging process has been made much clearer for entrants to ensure they are completely aware of the criteria their entries will be judged on and how they should be presented. The most stringent changes come in the measurement and evaluation section this year.”

This is the fourth year that Mepra is having the awards. Currently, the grouping has nearly 400 individual members of which 340 are based in the UAE. There are also 38 registered agency group members and five in-house team group members.

This year, there will be 24 best practice categories, plus team and individual awards.

In the local and regional markets, the PR industry — estimated to be around $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) — has historically played a secondary role to advertising in engaging with the wider audience. But post the recession, the former is coming into its own as clients — both private and government entities — work on alternate ways to spread their messages. Based on industry estimates, this year could well turn out to a good one based on billings.

A lot of PR related action is starting to centre around projects in Qatar, and there has been a quite discernible upturn in activity in the UAE over the last four months. Telcos and tech companies are right up there when it comes to PR-specific initiatives and there has also been a lot of traction from the retail sector.

Digital related campaigns are also getting some good plays. It could be a factor in Mepra deciding to expand the number of award categories this year.

“The decision to increase categories was made to reflect the work that is being done in the region and create more appropriate categories,” said Gregson. “For example, when the awards were created, social and digital media was one award.

“This year it has been split into two separate awards — the use of social media and digital work are very different, and this is now reflected. The PR industry in this part of the world is unique in that we have a diverse mix of agencies, in-house teams and smaller teams working across many sectors and utilising a variety of PR tools. The new categories provide opportunities for these campaigns to be showcased and recognised in their own right.”

The number of judges has been increased to mirror the number of awards, with typically six to eight of them to evaluate each entry.