The stupidity of the IPA Excellence Diploma

Why would you want to come up with anything new? 

It just gets in the way of doing the same things that your boss did before you, and his before that. 

Nothing’s changing, not really, it’s all the same game… write a powerpoint presentation, make a telly ad, put it on telly, repeat every year ad infinitum.

Everyone gets paid, media folk go to lunches at The Ivy, advertising folk go to shoots in Argentina, digital folk go and get their microscooter pimped in Hoxton.

Why rock the boat?  We’re onto a good thing here, people…

If you go learning things, reading things, forming opinions on stuff, then go around writing and sharing these thoughts… well, how’s that going to make your agency better?

So, I guess, the IPA Excellence Diploma isn’t helping anyone at all.

I blame the tutors.  For a bunch of so-called industry greats, they really should know better.  Let’s name names; Nick Kendall, Chris Forrest, Jim Taylor, Peter Field, Gerry Moira, Mark Lund… all guilty, to a man.  Especially Kendall, he’s the ringleader.

You’d have thought they’d have just covered the ‘how to get ads made and shown as quickly as possible’ bit, and done everyone a favour.  But no.

Six modules, on just about every conceivable topic… brands, people, channels, measurement, creativity and leadership. 

They they give you a two months to read endless amounts of brilliant discourse on each area, after which you’ve then got to write a 2,000 word essay on ‘what you believe…’.

And if that weren’t bad enough, at the end of it all you’ve got to craft a 7,000 word thesis on what it all means… where the future of our industry lies.

Frankly, it’s asking for trouble.  So unsurprisingly, over the four years of the course it’s produced endless amounts of trouble makers… Faris, Sam, Graeme, Matt, Alex, Chris, Chris, Bethan… the list goes on. 

In fact, I was at the graduation last night of the class of 2010 (I mentored Ben Harrison at Rocket this year), and it turns our there are 66 of us who’ve gone through the course so far…

Which is enough, surely, yes?  How can the industry expect to stay firmly stuck in the nineties if we keep teaching our best people to think better, more revolutionary thoughts?

So, this is where you come in.

I want you to email Chloe at the IPA (, and rule yourself out now

I dunno, say something like “Chloe, if you were to send out any information about the next intake of the IPA Excellence Diploma in 2011, I would be in no way interested AT ALL.  I am happy sitting here in blissful ignorance, because life is easier that way”.

Or, if you’re the boss of a someone who’s looking like they might unfortunately turn out to be brilliant, maybe say “Dear Chloe, I would request that you refrain from sending my charge any information on this course, because they’re enough trouble as it is with all their ‘great ideas’, and I don’t’t want them having any more”.

So please, please, for the sake of the comfortable, easy, unchallenging world we all seek to protect, email Chloe right now.

Of course, you may take a different view. 

You may think the the only thing that’s stupid about the Excellence Diploma is that there isn’t a five year waiting list to be on it. 

But, you know, maybe that’s just you.  And me.  And a fair few other people.

Either way, drop Chloe an email (  Ask her about the Excellence Diploma.  And make up your own mind…





16 responses to “The stupidity of the IPA Excellence Diploma”

  1. 09/03/2010 at 05:10 PM avatar
    09/03/2010 at 05:10 PM

    John’s right. The Diploma consistently produces ludicrously bright, well-rounded people. Business has got to be more thoughtful and fun than just knocking out a few proposals and status reports. And the way to make that happen is to read and think. One year there were 28 people on the course, and this year only 9. Next year it deserves 20+ because the industry needs it. Spread the word….

  2. 09/03/2010 at 05:23 PM avatar
    09/03/2010 at 05:23 PM

    It’s an interesting one this. I feel kinda torn.I love to learn new things and be surrounded by smart people, and lord knows I’m not the finished article and could do with learning more about the industry beyond the day-to-day way of learning.But.If loads of people agree that what our industry (I use that in the broadest sense) needs is people from different backgrounds, looking at things in a different way, and taking inspiration from lots of different things…… then why would sitting in a room full of people from my own industry be of more use to me than, say, any other MA/ MSC/ MBA that touches on anthopology, society, business, brands, media etc and sitting in a room full of people from different backgrounds?I say this not to be confrontational, or to questions the course in any way (it’s got a very impressive alumni) – but in a selfish point of view. (I’m thinking of studying something next year maybe)If I’m thinking about studying something for a year or so around my day job that is going to inspire me, teach me and enthuse me – should I choose this or any of these: examples).So this is a comment to ask for advice really. What will the IPA course give me that a more rounded MA/ MSC wouldn’t? And is it good to be surrounded like people like me more than people from other walks of life?

  3. 09/03/2010 at 05:44 PM avatar
    09/03/2010 at 05:44 PM

    Good question fella, very valid.I can only speak for what I got out of it, which I guess I can boil down to two thingsFirstly, the breadth what’s covered is far wider than you’d perhaps imagine. I’m sitting here with a library behind me of everything from the heaviest marketing metrics to a collection of reviews by the New Yorker film critic. Godin & Gladwell to Franzen & Mitchell. But then the requisite part of the course is to build in your own references into each module then dissertation. You broaden it out as far as you wish. It’s a great course for a generalist who wants more specialist skills, or a specialist who wants to really stretch their legs.Secondly, it’s the camaraderie. I made some amazing friends across the industry, from a variety of different companies, backgrounds, roles… and we still regularly hook up to agree (or disagree) about the things that make the industry great (or shit).I may chase some of them onto here now so they can also help answer your question…

  4. 09/03/2010 at 05:54 PM avatar
    09/03/2010 at 05:54 PM

    Great – thanks for that answer mate. I studied an MA a few years ago that I found immensely useful that was a broad design/ entrepreneur/ creative thinking/ business MA. Really useful.The urge is returning to think about something else to look into and divert some of my energies. Not sure what yet hence the comment – so thanks for the feedback. Interested to say what others have to say too.

  5. 09/04/2010 at 08:27 AM avatar
    09/04/2010 at 08:27 AM

    Mark, good question. for my money, and as someone who’s done it, I’d do the stupid Diploma every time. because whilst its one thing to learn and be inspired by things beyond the industry, it’s quite another to learn and be inspired whilst in the company and community of your industry peers.part of what’s brilliant about the stupid, stupid diploma is the extent to which you are challenged and inspired by the people on the course with you. people that you will stay in touch with, collaborate with and even in the future work directly with. that’s a blast of added value that you wouldn’t get with an external course.and all of that said, the course expects and demands that you draw on thinking from beyond the industry; so if there’s an area that you’re particularly interested in – you’re given the scope and guidance to pursue it…but what do I know? I only did the stupid course ;o)

  6. 09/04/2010 at 01:54 PM avatar
    09/04/2010 at 01:54 PM

    Hey Mark, just thought I’d chip in, as someone whose also been through the stupid Diploma.First up, I think you’re absolutely right. Good planning is all about drawing new ideas from new places and applying them in new ways – and loads of that stuff comes from outside the industry. One of the great things about the course, though, is that you’re encouraged to do just that – because the marking scheme/philosophy of the Diploma is that you will ONLY get good marks for original and distinctive thinking, so it’s no good just repeating back what you’re given.So, whilst the set reading of the Diploma is an amazing collection of (practically) every key text that current comms theory is based upon (which is an incredibly useful resource in its own right), the emphasis is on using it as a jumping off point to create your own ideas on what the future of the industry should be like – drawn from wherever you find them – with the chance to get feedback from some of the best in the business. And it’s there when focus is probably a good thing. Because at the end of the day, whatever course you do, you’ll want to be able to apply what you’ve learnt back to the industry – and I doubt that any course is more directly set up to do that than the IPA Excellence Diploma.

  7. 09/05/2010 at 09:57 AM avatar
    09/05/2010 at 09:57 AM

    I did it tooDo itits ace

  8. 09/06/2010 at 10:37 AM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 10:37 AM

    Thanks for your input everyone.I need to sit down and have a think about it and see what to do. Exciting.

  9. 09/06/2010 at 12:43 PM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 12:43 PM

    I’ve got to echo the comments above. (I did the Diploma in its second year, 06/07).It’s ridiculously hard work, but wonderfully rewarding, both in terms of the people that you meet and the perspective that it provides.From a personal point of view, it changed my career direction in an enormously positive way so I’d always endorse anyone’s decision to take it on.It’s like everything though: you really only do get out what you put in, so it’s worth being very sure that you’re willing to make the time investment that’s required to do a good job on it.(Plus, nothing beats a Sunday afternoon spent with Giep Frazen).

  10. 09/06/2010 at 02:41 PM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 02:41 PM

    Ahhh, Giep Franzen…Thank you everyone who’s commented so far.Faris has posted up something too, and went and ended it with some John Stuart Mill… as you do :)

  11. 09/06/2010 at 02:54 PM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 02:54 PM

    Please do get in touch if you want to find out more, my email is or call me on my direct dial 0207 201 8231.I look forward to hearing from you.

  12. 09/06/2010 at 05:43 PM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 05:43 PM

    Mark, If you want to chat ring me07768258102The Ringleader

  13. 09/06/2010 at 08:54 PM avatar
    09/06/2010 at 08:54 PM

    Hi Nick.

  14. 09/08/2010 at 05:53 PM avatar
    09/08/2010 at 05:53 PM

    Just jogged my memory of reading Franzen & Bouwman’s The Mental World of Brands nearly a decade ago which completely transformed the way I looked at the effects of advertising beyond sales. Totally changed the way I thought about planning actually so the point of having lots of stimulating inputs from a wide variety of sources cannot be overlooked in the formulation of new and surprising outputs to familiar problems!I digress, John – thanks for the post (even though I had to re-read it as I didn’t get the irony immediately – doh!) – and for the link to Faris’ post (where I have left a similar reply) where the important point that stands out for me is that there is ‘free entry’ to the club – as Faris states: ‘There are no exams to pass, no entry requirements, no barriers to admission… lawyers and accountants are taken more seriously by grown-ups who run businesses.’ And of course that is still a huge barrier to the establishment of advertising as an investment not a cost and one that Rory is attempting to reverse with his excellent Behavioral Economics work.Personally I believe that anything that increases the understanding of the value of applied ideas and ideas that can be advertised in this case must be made more attractive and available for the health of the industry and for business in the future. It is a brilliant course and one that I wish I had the good fortune to have gone on as opposed to having to learn from the masters from a distance.BestM

  15. 09/09/2010 at 09:41 AM avatar
    09/09/2010 at 09:41 AM

    If the IPA accepted PR agency folk, and I could be sure my agency would part with £3k, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  16. 10/05/2010 at 11:31 AM avatar
    10/05/2010 at 11:31 AM

    Anybody interested in finding out more about the IPA Excellence Diploma 2011-12, come along to an open evening on Wednesday 24th November, from 6.30pm-8.00pm at the IPA, 44 Belgrave Square, SW1X 8QS.Nick Kendall (course chair) will be talking about the Diploma, key dates for the 2011/12 intake and the application process. He will be joined by John and other course delegates who will be talking about their experience of the Diploma. You will also have the chance to ask them any questions about the course you may have.There is no cost for the evening but please email me ( if you would like to attend.Hope to see you on the 24th.