Opinion: Perspective - IPA training initiative needs creative underpinning

Every IPA president must have a manifesto. If nothing else, it generates a nice bit of PR to kick-start the reign and appears to add new muscle to an organisation that is still sometimes guilty of institutional flabbiness.

So when WCRS's Stephen Woodford took over as the IPA president and the search for a soapbox began, training nudged its way to the top of the agenda. Woodford's mission was not only to improve the way agencies train their staff, but also to introduce a common standard of training at industry level, with a recognised certificate of achievement.

There's no doubt that Woodford's presidency has achieved tangible results.

There's now an official IPA Foundation Certificate and the issue of training has definitely been pushed up the industry agenda. So far, so good. But like all good mission statements, putting your money where your flowery postulating is will always be the acid test.

So the news this week that the IPA is making training a condition of membership is really something of a watershed. At a time when the IPA (like all the other industry bodies in our sector) is desperate to widen its net as a means of shoring up revenues, any decision to toughen the membership criteria will not have been taken lightly. And the implications should not be underestimated. At a stroke, the decision to require all members to commit to the continuous professional development of their staff propels the IPA into the realms of a professional guild, whose members will carry a kite-mark of quality.

In the battle for greater recognition of the contribution that the advertising and media industries can make to the marketing mix, this is an important step forward. Finally, advertising is becoming a grown-up profession with its own set of professional qualifications, rather than (as some clients still seem to suspect) a chancer's business, where the gift of the gab can see you all the way to the top.

But while all this represents a significant leap for the IPA, and for the industry as a whole, there is still something that I think the IPA is missing. Spearheading a new era in professionalism, based on training and qualifications, is vital, but the IPA must not lose sight of the need also to champion creativity ... and the one thing can sometimes seem to mitigate against the other.

Yes, advertising must be a profession with recognisable, measurable skills and qualifications. But an awful lot of what makes advertising truly transformational to a client's business defies all of this; creative ideas and creative talent cannot be neatly examined, tested and qualified. And nor should they be.

In truth, the creative community is one of the few areas of the business that the IPA has struggled to embrace convincingly. The real challenge now is to combine the training message with a celebration of all that is brilliantly, unpredictably, magically creative.

As Nigel Bogle once said (and Tim Broadbent reminds us on page 24 this week), all agencies are only three phone-calls away from disaster. Add up the calls from the telecommunications giant 3, Abbey and NewsGroup Newspapers, and TBWA could be forgiven for feeling decidedly shaken.

Yet as TBWA's global president, Jean-Marie Dru, points out in his interview on page 26, TBWA\London is the fastest-growing agency in the European network. And, Dru adds: "Creatively you know how good it is."

TBWA has one of the more interesting, dynamic business models in the market and certainly has one of the most enviable reputations for producing consistently brilliant creative work.

All of which makes its London agency's recent decline both more startling and more sad. It would be more than a shame if, just as the TBWA network was coming together, it's brilliant London flagship began falling apart.