New IPA NI Chair to future-proof talent pipeline into NI’s ad industry

Genesis' Helen Blakley sets out her agenda to attract the best talent into the NI ad business

“We’re a relatively small market and as we all know, the current recruitment market is very competitive and at times limited for more specialist roles in particular – and this shortage is not only affecting our sector but is across the board including for our clients. So we need to future-proof our pipeline by creating awareness and a positive perception of our industry as a viable profession and attractive option for those at the start of their career planning journey.”

This was the rallying cry from newly appointed IPA Chair for Northern Ireland, and Genesis MD, Helen Blakley, as she set out her two-year leadership agenda to attract the best talent into the NI ad business, to a buzzing reception of industry colleagues and university students in Belfast.

In launching her manifesto as NI Chair for the professional advertising agency body the IPA, Blakley was keen to highlight the dramatic changes the advertising industry has experienced, particularly over the past five years. From the development oral and how this has integrated into the ad agency businesses - changing and enhancing what it does; to the continual drive for effectiveness and performance; to the changing perception of what the ad agency business does – including the positive movement from being seen as suppliers to valuable business partners, who through collaboration with clients can help transform and add value to businesses – whether that’s encouraging societal change, driving economic development, or enabling sales growth.

This development, she explained, has also provided many opportunities, which as local IPA Agencies she believes  "we have grasped, having expanded our footprint in terms of geographical markets and services, and as a result have developed the roles, specialisms and opportunities for the people within and coming into agencies".  But to continue this trajectory and to develop and grow further in the future, Blakley asserts that the Northern Ireland ad industry "needs to have a pipeline of talent coming through and also be opened-minded about where this may come from".

To achieve these goals, Blakley announced a comprehensive programme of activity, including:

  • Participation in the IPA’s Advertising Unlocked scheme. This is the largest UK industry-wide careers ‘open day’ in which the ad industry welcomes the next generation of talent from local schools and colleges. This year will see four IPA agencies from Northern Ireland joining in on Wednesday 15 November to demonstrate how campaigns are made, what it’s like to work in advertising, and get students to be involved by working on a brief to spark their enthusiasm and potential interest in a career in advertising.
  • Ongoing partnerships with universities and in particular Ulster University with its arts, marketing communications and business courses, which are aligned to help bring and make future talent ready to take that step into the ad agency business, with activity including:
    • Sponsorship of prizes at the Ulster University School of Communication Awards, in support and recognition of those students who are excelling in their studies.
    • Continuing support of the PANI Student Education Programme, bringing together students from the Art College and CAM, for a nine-week programme where they are mentored by their sponsored agency to create and develop a ‘pitch’ presentation, with the winning campaign coming to market. This year’s campaign is for The Lawrence Trust, which supports men and their families living with eating disorders.
    • Providing guest lectures and industrial placements where possible, and ongoing open dialogue and connection with students.
  • A programme of content to better explain and communicate the extensive and diverse range of roles and opportunities across the sector to the outside world.

In addition to her mission to attract new and diverse talent, Blakley also spoke of her plans to ensure the ad business retains and nurtures its talent, ensuring that everyone it attracts feels like they belong in our industry.

As an industry we need to ensure that diversity – across all parameters - along with equality are in place and over time reflect on how we are progressing against this.

Helen Blakley IPA Chair for Northern Ireland and MD, Genesis

She also set out the need for the business to support the mental health and wellbeing of its people by empowering, supporting and being proactive in the management of its teams.

"We are, after all, a people business. The four walls in which we operate don’t really matter. Success is about the quality of our people because the processes, our ways of working and ultimately the quality of our outputs all flow from the quality of our people. And those people who embrace opportunities in order to continually develop will set themselves apart and it will help them underpin their success."

Following Blakley’s address this evening, the audience heard from Ciara Madden, UU CAM Final Year Student who will soon be joining Helen at her agency in a full-time role on her first-hand experience of entering the business; from Richard Aldiss, MD, of agency McCann Manchester on how to create an inclusive agency culture; and from mindfulness pioneer Bridgeen Rea-Kaya from Immeasurable Minds.

Her programme will feed into and support IPA President Josh Krichefski’s People First agenda.

Read Helen's full speech
Last updated 07 December 2023