The IPA Foundation Certificate at 16

Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, explains why he is so proud of this teenager.

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Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, looks back at his time as IPA President and the creation of the IPA Foundation Certificate as our flagship qualification turns Sweet Sixteen.

Once I got over the shock of being elected IPA President at the end of 2002, I started to think about what I wanted to achieve in my term. The usual process is to take ‘soundings’ amongst members, to find a big idea that the IPA can unite around, that can move the agency community forwards. I didn’t do this. I knew pretty much straight away what I wanted to do. My inspiration came from my own experience and especially my own incompetence when I started in advertising. Then, in the early ‘80’s, you mainly ‘learnt by doing’, by listening to and copying more experienced colleagues and bosses, hopefully without too much collateral damage along the way.

So with very little formal training and like everyone else, I just gradually absorbed knowledge along the very broad waterfront of what was then a full-service agency. What a fantastic blend of skills, talents and crafts were to be found, from the technicalities of media planning, the craft and creative skills around the making of the ads, the strategic planning and the wonderful ‘making it all happen’ art of account management.

Winding forward 20 or so years, the agency world had fragmented, with the great media and creative bifurcation long over, the rise of new specialisms and, though there was much more investment in formal training, I saw the gap I wanted to fill.

My other inspiration was art colleges. I had applied to do a Foundation Course when I left school, as art was my favourite A level, along with economics. In the end, I did an economics degree, but I always regretted not doing the Foundation, where students learnt a bit of everything, from fine art to photography.

That’s how the idea for the IPA Foundation Certificate was formed. Like in art colleges, its aim was to give new starters the same broad overview of the advertising waterfront, regardless of their discipline and that of their agency. In doing this, to accelerate their learning, so in a few weeks they acquired knowledge it might take months or even years to gain, especially if was outside the scope of the day job. Agencies thrive and create their magic through their unique blend of skills and their collaborative cultures. Enhancing the appreciation of a media person’s expertise will make you a better creative, and vice versa, for all the multitude of skills and talents that go up and down in the lifts all day.

The first year we ran the Foundation Certificate in 2004, we expected around 175 people would complete it and sit the exam. It was 600 in the end, including me, the one mature student in the room. With almost 25 years’ experience by then, I learnt new things on the course and found the programme challenging. I could not have been prouder when handing out the certificates a few months later and receiving my own, from Hamish Pringle, Paul Bainsfair’s predecessor.

Which prompts me to express my heartfelt thanks to Hamish, Ann Murray Chatterton (the Patrick Mills of her day) and all the IPA team back then who made my idea a reality. Thanks also to all the amazing and dedicated IPA learning community, who’ve sustained and grown the programme since then. The course has changed and developed over the years as the business has changed and now covers subjects and technologies that didn’t exist when we started, but it still provides that foundation we were aspiring to give.

By so many measures, we can justifiably be proud of UK advertising, as one of the industries where Britain can claim to lead the world. Our industry’s collective expertise and the way we pass this from one generation to the next, in large part through the IPA’s now much-expanded qualifications programme, along with the CPD ethos that builds on this, underpins this global excellence and competitiveness.

Above all, the numbers speak for themselves. That thousands of young people (including one of my sons) take the time and put in the effort to learn and then demonstrate that learning via sitting exams every year is something we should all be hugely proud of. No other country does this better, and indeed many are now taking their own customised versions of the IPA programme, so like much of the best of British advertising, it’s gone global.

Finally, a thank you to everyone who’s taken an IPA qualification and I sincerely hope it has helped you develop your skills, confidence and your career in this fantastic business. Being part of their creation is my proudest achievement in nearly 40 years in adland, so happy 16th birthday and make sure it’s continues in fine fettle, not least so it can help any of your children, should they follow in your footsteps!

Bookings for the 2020 IPA Foundation Certificate are now open. 

Find out more about the programme and book your delegates on now