"Without a people-first commitment, you cannot succeed"

IPA qualifications are an international mark of quality, offering a global perspective and driving business performance explains Patrick Mills, director of professional development at IPA

Mills: “Individuals benefit from gaining knowledge that makes them more transportable and transferable"
Mills: “Individuals benefit from gaining knowledge that makes them more transportable and transferable"

The world is more interconnected than ever. Employees move from market to market. Knowledge and expertise transfer from country to country. Our industry is truly global, and our challenges are greater than ever.

Agency practitioners face common issues across markets, from trust and transparency, to measuring business effectiveness, balancing short- and long-term investment and keeping that all-important creativity bubbling under.

The biggest problem of all? We are massively at risk of losing great people.

Raw, clever, curious, mouldable grads traditionally fuel our industry but great talent is defecting to tech businesses. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat (et al) hoover up the cream of the grads with money and perceived glamour. Churn in the UK ad industry sits at between 20-30% but across any other sector it’s about 10%.

To stabilise the industry, we must fish in new ponds and celebrate diversity and experience. We also have to increase the confidence of our practitioners and develop their depth of knowledge on a consistent basis.

We must focus firmly on talent.

A knowledge economy
The more you know, the more economically viable you are. Clients see better value in practitioners who have been through a certain learning and development programme; they inspire greater confidence to deliver effective solutions to marketing problems.

In an industry that is more tech- and data-driven, understanding the business principles is important – how advertising works, how to measure it and how to create messages that resonate with consumers.

"Without a people-first commitment, you cannot succeed," Marla Kaplowitz, president and chief executive of the 4A’s (the IPA’s US-based sister organisation that offers IPA qualifications portfolio to its members), says. Kaplowitz believes that enabling people to have a broad, global perspective on the industry is beneficial to everyone – it allows creativity to flourish.

Ogilvy is among those that recognise the need for this broad perspective, and, because of this, it is on the front foot. It recently placed 250 of its strategists worldwide on the IPA Eff Test as a part of an internal programme to help staff better understand their business functions commercially. Individual employees based in different countries are trained in universal measurements and common references. They speak the same language.

"It has really helped to ignite a culture of effectiveness in our agency. It’s like a contagion," says Brian McCarter, chief strategy officer, EMEA, at Ogilvy. "When you put an IPA Eff Test graduate into a team, the desire to prove the commercial impact of our creativity takes hold."

There are also huge benefits for smaller agencies. There is a 50/50 split between network and independent agencies using IPA qualifications. A global perspective creates a more level playing field for everyone.

Grow your talent pool
Great learning opportunities also attract, grow and retain the best talent in a fiercely competitive landscape; better work follows.

Independent US agency Wildfire, has a core ethos of making "lifelong learners" of its staff. Co-founder and chief development officer Brad Bennett says: "If we are not learning every day, we are missing the opportunity to grow."

Wildfire continues to invest in IPA qualifications because the team can directly apply what they have learned to their jobs, and the agency sees that this knowledge "fuels better relationships and more business".

Individuals can also reap huge benefits. Ian Dolan, head of strategy and planning at PHD China, believes that completing the IPA Foundation and Advanced Certificates, while at PHD UK, gave him the boost he needed to follow his dream of working overseas, in the Middle East and Asia. He explains: "I knew I needed to benchmark my industry experience and demonstrate a level of professional learning for management to believe in me."

He adds: "The PHD MENA planning team realised early on that the IPA qualifications give the agency a competitive advantage, and ensured everyone on the team had access to IPA qualifications.

It’s given us credibility in developing markets." It’s a commitment that he now looks for in his team, too. "As someone who is responsible for hiring, I actively seek out candidates who have demonstrated their own commitment to learning," he says.

Develop a taste for learning
In my experience, the concept of learning and development as a business growth driver is not widely accepted. Everyone is busy with other daily challenges. But over time, individuals benefit from gaining knowledge that makes them more transportable and transferable, and a clear correlation emerges between consistent learning and agency growth.

Encouraging consistent development through our globally recognised qualifications – an international mark of quality – might not solve your immediate problems. But with a long-term view, it will not only help plug skills gaps and solve shortages, but also pave the way for the global language of learning that our industry truly needs.

In numbers... How a learning culture pays off

A learning culture has a huge impact on business growth – we know it works. Investment in continuous professional development reduces churn, increases client and staff satisfaction scores, boosts profitability and creates new-business wins.*

  • 96% client retention

  • 87x return on investment in training

  • £2m in new business

  • 61% pitch-conversion rate

  • 64 industry awards won

Since 2003, more than 23,000 people have taken IPA qualifications to boost their knowledge and their careers. Practitioners are embracing IPA learning, from the entry-level Foundation Certificate to the marketing-effectiveness-specific Eff Test and industry-leading Excellence Diploma. To find out more, visit or email

*On average, based on 2017 UK agencies Gold Accreditation data