Written by Lisa Thompson, Planning Director

Last Thursday, I undertook yet another first influenced by the COVID-19 lockdown, a virtual graduation, which included getting ridiculously dressed up just to be in my house and drink fizz over Zoom.

My graduation was for the IPA Excellence Diploma, where I passed with Credit and was absolutely blown away to be awarded The John Bartle Prize for Best ‘I Believe’ essay by John Bartle, Nick Kendall, Sera Holland and Amelia Torode.

You can read about my entry here – https://ipa.co.uk/courses-qualifications/excellence-diploma.

The IPA Excellence diploma has taken over a lot of my time and brain space since July 2019. It has not just been any old training course but has become a huge part of my life. Therefore, I wanted to reflect on my experience and write a little bit about it should you be considering the diploma.

The IPA Excellence Diploma

For those who don’t know, the Excellence Diploma is split over three modules; Level Set, Skill Set and Mind Set. The course was originally designed in 2006 by Nick Kendall and Stephen Woodford, and in 2009 was reimagined by the amazing Sera Miller and Amelia Torode who run The Fawnbrake Collective.

Through a combination of workshops, residentials and book clubs, you cover a huge array of topics from business to creativity and workplace culture to diversity.  You get taught by some big hitters. One session on behaviour was run by Mark Earles, Richard Shotton and Phil Barden for example. You also have a senior industry mentor who works with you throughout the process offering advice and many a pep talk.

My mentor Enyi Nwosu (Chief Strategy Officer at UM) was a huge help throughout the process by helping me to talk through my ideas and offering up brilliant advice.

What To Expect

So what is taking part like?

It’s an emotional rollercoaster

The Excellence Diploma is billed as being tough and intense, and it absolutely is. There was stress, periods of panic as you teach yourself to use Harvard Referencing again and there were tears. The days of training were so intense post the sessions that all I could manage was a glass of red wine and sleep.

I realised post-course that after every module I ended up having to eat a dirty burger on the train as it had been so full-on. However, whilst it is bloody hard, it is amazing and there are huge highs; lightbulb moments and lots of laughter. I learnt to embrace the chaos by scheduling time for work and finding a brilliant workspace in Didsbury library.

It’s not just about brands

The diploma comes with a lot of reading.  A lot even for me and it’s well known at Wavemaker North that I love to read. I am known to take 7 books on a 1-week holiday. The biggest revelation was that my favourite reading was always the pieces that were about broader issues, and issues I didn’t realise I would have taken to. This demonstrated that working in advertising and media is absolutely interlinked with bigger issues and to be successful you need to be curious.

I was riveted by Extreme Economies by Richard Davies who looked to uncover why economies struggled, including an amazing chapter on why Glasgow struggled so much post the decline of the shipping industry.

I become obsessed by Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff who in his book, and a very brilliant talk at one Module, taught us what we could learn from pirates and that we should all break the rules. As a self-proclaimed goody two shoes, this had a major impact on how I think.

And I absolutely loved Diversify by June Sarpong, a provocative book about the marginalised groups in society. It was in this book that I had a lightbulb moment…

Finding an unexpected passion

The course builds up to a final I Believe in which you must write an essay on what you believe needs to happen for the future of brands and what needs to happen. You were then questioned over a VIVA Panel, which of course had to be done over Zoom given current circumstances.  

This is an overwhelming thought, and when you first start you do worry you actually won’t have an opinion. However, during my reading of Diversify, I had a moment where I realised that despite the industry’s talk about diversity, we never actually talk about social class. As I dug into this deeper, I realised this was at the detriment of our industry. This lack of conversation needed to be addressed and I did that in my I Believe.

The result is that I have found an issue that will stick with me long after the I Believe essay, and I am determined to do something about it. If I had asked myself in July what my I Believe would have been I would never have thought Diversity, and this shows the power of the course. It takes you on a real journey and helps you to discover what is important to you and how you can use it to shape the industry.

A Final Thought

Whilst the diploma is massively tough, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to apply to for the diploma you absolutely 100% should. It’s tough and intense but it is also hugely rewarding and a lot of fun. I think it potentially has changed the shape of my career.

As well of this, however, one of the best things about the course is the fact in your course mates. At the end, you get a bloody wonderful squad who you can turn to for advice or just for a fun chat. This will stick with you long after the learning ends…our WhatsApp group proves this.

For more information, check out the IPA website here – https://ipa.co.uk/news/2020-excellence-diploma