Goodbye Belgrave Square: Pringle's farewell to the IPA

After a decade in the director-general's chair, Hamish Pringle reflects on his time at the IPA.

Hamish Pringle
Hamish Pringle

Given how well I know Rupert Howell, his behaviour at the meeting in 2001 to tell me who was going to be the new director-general of the IPA was going beyond the pale.

At the offices of Spencer Stuart, he greeted me solemnly: "Sorry to drag you all the way over here, but I wanted to tell you the bad news in person." It was a couple of minutes before I realised he was joking and I'd got the job.

Being director-general of the IPA has been the most rewarding decade of my career. I have engaged with many good people in our industry, and those with significant influence on its fortunes in government and the media. I've visited many countries to give presentations on the UK's ad industry. In the process, I hope I've helped to build the standing of both the IPA and our industry, and promoted advertising and marketing communications at home and abroad.

I took over from Nick Phillips, who had supported many of my initiatives as consultant director of marketing, including the commissioning of the Bellwether Report and a book on e-media. He saw the importance of being able to demonstrate the significance of our sector within the economy, and the need to raise awareness of the range of agencies that the IPA represents.

I've seen my role in the team as coming up with ideas to ensure that the IPA, with the help of the council and each successive president, remains a relevant trade body and professional institute.

Looking back, we've achieved much: the professionalisation of the industry through qualifications (Stephen Woodford); a more businesslike approach to the business (David Pattison); dialogue with government and the creative industries (Moray MacLennan); a new way for agencies to work with clients through behavioural economics (Rory Sutherland); and we're embarking on a creative pioneers programme (Nicola Mendelsohn).

Where we have been less successful is embracing the creative community (Bruce Haines). Our attempt to recognise great ideas across all media via The Best of the Best Awards didn't catch the imagination, but it remains a key item of unfinished business. My idea for the Big Tent - where all the bodies representing agencies would merge or work together under one roof - collapsed under the weight of conflicting agendas. As it has turned out, the IPA has become more of a "big tent" itself through organic growth - we've gone from around 190 members to roughly 250 - and there's hardly an agency type that is not represented.

It will not have gone unnoticed that in my efforts to support each president, I have tried to pay them the compliment of dressing similarly. For Haines it was the black polo neck, for Woodford a coloured shirt, for Pattison a sports shirt, for MacLennan a plain white shirt and for Sutherland jazzy checks. I am not sure what to do to reflect Mendelsohn, so am leaving this conundrum to my sucessor.

I realised early on that 44 Belgrave Square was central to the success of the IPA. However, not everyone shared my views and quite a few people felt that the location was too far away from the agency heartland. So, in 2002 when I proposed to the finance committee that the building should be refurbished, what I got was a mandate to review the value of the lease so that it could be sold, and move the IPA to Covent Garden or Soho.

But the maths did not work out. Instead, we set about refurbishing the building, which included adding another 2,000 sq ft of office space, and a new lift that has been a real boon in servicing the huge increase in the number of events and courses held at Belgrave Square.

These enhancements have helped to reinforce our position as the "embassy of adland", as witnessed by the recent visit of a 28-strong Chinese delegation that came to meet potential agency partners (but unaccountably didn't eat the elaborate Ritz-style tea we had put on for them).

We also managed to achieve my dream of nearly emulating the original deal struck by the previous director-general, James O'Connor, with the Grosvenor Estate. The IPA now has an 80-year lease, on favourable terms, which is a major asset for its membership.

There are many other things I am proud of, but in every case it's been the skill and hard work of others that has delivered them to market. I'm proud of TouchPoints and the Diagonal Thinking initiatives which, in their different ways, have the potential to improve the agency business enormously.

I am proud to have worked with ISBA and other industry partners on the first joint industry best practice guides. With the IPA's support and resources I have been able to write Celebrity Sells and co-author Brand Immortality with Peter Field. My final contribution with Jim Marshall, Spending Advertising Money In The Digital Age - How To Navigate The Media Flow, is published this December, and uses TouchPoints and IPA Effectiveness Awards data to provide a new framework for thinking about the media landscape, and how to optimise the media mix for brands.

I wish Paul Bainsfair every success as he starts his own journey. He doesn't need any advice from me. Just my IPA cupboard and bathroom for all the evening events he will enjoy attending. If he, like me, kicks the wooden door wedge back into position by the front door each day, he'll remind himself that the IPA runs an open house for its members and their friends, and is a neutral ground for debate, innovation and productive collaboration that has only one aim: to promote the value of UK agencies.

Hamish Pringle joined the IPA as director-general in August 2001.

He steps down in July 2011, and will be succeeded by Paul Bainsfair.