Excellence Diploma – Syllabus

The gold standard for critical thinking and advertising innovation.

Matching the brightest up and coming minds with world-class thinkers and cutting edge makers via three modules: Level Set, Skill Set and Mind Set.

If you are genuinely excited about the possibility of shaping and driving the brands and businesses of tomorrow, apply for the next intake.

Apply for the 2021 intake

Module 1: Level Set

This module will shape the ‘level set’ discussion around our three key areas of focus: brand, brain and business. It is followed by a half day writing bootcamp to give you the tools and tips from the experts to inform your approach to your module assignments as well as your day job.


Every session on the Diploma is ultimately about BRAND, but in this first session we will focus on the core fundamentals of ‘what is a brand’ - and perhaps more critically, ‘what do we need a brand to do’, from Stephen King through to your own thinking.

Combining frameworks and theories with practical, working examples, we will explore brand theory, strategy and positioning to develop a deeper understanding of how brands work within a communications and business context.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Merry Baskin (Baskin Shark Planning Consultancy)


This session will kick off with an exploration of how brands and related intangible assets impact the value of businesses before taking a deeper dive into how finance and the City views and values brands.

Through a broad financial perspective on brands, marketing and advertising, this session will pull on wider debates around short-termism, the continuing impact of digital and the need for shared language and culture across the C-suite.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • David Haigh (Brand Finance)
  • Patrick Barwise (London Business School)
  • Martin DeBoo (Jeffries)


This session focuses on the fundamentals of human behaviour in relation to brands, with the sharpest minds on the matter in our industry sharing their core thinking, debunking myths and pushing us all to consider the implications of this knowledge for modern brand building and business.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Mark Earls (Herd & Copy Copy Copy)
  • Richard Shotton (The Choice Factory)
  • Phil Barden (Decoded)


The ability to navigate, formulate and assimilate your way to your own opinions and perspectives is not the full picture; you need to be able to articulate your thinking. 

Whether you need to take your time to articulate a slow, considered, long form narrative or formulate a story in short, attention grabbing form in order to sell an idea quickly, the fundamentals of story and structure have not changed.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Stephen Lepitak and Sonoo Singh (The Drum)
  • Susie Mesure (freelance journalist)
  • Daisy Garnett (freelance journalist)


This module is assessed with 2 written submissions; an 800-word opinion piece on industry trends/insight and a 2,500-word essay on a question posed by examiners.

The best opinion pieces will be published by the Diploma's media publication partner, The Drum.

Module 2: Skill Set

We believe that the best way to learn is by doing and implementing theory, fast. The three-day residential will stimulate you with best-in-class thought leaders and experts from across our industry. 

We take our inspiration from strategic hackathons, or ‘StratHacks’ - developing strategic prototypes at speed. Each mini-sprint will have points of instruction/inspiration and importance for the main assignment.

During the residential we will be focusing on skill sets including; modern communications planning, disruptive strategy, creative bravery and brand leadership. These are skills that will be increasingly important for strategy and brand building over the next decade, as well as in service to your main assignment.

This module will test your ability to juggle the main assignment with mini-sprints, as well as the pace of your individual learning against the dynamics of collaborative group work. How do you find balance and time to achieve all that you need to?

Following the module, you will have fresh insight across brand strategy to business transformation and channel thinking.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Laura Jordan Bambach (Mr President)
  • Cecilia Hund and Emily Horswell (eatbigfish)
  • Neil Barrie (TwentyFirstCenturyBrand)
  • Sally Weaver (Craft Media)
  • Peter Semple (Depop)
  • Sarah Hesz (Mush)
  • Ross Farqhuar (Wagamama and #IPAExDip alumni)
  • Nick Kendall (The Garage Soho and and #IPAExDip founder and previous Chair)
  • Lucy Jameson (UnCommon)


This module is assessed via in-residential group work: the mini-sprints occurring throughout and the “Sprint Pitch” delivered at the end.

2019/2020 pitch judges:

  • Johnny Vulkan (Anomaly)
  • Kate Cox (Moneypenny)
  • Gabriela Lungu (Geometry and WINGS)

Module 3: Mind Set

This module will provide you with frameworks, perspectives and viewpoints that you may not have been exposed to previously. 

This is a unique opportunity to connect with new styles of leaders and to build your approach to business and brands. This module is about impacting and creating personal and professional change.

Diversity and Inclusion

This will be a very hands-on session where we will explore topics such as diversity of perspective, teams and bias. We will take a look at understanding diversity in the context of gender, race, sexuality and religion whilst evaluating stereotypes, industry regulations and the role that brands play. 

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Asad Dhunna and Laiqa Ahmad (The Unmistakables)

Ethics, Purpose and Sustainability

This session will explore the main themes, narratives and implications of sustainability and change for 21st century brands, with consideration to the global leadership mindset. It will also consist of an interactive session on "Brutal Truths and Beautiful Possibilities".

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Colwyn Elder (Futerra)

Organisational Culture & Design

This session will explore theories of organisational culture, design and change and transpose them into a framework of application.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Sam Coniff-Allende (Be More Pirate)


This session will be a hands on look at innovation in the context of brands, advertising and media through the lens of “Make Things People Want vs. Make People Want Things”.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • John Willshire (The Smithery and #IPAExDip alumni)

Global Brand Leadership and Horizons

This session explores perspectives around how brands, thinking and creativity crosses borders, alongside a personal perspective of working globally.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Rob Campbell (R/GA)

Talk Like Ted

You will also have a "Talk Like Ted" bootcamp to help you prepare for the final presentation.

The presentation expert will ensure that even those who are uncomfortable speaking will move out of their everyday comfort zone to find new skills and confidence. This will take individuals up to a new level of communication and persuasion.

2019/2020 Faculty:

  • Tish Mousell (Tish Mousell Training Consultancy)

Assessment: I BELIEVE...

An I BELIEVE is a personally persuasive and strategically compelling point of view about brands today. We are looking for ideas that are fresh, inspiring and feel practical and relevant to our industry, today and tomorrow.

For the first time since the inception of the IPA Excellence Diploma, the I BELIEVE deliverable has been split into three parts.

Candidates will present the culmination of their work, their "I Believe... Therefore...", at:

  • a 2,500 word essay
  • a TEDx style talk to a public audience at Google Town Hall, examiners and external industry judges
  • a viva voce with examiners and external industry judges

Before the qualification was redeveloped in 2019, previous intakes presented their chosen "I Believe... Therefore..." in a 5,000 word thesis.

Read the final I BELIEVE thesis' from the 2016/2017 intake


If you have any questions about the IPA Excellence Diploma, please get in touch with us at learning@ipa.co.uk and follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn with #IPAExDip.