Excellence Diploma in Brands: Syllabus and Faculty

The gold standard for critical thinking and advertising innovation.

Matching 20 brand leaders of tomorrow with world-class thinkers and cutting-edge makers via reading, debate, imaginative coursework, a mentoring programme and three fully immersive modules: Level Set, Skill Set and Mind Set.

Module 1: Level Set 

Hosted across four virtual classroom sessions, this module shapes the ‘level set’ discussion around our three key areas of focus: brand, business and brain.  


Every session on the Diploma is ultimately about BRAND, but in the first two virtual classrooms 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. 


The third virtual classroom will explore 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. 


This final virtual classroom 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. 


Module 1 is assessed with a written submission; a 1,000-word opinion piece on an industry trend/insight. The best opinion pieces will be published by the Diploma's media publication partner. 

Module 2: Skill Set 

We believe that the best way to learn is by doing and implementing theory, fast. Hosted across two virtual classroom sessions, with a group project running throughout, module 2 is a fast-paced ‘Skill Sprint’ with key opinion leaders presenting challenging new thinking and asking candidates to work on mini-briefs immediately for a short period of time. 

We take our inspiration for this module from strategic hackathons, developing strategic prototypes at speed. Each mini-sprint will have points of instruction/inspiration and importance for the main group project assessment; a brand pitch. 


Module 2 is assessed via group work: the mini-sprints occurring throughout and the “Sprint Pitch” delivered at the end. 

Module 3: Mind Set 

Hosted across two virtual classroom sessions, module 3 provides candidates with frameworks, perspectives and viewpoints that they may not have been exposed to previously. These will be centred on innovation, ethics, diversity and culture.  

Global Perspectives: Ethics, Purpose and Sustainability, Diversity and Inclusion and Organisational Culture & Design 

Candidates will first explore the main themes, narratives and implications of sustainability and change for 21st century brands, with consideration to the global leadership mind set. Before diving into 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.  

Next, candidates will take a look at perspectives around how brands, thinking and creativity crosses borders, alongside a personal perspective of working globally. 

And finally, candidates will discuss theories of organisational culture, design and change and transpose them into a framework of application. 


This final virtual classroom is a hands on look at innovation in the context of brands, advertising and media. 

Writing Workshop 

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.  

This workshop aims to give candidates tools and tips from the experts to inform their approach to the qualification assessments as well as their day job. 

Presentation Workshop 

This workshop helps candidates prepare for their final "I Believe" 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. 

Mentoring Programme 

Candidates are matched with a mentor from the industry who they can use as a sounding board for their ideas and assessments throughout the qualification. 

"I Believe" Project

This is an independent research project running throughout the duration of the qualification, examined after Module 3. 

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. 

The qualification previously culminated in a final thesis, “I believe… Therefore…”. In 2019 the thesis was reimagined as a series of outputs: an essay, a public talk and a panel interview examination. 

Past candidates and their agency CEOs have described the “I Believe” output of the Excellence Diploma in Brands as R&D for the advertising industry. The best “I Believe” output has appeared in industry publications and on industry stages. 

Read the prize-winning and distinction-earning "I Believe" essays from the 2019/2020 intake.

Read the final "I Believe"  thesis' from the 2016/2017 intake.


Confirmed speakers, judges and mentors for the 2021 – 2022 intake will be announced on IPA channels soon. Follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn with #IPAExDip. 

Qualification Co-Chairs 

Photo of Sera Holland and Amelia Torode
Sera Holland and Amelia Torode, Qualification Co-Chairs 2019 - Present

Sera Holland (Miller) and Amelia Torode are award-winning industry pioneers with over 20 years of strategic and innovation experience in the UK and US for brands such as London 2012, O2, Airbnb, Lloyds Banking Group and SSE.  

They have founded agencies, run and built departments, led client teams and worked across multiple marketing disciplines including Advertising, Digital, PR, Media and Experiential. 

2019/2020 Intake Speakers 

  • Asad Dhunna, Founder and CEO and Laiqa Ahmad, former Insights Consultant, The Unmistakables 
  • Cecilia Hund and Emily Horswell, Strategy Directors, eatbigfish 
  • Colwyn Elder, Chief Planning Officer, Futerra 
  • Daisy Garnett, freelance writer and journalist, appeared in Vogue, The New York Times, The Telegraph, the Guardian, the Observer and The Times 
  • David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance 
  • John WillshireFounder, The Smithery  
  • Laura Jordan Bambach, President & Chief Creative Officer at Grey London, Co-FounderReady for Business and SheSays 
  • Lucy Jameson, Founder, UnCommon London 
  • Mark Earls, author of Herd and Copy Copy Copy 
  • Martin DeBoo, Managing Director, Jeffries 
  • Merry Baskin, Founder, Baskin Shark Planning Consultancy 
  • Neil Barrie, Global CEO, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand 
  • Nick Kendall, Founding Partner, Electric Glue and The Garage Soho and former IPA Excellence Diploma Qualification Chair 
  • Patrick Barwise, Professor of Management and Marketing, London Business School 
  • Peter Semple, Chief Marketing Officer, Depop 
  • Phil Barden, author of Decoded 
  • Richard Shottonauthor of The Choice Factory 
  • Rob Campbell, Chief Strategy Officer, Colenso BBDO 
  • Ross Farquhar, Marketing Director, Little Moons and IPA Excellence Diploma Alumni 
  • Sally Weaver, Founder, Craft Media London 
  • Sam Coniff-Allende, author of Be More Pirate 
  • Sarah Hesz, Chief Commercial Officer, Bubble 
  • Stephen Lepitak, former Editor, The Drum 
  • Susie Mesure, freelance feature writer and interviewer, former senior writer at The Independent and The Independent on Sunday 
  • Sonoo Singh, former Associate Editor, The Drum 
  • Tish Moussell, Presentation Trainer, Tish Moussell Training Consultancy 

2019/2020 Intake Judges 

  • Amelia Torode, Co-Founder, The Fawnbrake Collective and IPA Excellence Diploma Qualification Co-Chair 
  • Andy Nairn, Founding Partner, Lucky Generals 
  • Gabriela Lungu, Global Creative Director, VMLY&R Commerce, and Founder of WINGS Creative Leadership Lab 
  • Geoff de Burca, Chief Strategy Officer, MediaCom 
  • Jed Hallam, Head of Mediabrands Content Studio UK 
  • John Bartle, BBH Co-Founder 
  • Johnny Vulkan, Founding Partner, Anomaly 
  • Kate Cox, Chief Marketing Officer, Moneypenny 
  • Lucy Jameson, Founder, Uncommon London 
  • Nigel Vaz, CEO, Publicis Sapient and IPA President 2019 - 2021 
  • Richard Huntington, Chief Strategy Officer, Saatchi & Saatchi 
  • Sera Holland (Miller), Co-Founder, The Fawnbrake Collective and IPA Excellence Diploma Qualification Co-Chair 
  • Stephen Lepitak, former EditorThe Drum 
  • Sonoo Singh, former Associate Editor, The Drum 
  • Tess Alps, Council Member, Advertising Standards Authority and Founding CEO, Thinkbox 

2019/2020 Intake Mentors 

  • Catherine Wiles, Chief Strategy Officer, Cossette 
  • David Wilding, Director of Planning, Twitter UK 
  • Earl Javier, Strategy Director, McCann WorldGroup 
  • Enyi Nwosu, Chief Strategy Officer, Universal McCann 
  • Faris Yakob, Co-Founder, Genius Steals 
  • Graeme Douglas, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Bountiful Cow 
  • Hilde Moore, freelance strategist and former Head of Planning, JWT London 
  • Jen Smith, Co-Founder, Craft Media London 
  • Laurence Parks, CEO, Rufus Leonard 
  • Louise Flett, Co-Founder, InklingCC 
  • Mel Exon, former Group CEO, Sunshine, and former Managing Director, BBH 
  • Neil Barrie, Global CEO, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand 
  • Rosie Yakob, Partner and Managing Director, Genius Steals 
  • Sally Weaver, Founder, Craft Media London 
  • Sam D'Amato, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Friendly Giants 
  • Tom Firth, Managing Director and Partner, M&C Saatchi London 
  • Tom Roach, Vice President Brand Planning, Jellyfish 
  • Will Hodge, Chief Strategy Officer, Karmarama 
Find out more and apply for the next intake

If you have any questions about the Excellence Diploma in Brands, get in touch at learning@ipa.co.uk.

Follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn with #IPAExDip.