Excellence Diploma

The Excellence Diploma was created in 2005 as the pinnacle IPA qualification aimed at practitioners who are fascinated by brands. Since then, over 100 people have passed the qualification, with those achieving distinctions being published in Campaign magazine.  The course is co-chaired by Nick Kendall founder of Bro-Ken and Stuart Sullivan-Martin, Chief Strategy Officer at MEC, with contributions from leading agency practitioners.
Candidates work through the most comprehensive reading list ever compiled on brands over a 12-month period, they contribute to group workshops led by module editors and are encouraged to voice their opinion through a series of essays. The programme culminates in a final thesis marked by a panel of senior practitioners and industry gurus. Past delegates and their agency CEOs have described the outputs as being the NPD for the advertising industry

To challenge people to become experts in the central thing we make - brands as ideas to live by.
To help delegates develop their own personal vision for 3 simple questions: - what is a brand? How can it add value to a business? How to build a great one?
To equip people with the key shared theories, learning’s and case-histories on brands. 

Who is it for?

The programme is aimed at those who are fascinated by brands and who: -

  • Understand the basics of their discipline and area of comms strategy and want to go to a higher level
  • Want to master the broader perspective of brands and how they help their clients
  • Are anxious to push their thinking forward beyond their discipline and day to day experiences and beyond 'received wisdom' and develop their own personal belief system.

It is suggested delegates will therefore require at least 3-5 years experience in the industry, and have received basic training in their discipline and specialism and basic craft training and strategy on comms development. (e.g. IPA courses, although these are not required).

All disciplines are welcomed from all types of agencies and clients, whether creative, media, digital, integrated, social etc. The candidates will find themselves under pressure to read texts, attend workshops and deliver written work during the course therefore we recommend that they have reached a level of maturity which enables them to effectively manage their workload and juggle this with client demands


The programme consists of three key 'Deep-Dive' workshops on the three key questions:
1. What is a brand?
2. What is the value of brands to business?
3. What does it take to build a great brand?

The 'Deep-Dive's' will be led by leading brand experts and will encourage delegates to work together to develop their thinking and to voice their opinion through a series of essays. Before each Deep-Dive, delegates will be given an extensive reading list of key texts/case studies and will be required to read these before the event (as well as use them as references in their examination pieces). This will require between 4-8 hours reading and viewing per week. After each Deep Dive a question will be set requiring the delegates to pin down their belief either in a 2000 word essay or equivalent. After the third and final Deep-Dive the delegate will be given two months to develop and submit a 5000 word 'publish and be damned' "I believe" piece on the future of brands. The best will be published in an industry leading journal e.g. campaign.
Results are based on a mix of marks achieved across the year and the final "I believe" piece. (examination criteria - originality and applicability in equal measures, plus support and evidence and of course clarity/quality of presentation).

If you would like to read the essays from the last intake please follow the link here.


Benefits to individual

  • An unparalleled expertise in brands.
  • Confidence and clarity in their own beliefs.
  • The foundations on which to base them and with which to illustrate them.
  • The go-to person in their organization.
  • A 'learning' muscle and a network of leading imaginative-thinking people

Benefits to Agency

  • We believe the course is more powerful for the agency if the outputs are shared with the agency team and the candidates’ clients. The agency and client will benefit hugely through the body of work created by their candidate, which can act as a powerful source of new product development for their own business.


  • Delegates are supported by a dedicated IPA team.
  • Sponsorship is required by CEO/MD.
  • A mentor has to be supplied by Agency to act as champion and sounding board to delegate throughout.

Taking part

The IPA Excellence Diploma runs on a 12-month cycle, with the next intake starting in 2018. The study fees for members are £5,000 + VAT (£7,500 + VAT for non-members); this covers the cost for both the delegate and their selected agency mentor, the study material for 3 modules, non-residential workshops, examination fees and access to content and examination of the IPA Eff Test. To request an application form please contact erika@ipa.co.uk.

Open Evenings

The IPA will be holding open evenings for the 2018 intake, where Nick Kendall and Stuart Sullivan-Martin will explain all about the course, the application process and what will happen throughout the year. Bookings for this will open by the end of 2017.

Delegate quotes

“If you want to be the best it helps to have the best training. And, when it comes to advertising, the IPA Excellence diploma is the best trainer there is”
Matt Sadler, Senior Planner, Karmarama

“Once you do the Diploma you’ll never look at brands in the same way again”
Peter Buckley, Strategic Director, MEC

“The quickest way to fame and fortune”
Tim Jones, Strategy Director, BBH

“The diploma is the single best piece of training I’ve done and is the spine of the core craft skills I use daily as a planner”
James Hamilton, Planner, Fallon

“I loved discovering my point of view on the world”
Alex Dunsdon, Start up analyst and entrepreneur

“Applicable thinking from the best thinkers in the industry”
John V Willshire, The Smithery

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