Feature

IPA Excellence Diploma: Chairman's introduction

Where will this IPA Excellence Diploma be in ten years' time?

This may seem an idler's question in a year where the focus is on return on investment in 2009, not 2019.

After all, this is the year of "biting and scratching", as our own IPA president put it so vividly.

But it is also the year of "dusting ourselves off" and "remaking" ourselves, as another president chose to put it, equally vividly. So let us spare a thought for our future.

In these uncertain times I, for one, am certain that this Diploma will become a Gold Standard for excellence in brand learning, not only in the UK, but globally.

Why am I so certain? First, because I am certain that the quality of advice on brands will become the ever-increasing focus of client desire (alongside creativity of ideas, of course.)

The skewer of the Diploma, for those who don't know, is brands. It asks delegates to become experts in brand advice by reading the shared learnings and key texts of our history. Delegates are then asked to develop their own "I believe" of how brands, brand communication or brand management will change in the future.

The six pieces featured here are those papers that earned a distinction in their final piece.

So, in short, I am certain that the Diploma is focused on the right area for the future.

Secondly, I am certain that Stephen Woodford's vision of developing professional standards for our industry becomes even more critical in these hard times.

We are all certain that this recession will put the spotlight on our margins.

If we claim added value, we must point to tangible proofs of it. This cannot be simply in the shape of "one-off" examples of success, but in proof of agencies' systematic and dedicated attempts to improve themselves. One of those attempts will be in how we develop our "human capital", that is, how we develop and nurture the bright-eyed talent that we invite to join our industry. Increasingly those attempts cannot be nice-to-have but must-have professional standards.

Third, I am also certain that this recession will shrink our market as money is diverted into different, more precise and seemingly accountable marketing channels.

One of our reactions to this must be to grow our market by growing abroad. The UK creative industry has the opportunity to expand its reputation as a centre of excellence. The UK government already recognises this.

That excellence is built on the quality of our ideas. Behind that, it was also built on the foresight and R&D investment that was, for example, our introduction of planning, our focus on effectiveness and ROMI, our development of training and our investment in media thinking as a fundamental, not an option, and so on.

All these step changes placed us ahead of many of our fellows around the world in the quality of our thinking. The Diploma is the next step in that journey.

Which brings me finally to why I am most certain that the Diploma will be a global standard in brand learning: namely my faith in the quality of the product and the quality of the thinking that it inspires in people.

Be in no doubt that the Diploma is demanding. It is no sticking plaster, no gesture examination. It is a journey of stamina and dedication. On one level, delegates hate it.

But on the other, they come to love it and the unique opportunity it offers them to feel truly grounded in the advice they give and yet also fly with their own thinking.

The pieces in this supplement are examples of the quality and originality of the thinking the Diploma asks of our people.

In these uncertain times, I find these pieces, and the quality of the people who wrote them - indeed the quality of all the people who took the Diploma - strangely comforting.

I have an old-fashioned belief you see, in quality and originality.

People ask me why I dedicate my time to this Diploma. Why do all the people who help so unstintingly give their time?

My answer, and I think all the editors and examiners would agree, is simple.

If gives me faith in our future. And in these uncertain times, such faith is at a premium.

Yes, in the world of 2009, we will be asking that future to knuckle down and fight. But what will we be offering that future in return?

We need to balance our call to action today with some kind of vision of how our future will be better tomorrow.

If we are to remake our industry as the best in the world, we need to commit to a vision of superlative ideas driven by equally superb strategic brand advice. Professionalism, the right to call ourselves experts in brands, will help put clear-blue water between us and most in the world.

This Diploma - the "MBA of Brands", as the delegates call it in their feedback will be central to that.

I am certain.

And just in case you are thinking that I am a "complete dreamer", we have re-engineered this year's Diploma to strip out all residential elements and uncritical parts in order to nearly halve its cost. We have also secured access to government subsidies for agencies. To apply, please write to felicity@ipa.co.uk.

After all, ideas are us. They are what we sell, what we offer that our consultancy competitors can't hope to copy, and they are what makes our industry so essentially enjoyable.

So I and the IPA Diploma team are immensely proud to have feedback that we helped our delegates re-engage with their own ideas.

As one of last year's delegates put it: "I feel more confident and enjoy my job even more. I love advertising."

We hope reading these essays makes you feel the same as their writers.

- Nick Kendall, chair of the judges and group strategy director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

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