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Foundation Certificate success

Foundation Certificate success
Emma Martindale, Planning Account Executive, MediaCom Manchester, on what she learnt from taking the IPA Foundation Certificate.

“I haven’t felt this nervous since A-Levels"

“Can I even write with a pen for two hours?”

“Clear pencil case! I forgot I’d need a clear pencil case!"

Nerves were building as we gathered at Manchester Town Hall ahead of the IPA Foundation Certificate exam.

Our MediaCom cohort, bravely volunteering to conquer the exam, consisted predominantly of new recruits to the industry within the last 12-18 months with a handful of us being slightly further into our careers. I, falling into the latter category, had recently taken a step away from a digitally-focused implementational role to become a cross channel planner. In the space of a week I’d gone from being very much a specialist in a niche field to juggling many plates – planning online and offline media, communicating with clients and internal teams, having to know a little about an awful lot – so a rigorous qualification covering pretty much everything across the spectrum of advertising was something I craved. And thankfully, that’s exactly what the learning provided me with.

The learning material which comprised of videos, interactive quizzes and keynote readers was split into 7 sections, starting with the history of advertising right through to where we are in the present day. I'd been plunged head first into accounts and day-to-day planning and being someone who had started their career in the industry without a formal marketing background, I hadn't ever really thought about why advertising exists in its current form until now. I found this really quite interesting, especially the thought leadership movements towards behavioural economics and choice architecture.

I'm a firm advocate of hands-on experience as being one of the best ways to learn your trade, but I found the IPA Foundation Certificate to function as an excellent companion to this practical training especially in order to ground my work in theory. Everything that was taught felt instantly actionable rather than being theory for theories' sake. There wasn’t anything in the course that I didn’t find interesting or which felt surplus to requirement, but there were particular areas which really resonated with me as a planner. 

There is a very detailed section on the briefing process and how different briefs – for clients, for media and for creative – need to operate in order to function effectively. Evidence to fuel my previous point about the immediate usability of the qualification’s content is that I have opened up dialogues with clients about how we could work together to improve briefs and I’ve been able to provide clear examples of areas in which to improve.

I wouldn’t be the first to observe that frustrations can arise between clients and different agencies. However, one thing that struck me during the learning was the section on the day job of a marketer and just how small the part of a day is that can be dedicated to media and advertising. The qualification gave me a greater level of empathy for my clients and partnering creative agencies and I think that’s a huge lesson to learn for young advertising professionals early on – that we all have different roles and remits. It reminded me that we shouldn’t resent clients and should instead learn how we can best support them through working collaboratively.

A key section of the course and subsequently the exam is dedicated to 'Effectiveness' and discussing why notable campaigns have been proven to be successful. However, creative and groundbreaking we want our advertising campaigns to be, the IPA points to a fundamental truth which is that we need to make it work with hard facts and figures for our clients rather than merely amusing ourselves. I've found the IPA's vast bank of Effectiveness Awards case studies to be one of the most important tools in my planning inventory, providing wonderful inspiration through using the examples of other successful campaigns. We work in an industry which is constantly evolving so this section seemed to be a natural conclusion which encourages practitioners to continue their development of knowledge beyond the completion of the exam.

It seemed like the stress and preparation was worth it as all of my MediaCom colleagues passed and this year we had the best pass rate on record across all entrants. I would urge agencies to encourage their new recruits to take the exam as part of their essential training, but also for more experienced professionals, both agency and client side to consider taking the qualification too. It provides an excellent best practice resource to refer back to time and time again and I feel more reassured and confident in my work knowing that I have a solid foundation of knowledge and experience to build upon in my career ahead.

If you would like more information or to book a place on next year's exam please visit the Foundation Certificate page or contact

Last updated 16/09/2015

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