Photo of Patrick Mills, Director of Membership and Professional Development at the IPA

What Does Creativity Mean To You: The IPA Director

Patrick Mills is Director of Membership and Professional Development at the IPA which sets the protocols for the UK industry’s best practice standards, provides ground-breaking thought leadership and helps members’ careers flourish.Photo of Patrick Mills, Director of Membership and Professional Development at the IPA

CG: IPA stands for Institute of Practitioners in Advertising … in other words, the creative industry. How do you think the meaning and value of creativity has changed over the years?
PM: Advertising has changed immeasurably in the last 13 or so years. Media opportunities have multiplied at the rate of knots, bringing the need for different creative skills to communicate with people effectively.

The shift in advertising spend to digital media, because of the immediate return, has fuelled the very short term approach to advertising; the majority of the spend is around activation, selling and getting clicks. As such, building brands using longer term, emotionally engaging creative work is on the wane – despite effectiveness case studies showing that a balance of brand building to tactical, promotional work at around 60:40 is the optimum way to grow brands.

This has had an effect on the quality and type of advertising you see nowadays. There’s still a lot of excellent work by agencies, but the high volumes of work seen online detract from that.

CG: How easy is it to define, promote, maintain and measure best practice standards for such a fast-changing industry?
PM: We try very hard. The IPA Effectiveness Awards have been going for over 30 years, and is still the pinnacle award for agencies as far as clients are concerned. We get entries from all over the world, and the quality of the work and results achieved are always exemplary.

However, the awards are tough to enter and some agencies simply don’t have the time or resource but still have effectiveness at the heart of their work which they want to demonstrate. So, we’ve just launched the IPA Effectiveness Accreditation programme to help these agencies gain a competitive advantage with clients and prospects.

The IPA is the treasure chest of knowledge in the industry and promotes the proper way of doing things.

CG: Everything is now so measured by data: do big data and granular media foster or hamper creativity?
PM: Building brands seems to be less important today and emotional messaging has been overrun by logical ways to sell products. You can run an algorithm, create a whole load of ads, measure their effect real-time, adapt the messages and go again. Micro-targeting and search-led marketing have closed down creativity quite a lot and there’s more pressure to deliver financial results.

In my mind, it’s very difficult to produce high quality creative work in this kind of environment where quick turnaround and cost are as important as the messaging.

CG: Last year you admitted an influencer marketing agency (Billion Dollar Boy) for the first time – what other specialisms might you admit in the future?
PM: It’s really fantastic to have Billion Dollar Boy in membership and even better that they love being in the IPA! We offer all sorts of services which they’ve never had access to before, such as free legal advice and training.

Our entire IPA membership is quite varied and we’ve quite an ambitious target list of new wave agencies. Our membership includes networked agencies and independents around the UK, and there are lots of new agencies with a wide range of skill sets coming through all the time.

We recently set up our Accelerator scheme, giving guidance to startups. It’s much easier to recruit agencies at their early stages because the subscription is lower – we can then go on a journey together.

We try to keep at the front edge of the market; the more agencies we can get in, the better we can collectively shape the future of the industry.

CG: Putting on your Professional Development hat … which IPA courses excite you in particular?
PM: We’ve got a fantastic programme which has evolved since inception in the 70s. The highlight is a course which, I think, is the only one of its kind in the world: the IPA Excellence Diploma (dubbed by alumni as the ‘MBA of Brands’!). It mostly attracts planners and account handlers with 8-12 years’ experience but is equally valid for creatives and clients.

The Diploma gives candidates confidence in their own opinions about brands and helps them become better partners and advisors to their clients. They’re taught through exposure to classic and new texts about brands, thought pieces and TED-style talks before writing a final essay: ‘I believe the future of brands is….’

Everyone who takes the Diploma says how much it’s changed their career. We’ve had one or two creative people take it, but I’d love to see more.

We want to imbue in all agencies the notion that good creativity will drive better results.

CG: Define what creativity means to you.
PM: The idea of working in a creative business is incredibly attractive – it’s fun, dynamic, full of interesting people … it doesn’t stick to the work rules of other sectors. Everyone in the industry wants to do work that is memorable, effective and admired. Creativity is at the heart of this, with the ability to create messaging that people love, jingles they remember and much-loved characters. It is where art meets science.

(The deadline for submission to the IPA Effectiveness Accreditation programme is 26 May.)

Do check out my previous interviews with people leading the way in their fields about what creativity means to them – see my blog page.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter, London.

E: caroline@carolinegibson.co.uk  T: +44 (0) 7957 567766

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