Close-Up: The 'MBA of brands' five years on ..

Nick Kendall says the initiative to 'professionalise the industry' can continue to drive up standards.

Five years. That's all it's been. Five years since the first alumni graduated from the IPA Diploma course that Stephen Woodford, the then IPA president, invited me to design and lead as part of his initiative to "professionalise" the industry.

We have seen the IPA Foundation Certificate and the IPA Advanced Certificate go from strength to strength, so how goes the IPA Diploma? Has it been worth it?

For the delegates, yes. We know this from their feedback scores, which average a healthy eight out of ten. Also, we know this from chatting to them in pubs and bars. It's the delegates who defined the course as "the MBA of brands".

But most of all, we know that by taking one look at the people who have been through the course, and seeing where they are now. The truth is self-evident. All have gone on to pursue their careers with vigour and confidence. Partly, of course, because they were good in the first place, but also, in some small part, because the IPA Diploma forced them to think and forced them to be their best.

It rooted their thinking and knowledge and honed their vision. It prepared them for leadership -intellectual leadership.

For the industry, was it worth it? Yes, again, I believe. In my eyes, the pieces they have written have provided a "bottom-up" set of thinking about how our industry needs to shape itself.

Over the years, delegates have shared their points of view on co-innovation, on meta-ideas, on data as "the new black", and in the past year on "gaming" as the new "social". Countless others have commented on brands as communities, on long ideas vs big ideas, on loyalty marking and so on.

All these ideas were fresh thinking, and either ahead of their time or clear articulations of ideas bubbling under.

As such, the IPA Diploma has been a source of R&D, not only for the individuals and their agencies but for the industry as a whole.

For me, it has been a pleasure to meet our future in person, and to hear them debate, think and examine their points of view. As Richard Hytner once said to me: "It restores one's faith in the business."

And what can we expect from the next five years?

Currently, we are busy receiving and updating the "shared texts and learnings of the industry", ready for the start in April. I say texts, but I can see more and more of those texts being video in the "age of TED". The future is screen-based.

Beyond that, we want to build our community of Diplomats even further. Previous delegates do great work already in recommending new texts, offering themselves as mentors, and even getting involved with the examination process itself.

More and more, they are a network of content in and of themselves, and the aim is to use technology to access this better both during and after the course.

But my biggest ambition is to make the Diploma the gold standard in the world, and truly fulfil the description of it as "the MBA of brands".

I have received many e-mails of interest from ex-colleagues and industry players, from as far afield as Brazil and China. In that sense, the Diploma is already doing its bit to reinforce the belief that the UK is a centre of excellence in brand building.

So in five years' time, who knows? Perhaps the delegates will look like the alumni of Oxford or Harvard - truly multicultural. That would only add to the quality, add to the community, and add to our industry's reputation.

Nick Kendall is the group strategy director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and the chair of the IPA Excellence Diploma.


- Faris Yakob chief innovation officer, MDC Partners

"If you're interested in the intersection that advertising explores, at the point between commerce and creativity, between culture and consumption, between behaviour and technology and between psychology and profit, then the IPA Excellence Diploma is for you. And if you want to find interesting and valuable ways to connect companies to customers, and are willing to question everything about the industry, the IPA Excellence Diploma is for you."

- Graeme Douglas strategy director, Wieden & Kennedy

"It opened my eyes, it dared me to question our industry and its established wisdom, and brought a sense of perspective to my thinking that was hitherto almost impossible to achieve when mired in the everyday grind of PowerPoint."

- Rian Shah strategy director, ZenithOptimedia Group

"It asks you to put your neck on the line and talk about what you believe; what you believe about what makes communications, agencies, and people tick. The Diploma's greatest benefit is in forging strong opinions where before there was merely knowledge."

- Tom Roach planning director, Leo Burnett

"In some small, immeasurable way, everything I've thought, said or written about my clients' brands since then owes something to the Diploma."