I believe… therefore…

Looking back at the IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands

Ten years on from taking the IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands, Tony Mattson, Group Head of Strategy at Havas Media Network UK, looks back at his 'I believe...' thesis and the impact the qualification had, and still has, on him and his career.

'I believe… therefore…'

What a brilliantly simple yet challenging construct. Not 'We believe…' and the shelter of consensus. Not 'They believe…' and the reassurance that others have done the thinking already. But 'I believe…' with all its boldness. And not just 'I believe…' as a loose, easy thought, but 'I believe… Therefore…' Confidence to go it alone backed up by substance and an implicit call to arms: 'believe in me'.

'I believe… therefore…'

I looked back at my application form when reflecting on the impact that the Excellence Diploma has had and continues to have on me. And there’s that construct from the off. I remember agonising over what to write. What do I believe? You should try it. It’s hard.

What did I write?

Well, in hindsight it’s a little bit trite, but as Nick Kendall would say 'publish and be damned', so here it is.

'I believe that a life without curiosity would be no life at all. Therefore, I constantly seek new experiences and stretch myself to explore my own capabilities.'

Trite maybe, but I chose the words carefully and there’s a lot in these two sentences that explains why I wanted to do the Excellence Diploma so much.

I really do believe that curiosity is one of life’s greatest characteristics. I submitted my application about 13 years after starting my career. I had picked up a good body of knowledge over those years, but I was definitely looking for more. More depth. More breadth. More expansive thinking. More fresh ideas.

I wanted to accelerate my career progression, and therefore to take and give myself a greater sense of agency. And it was a time in my career when I was transitioning from leading a team to leading a department, joining the agency’s board, and consequently thinking about my future. So, I was also looking for confidence as both a practitioner and a leader.

And finally, there is no doubt that I was attracted by the name. Who wouldn’t be? It’s not called the Excellence Diploma for nothing. We have a finite time on this planet. A finite time to learn and apply ourselves to the problems that matter. Why not seek excellence?

'I believe… therefore…'

My application was successful, and I joined the 2013/14 cohort for what proved to be a suitably challenging and enlightening learning experience. I look back on those months with great fondness and it absolutely lived up to my expectations.

It gave me a brilliant bedrock of knowledge about how brands work, their value to different stakeholders, and how we might contribute to their value. The intensity and style of the learning, always inviting challenge and seeking application, hardwired ideas and thoughts into my brain that I regularly draw on to this day. It was incredibly formative.

Tony Mattson, Group Head of Strategy at Havas Media Network UK

It reinforced that there are often no right answers to the sorts of problems we deal with in this industry, much as that might be challenging to accept. Just shades of grey. Diversity of thought is foregrounded through the breadth of content promoted by the diploma. This encourages an appreciation of the importance of perspective and context.

It nurtured a spirit of critical engagement. What is the accepted wisdom? What should I adopt? What should I adapt? What should I challenge? Experience is important but so too the ability to apply our intellect and imagination to problems.

'I believe… therefore…'

What happened next?

Taking part in the Excellence Diploma reinvigorated a commitment to lifelong learning. This led me to volunteer as a module editor and author for the IPA Advanced Certificate in 2014 and I continue that work today. I also feel a connection between the Excellence Diploma and my involvement in the IPA Climate Action Group.

Completing the diploma certainly built my confidence and that was a big factor in me being ready to leave UM London and join Havas at the start of 2016. That move took me onto O2, which was the biggest and most complex client that I had managed in my career to date. There is no way I would have made that move without the diploma in my back pocket.

And if I think about my current interests and the direction in which I see my career developing, again I can feel a connection back to the Excellence Diploma. I am directing my energy increasingly at learning more about the climate crisis, the role of brands in addressing it and what my place might be in contributing to a more sustainable future for all.

'I believe… therefore…'

This construct has arguably never been more important. Business-as-usual approaches are becoming less potent or in many instances failing and damaging people, the planet and the prosperity of businesses. Radical change is required. And that needs both rich foundational knowledge of past thinking and rigorous application of fresh thinking to shape new attitudes and behaviours across all levels of society. What a wonderful mandate for future applicants.

Publish and be damned.

Applications for the 2024 IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands are now open. Find out more


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024