IPA Strategic Planning Course 2015

Or How I Was Able To Become Useful in a New-Fashioned Industry

No other profession seems to talk about itself as much as advertising does.

Especially strategy.

We’ve all attended talks and courses with juicy titles like:

‘What’s the future of planning in the Snapchat-era?’
‘What ‘Going Viral’ can teach us about creative briefs’
‘How can Big Data supercharge my content strategy?’

But, more often than not, all these talks and courses can seem too self-regarding and too extraneous to be of any practical help day-to-day, particularly for those just starting off in the business.

Perhaps the introduction of every new snap, tweet, ping, fling or like designs more room for these elaborate explanations of how advertising and marketing operates today to exist.

Another reworked and reworded retelling of how to do what we do.

Just with ‘2.0’ written after it.

And that is why I get dispirited about going to those kind of things.

And why I was perhaps a very tiny bit apprehensive about attending the IPA’s Strategic Planning Course which had the subtitle: ‘Making Yourself Useful in a New-Fashioned Industry’.

Thankfully, any apprehension I may have had was quickly dislodged.

Lead by Dan Hill (Head of Planning at Karmarama) and Chris Gallery (Head of Strategy at Mother), this IPA course plucked 15 plucky planners with a few years experience out of their respective agencies, out of their smokey cities and popped us in a manor house hidden in the Surrey hills; a sort of Planning Hogwarts, if you like.

Over the days that followed, we were treated to talks, discussions and (thanks to the ‘P’ in ‘IPA’) a hands-on project where we could engage our new thinking as part of a real client brief.

The attendees came from almost as varied a background as the speakers with a plethora of planner brains from London-based creative agencies, worldwide health conglomerates and even a global record label.

This in itself gave way to more interesting provocations during the discussions and arguably more varied points of view.

Equally, the speakers ranged from industry luminaries such as David Bain (BMB) and Nick Kendall (ex-BBH) with big, challenging thoughts on brands, to client-side perspectives from Hovis, Google and Buzzfeed.

What was most helpful was the applicability of each talk, each with a juicy title like:

‘A client’s perspective on planning’
‘What great creatives want from great planners’
‘An invitation to help planning become more purpose-led’

Whilst all these new perspectives and tools were incredibly useful for what we each hoped to do for our existing clients and pieces of business back at the office, we had the opportunity to put them to immediate affect on a real world brief.

Food Cycle – a national charity that combines volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation – came in to deliver a brief for all of us with a brisk two-day turnaround.

Working on a live charity brief was fantastic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, with a number of high-profile organisations current running and having previously organised briefs for multinational corporations – one’s that suck oil out of the ground or pump fat into children – it was a privilege and a testament to the IPA that we were able to use our powers ‘for good’.

Secondly, it wasn’t a token project: the work we created was actually going to be put to good use by Food Cycle to help them grow their business, helping people across the country.

* * *

No other profession seems to talk about itself as much as advertising does.

And, thankfully, this is especially true of strategy.

Talking about our profession with a tight group of smart people provided a genuine sense of reassurance and support along with considered discussions about shared issues, not dissimilar from an AA meeting: Advertisers Anonymous.

Further, although a seemingly arbitrary point, a few days away from an office environment and the shackles of your inbox prompts one to refocus on what it is we should be doing to greater benefit those around us on a day-to-day basis (i.e. ‘Making Yourself Useful in a New-Fashioned Industry’)

It also provides the time and space to better articulate your own thoughts rather than regurgitating some platitudes from a planning blog post all whilst in the safety of a supportive group of people.

If you haven’t had a chance to take part in an IPA residential programme, I implore you to investigate one further.

It was a huge benefit to myself, both personally and professionally, as well as the people I was lucky enough to meet and work with during the course itself.

Whether you think we should all be ’T-shaped’ planners or ‘Square-shaped’ strategists, I think we’re all agreed that we should never stop learning.

And this makes me glad to work in an industry and as part of a profession that talks about itself as much as this one.

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