EDITORIAL: Educated industry offers client value

Britain's ad industry has never been able to divest itself completely of its ambivalence about having a better trained and educated workforce.

While other businesses, from merchant banks to management consultancies, that vie with advertising for the best young talent, have long-established education programmes, agencies have had to make up lost ground fast.

Indeed, it's fair to say that little more than a decade ago training within agencies was at best haphazard and at worst a joke. Newly arrived account managers with a smattering of knowledge gained in a client's marketing department were often left to learn from their mistakes. Creative departments were isolated from any form of management training and many remain so to this day.

Today, the IPA training and development courses bear comparison with anything else around. Yet a cash-strapped and time-pressured industry continues to push training down its agenda. Far better to let a rival agency make the investment in bringing on a bright recruit then pluck the precious plant as it's about to flower.

The situation has been made worse by the fragmentation of the industry into specialist operations. While the existing crop of senior managers grew up in a full-service environment that gave them experience of a wide range of agency disciplines, that won't be true of the next ones.

Maybe Stephen Woodford, the IPA's newly installed president, gets to the heart of the industry's underlying mixed feelings about education in pointing out that it runs counter to its loose and informal culture.

Agencies should be places where magic is created. They aren't law firms or accountancy practices. This attitude was barely sustainable when full service allowed a broad breadth of knowledge to be passed from generation to generation. It's certainly not tolerable now when specialism stops newcomers learning how the whole industry works.

So good luck to Woodford, who plans to channel much of his energy as president into the introduction of an IPA-run advertising induction course.

A better educated and unblinkered workforce is a prerequisite if agencies want to move from being suppliers to become members of client inner circles.

It's even more vital if the industry intends to provide the kind of added-value services for which clients will happily pay premium prices.