Feature

IPA Diploma: Why the Diploma makes a difference

Advertising agencies, clients and the industry as a whole all benefit from candidates who complete the IPA Excellence Diploma.

THE CLIENT PERSPECTIVE

Adland is right to get behind the Diploma

- Martin Runnacles managing director, Ultegra Consulting

Having spent many years in marketing roles, I have worked with a lot of agencies. Specialists in advertising, direct marketing or digital they may have been, but the thing that marked the best from the rest was a commitment to hiring and retaining good people.

My early experiences with the IPA revolved around the Effectiveness Awards. This scheme celebrates success for the individual, their agency and their client. It isn't designed to provide a professional qualification for that individual. That's where the IPA Excellence Diploma comes in.

For me, the Diploma is important because it is aimed at those who are already working in the communications industry. This guarantees the learning has direct commercial relevance for the student. Therefore, it sits comfortably with the notion of "continuous professional development", which has been championed by the IPA since 2000.

Some may view the Diploma as just another advertising award, but this is far from the case. It sets out to stimulate participants to develop their own personal vision for how communications can work to build brands. This year's final submissions provide substantive evidence to support this.

Yes, there's peer pressure to succeed, and yes, the participating agencies gain publicity from a winning student, but the key to the Diploma's success is the environment the students work in. The opportunity for people of all disciplines to raise their eyes and minds beyond their day-to-day learning and experiences means that the quality of their contribution in the workplace is significantly enhanced.

What impresses me about the Diploma is the rigour with which it is conducted, and the commitment of significant figures within the communications industry. For example, this year's examination panel included directors from Saatchi & Saatchi to Naked Communications, ensuring a wide range of thinking in the communications business was represented.

I was also impressed by the quality of thinking, resourcefulness and presentation displayed within the papers put before the panel. This led to some stimulating debate on the day.

What I learned during the process was how strong the intellectual potential in the industry is. Any client would surely be pleased to have such thoughtful people working on their business. But does it really make a difference? It should. Personal development is often thought of as a preserve of client companies. It is rightly considered as an integral part of the management development process. By celebrating the discipline of the Diploma, and elevating its status within agencies, the benefit of having well-qualified staff will be recognised by clients and employers alike.

For agencies, it's important to embrace the Diploma and support the work of the IPA in seeking to raise standards. With the pace of the digital age, there is a temptation to assume that instant gratification is the name of the game. But the ability to reflect, and then prepare a considered plan of action, is still important. It's evident from the work done by this year's students that the opportunity is there. The Diploma provides a real focus for such reflection.

In his paper, I believe the children are our future, Faris Yakob quoted William Gibson: "The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet." In doing so, he unwittingly described the IPA Excellence Diploma. This resource helps to find those already out there, who can help shape the future of brand communications. If this year's crop of students is anything to go by, the comms industry has a great future.

SPONSOR'S STATEMENT

- Henry Lawson, president, DDS

Innovation, intellectual rigour and an eye on the future of the industry are keys to success, so I'm delighted we're continuing to sponsor this initiative by the IPA.

People who can think flexibly are crucial to help lead agencies forward in what is an increasingly complex environment, and the IPA's Excellence Diploma recognises that.

The Diploma students will challenge industry thinking from the inside; and they will help make agencies better equipped to cope with the new pressures they face.

Not so long ago, a fresh entrant to the industry could look forward to a career creating and placing 30-second TV commercials, clever outdoor copy and their associated (and stable) counterparts in a handful of other media. Each of these had feedback cycles of about three months, and measurement systems that were somewhat approximate and sporadic. This allowed agencies latitude to make decisions about reinvestment with the client and lead the process throughout.

Today, new media seems to be created on the fly, and agency clients look for expertise in them instantaneously. Agencies and clients receive instant and accurate performance information simultaneously, and the feedback loop for deciding the next strategy is measured in three hours or three days.

Agency personnel need to be more numerate, more analytical and more capable of arguing a case with a client, in a situation that may be different from the expectations of yesterday. They're working in multi-disciplined, multi-dimensional agencies.

Giving a full grounding in the industry, and an understanding of the range of communication channels essential to brands, the IPA Excellence Diploma equips students with the skills to succeed. They need to analyse increasing quantities of complicated data, to create strategies that will benefit clients and agencies. Technology will be an indivisible part of their working lives.

Another issue is the perception of our industry. The place at the boardroom table occupied by the agency head is often occupied by a management consultant, investment banker or other advisor. Our findings from observing the industry are that the top talent at an agency is fully equal to any other professional service company out there, as analytical and rigorous, but with the added creativity that other companies are incapable of adding to the mix. It makes our industry a special place in which to work, and one capable of attracting top talent year after year.

Today's industry is very different to the one DDS started out in 40 years ago. Now, if employers don't offer qualifications and a career path, they are less likely to attract the best graduates. The IPA Excellence Diploma should make it easier for the industry to bring in talented people, and provide its future leaders. I'm sure those we've seen on the Diploma roll in the past two years will make it to the pinnacle of marketing communications.

Each year, I have to take my hat off to the students who've demonstrated their commitment by completing the Diploma while doing full-time jobs.

Knowing how hard that is, DDS makes a special stamina award to the student who performs outstandingly throughout the course. This year, the DDS Award for Outstanding Body of Work goes to Ian John Edwards, the group strategist at Mediaedge:cia.

Ian has shown a consistent effort throughout that is akin to running a marathon, rather than approaching each module as a short sprint.

I know that's how the best agencies approach their client relationships, and, indeed, how we do at DDS - running ahead of the field where a consistent fast pace is what's needed. Well done, Ian.

THE HR PERSPECTIVE

The IPA Diploma can help staff retention

If you've managed to lure a real high-flier to your agency - congratulations. Now try getting them to stay longer than six months.

When the ad industry is losing some of the best college graduates to law, accountancy and the City - where starting salaries of around £40,000 (plus debt wipe-out) are about twice as high - the advertising industry needs all the help it can get.

And once an agency has succeeded in tempting a star to join, the task of keeping that person from jumping to a rival is only just beginning.

"Breadth of experience and diversity of skills are what's attractive to agencies, but people that bring something different to the party are worth their weight in gold," Tanya Livesey, the managing director and head of creative talent at The Talent Business, says.

One of the best ways to shore up your stellar talent is to provide the "essential lubricant" of training and development, Helen Doughty, group human resources director at Leo Burnett, advises.

"Attracting and retaining staff is critical, but is easier said than done," she says. "It's what I call a virtuous cycle; we attract good people because of our great clients and work, and we attract great clients because of our great people. Training and development are the essential lubricants in the loop."

Not entirely surprisingly, training is one of the most important factors when people are choosing an agency, and something that always comes up in interviews, she says. "People want a rigorous and consistent approach to career development."

All agencies will espouse a commitment to such development, but only a few make it tangible.

It was this need to boost the industry's attraction and retention record that drove the creation of the IPA's Excellence Diploma, the organisation's director of professional development, Ann Murray Chatterton, reveals.

In 2004, there was talk of people becoming disillusioned after four years or so in the business. "We wanted to reinvigorate and reinspire," she says.

It's a qualification programme that can make the difference when it comes to attracting top talent, Livesey says. "Candidates are keen to understand the training support they'll receive in a new agency, and this can influence their decision at offer stage."

Murray Chatterton believes the Diploma is also important in promoting a more diverse intake into the industry. "In some communities, there is parental pressure to go for careers where qualifications can be earned. If we are to broaden appeal, we need an established qualifications scheme."

In terms of retention, there are no guarantees, but anecdotal evidence suggests graduates from the course are more likely to stay in the industry.

And compared with sourcing, recruiting and training replacements, training and developing existing employees can more be cost-effective.

Yet, still, putting employees through the Diploma involves a major investment of time, and money (£5,000); and its place on an agency's training menu marks out the company as being serious about developing staff.

Sue Shaw, the talent manager for Carat, likens the IPA Diploma to a mini-MBA. "It takes 15 months and is a tough piece of work. There's an extra 30 per cent on top of a normal workload, so line managers have to be aware of the demands."

Mentors also put in the hours, she says, to be there "pretty much weekly for questions, updates, and feedback".

Agencies say individuals who thrive on academic challenge will benefit, and having the chance to read what the brains of the industry are saying is what makes it so valuable. Doughty says of four Leo Burnett graduates since 2005: 'It's stretched and stimulated them, and given them a solid grounding in the principles of communications. They were pretty strong anyway, but it's further developed their strategic capabilities."

Exposure to thinking across the industry can bring huge benefits, Shaw says. "You can see an acceleration in development in line with the course. It forces people to think more broadly, and helps them understand other disciplines," she says. "It opens up their minds to thinking differently."

Diploma candidates themselves report that they start to use specific learnings in their day-to-day jobs, even within the first module, Murray Chatterton says, adding that they are beginning to get a reputation within their agencies as a source of information.

"Many of them have talked about the fact they've become a central hub of information," she says. "And some have been promoted following the Diploma and have stayed with their agencies because of it."

Clients say Diploma graduates have a deeper understanding of their brands, although what stands out is the candidates' increased confidence.

Despite the Diploma's demands in terms of commitment and investment in time and money, the rewards are tangible, agencies claim.

"The payback is incredibly rewarding," Kate Corbett, the HR director at PHD Media, says, citing the mentor feedback that the course "short-cuts what would normally be ten years of access to brilliant people from a wide range of disciplines to one year".

Doughty agrees the course is "rigorous", but adds: "There's not one delegate that hasn't felt the power of it."

According to Zoe Miller, the peo-ple development director at M&C Saatchi: "The course is a huge commitment, but the rewards are significant for those who can rise to the challenge. We see a marked improvement in their self-confidence, ability and the contribution they are able to bring to our business. We also see a change in the level of conversation they are able to have with more senior clients."

Despite the workload, the attached kudos means demand for the IPA Excellence Diploma is high. "Everyone at a certain level wants to go on it," Doughty says, although "enthusiasm is tempered by the work required".

Corbett accepts that the challenge for candidates to be "incredibly disciplined at managing a team, client expectations, juggling their personal life and studying" impacts on the number of applications the IPA receives.

Livesey applauds the IPA's investment in training, but suggests agencies consider building in a "clause of entry" to the Diploma into agreements with their staff. These should help retain the employee and allow a period of time over which both parties gain from the commitment, she says.

Some agencies are already doing that. Leo Burnett, for one, has introduced a repayment arrangement if people leave the company in a specific period of time. "This focuses the mind in terms of the commitment required, and helps address retention," Doughty says. "The cost of the course is reasonable, given the quality of the training, but it is a major investment in one person."

The value of the Diploma is seen in the amount of repeat purchase, the IPA says. "For £5,000, agencies put two people through the programme," Murray Chatterton says. "We recommend delegates take time off to work on it, but I suspect agencies are getting value from it because some of that work will be done at evenings and weekends."

"It takes time to build a programme like this," she adds. "But we know the pressure comes from the individual to do it.

"We want it to become a way of life for the industry."