Accountability is the watch-word sweeping Whitehall departments as the government tries to tighten its belt in line with the tough economic climate.
The COI is attempting to take the initiative on this agenda, as shown by its publication last week of a report on financial effectiveness and efficiency in public-sector marketing.
The consultation paper, which is the first of its kind, sets out a 10-step blueprint. The aim is to help those in government communication roles determine 'sensible and robust' estimates of Payback - the financial benefit delivered by the marketing - and Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) - the value of Payback delivered, less the cost of the marketing - for every £1 spent.
Using the method detailed in the report, it claims that the 1998-2005 TDA teacher recruitment campaign not only paid for itself, but should provide returns of £85 for every £1 spent. The COI hopes that the document will become the definitive guide for public-sector communicators.
As the report, 'Payback and Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) in the Private Sector', notes, this sort of thinking is a far cry from the days when the consensus was that the effects of advertising were 'too subtle, intangible and long-term to be subjected to any-thing as crude as a cost-benefit analysis'.
John Mayhead, the chairman of the government's Strategic Marketing Advisory Board, has detected a new mood at Whitehall. His group has tried to encourage government marketers to learn lessons from the private sector since its establishment early last year. He says he has found himself 'very much pushing at an open door'.
Mayhead, a former marketing director at Argos, puts this down to a change in personnel over the past 18 months. He says the Cabinet Office appointment of Matt Tee as the permanent secretary of government communications last year- he was previously the chief executive of NHS Direct - coupled with the 'new broom' of Mark Lund, the former chairman of ad agency DLKW, who was named chief executive of the COI in February, have been pivotal in driving the effectiveness agenda.
This is not one-off activity, according to Lund. 'Important and urgent work on evaluation is happening across the spectrum of communication campaigns and we expect this paper's contribution to be followed,' he says.
The report claims that financial evaluation of marketing has been focused on the private sector and is 'much less common' in the public sphere.
However, one agency source, who has a long history of working on government ad campaigns, questions whether the guide is just going over old ground, saying: 'I just don't see what is new in it. The COI has always done this with all its best work.'
Lund admits that the ideas are not all new but says this is the first attempt at standardising the approach. 'What no one has done is to homogenise the practice,' he adds. 'There are some really great examples of people doing this, but it's not being done everywhere.'
He hopes the report will come to be as definitive as HM Treasury's 'Green Book', which sets out the core principles for all public-sector economic assessment. However, he is keen to stress that no one will be compelled to use it. 'We are trying to present a common method and set of principles that should be used across the board.'
Nonetheless, it is with initiatives such as this report that the COI can future-proof itself against a prospective Conservative government on the hunt for areas of the civil service ripe for streamlining. It is a strategy marketers working with the government should take seriously.