My take on the IPA Foundation Certificate

Much the same as architects have RIBA and civil engineers have ICE, we too here at One Brand Magic have a professional institute that makes UK advertising what it is today – the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

As an IPA-accredited agency, we are within an elite group of just 1% of agencies across the UK to hold this status. Employees have access to courses, programmes, learning materials, research, insights and much more.

As part of our induction to One Brand Magic’s personal development programme we sit the IPA Foundation Certificate and in September 2020 it was my turn to take the exam in the middle of a global pandemic. The following is my take on the experience for those who may have it in their sights.  

What is The IPA Foundation Certificate?

The IPA Foundation Certificate is 30 hours of online learning, separated into seven modules covering advertising and marketing strategy, culminating in a two-hour exam.

Although 30 hours sounds daunting at first, content was easily digestible via interactive web pages, short (usually 1-2 minute) videos, explanatory PDFs and quick quizzes. Previous exam questions and answers are available alongside revision advice. Luckily for me this September I had no social life as it was borderline illegal, which gave me ample time to complete the course.

It doesn’t take long to start recognising marketing luminaries such as Les Binet and Peter Field cropping up regularly throughout different modules and theories. These, which at first seem quite challenging, are tackled in a well thought-out, easily digestible way. 

After initially feeling overwhelmed at what I had to get through, confidence grew as I moved through the topics, which brings me nicely onto some handy tips for you, reader.


1) Get it done early

Getting through the learning early really will help you as you quickly realise the modules you understand well and those which you’ve struggled on. Everyone learns differently of course but I found great comfort in knowing that I’d gotten through everything a week and a half before the exam, allowing me the opportunity to brush up and giving me enough time to read past exam questions and answers. In an ideal world look to start the learning around a month and a half before your exam.

2) Play to your strengths

Once you’ve completed the recommended 30 hours of learning it’s much easier to go back through elements which you found challenging. The beauty of the exam is it has options – you are required to answer four questions from a possible eight in Section 1 and one question (based on the chosen case study you’ve been revising) from Section 2. This means you can play to your strengths, choosing which essay questions to answer from the modules you feel most confident in.

I quickly decided that if a question on the intricacies of GDPR came up I was going to be giving that a hard swerve and aiming to focus on alternatives, such as fostering creativity in a working environment.

I gravitated towards questions focussing on things such as creativity in the workplace and why consumers make the decisions they do, largely because the theory on these topics interested me most and resonated with me.

For example, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow explores System 1 and 2 thinking – the decisions customers make on instinct and emotion vs those which are considered and more deliberate. It provides a fascinating insight into how brands can help people navigate decisions and how the value of brands lies mostly in the emotional associations that they’re able to create.

3) Know your case study

Section 2 is based on the final module, Effectiveness. For this section you have to read at least one of the three provided case studies to answer the question well. I found it useful to make key notes as I went through and used flash cards to test myself along the way.

Once you’re feeling confident on the case study, you’re ready to go. I personally found Section 2 on the exam easier as my chosen case study piqued my interest.

Based around the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s ‘Hello in Elephant’ campaign, the case study covered how the charity reached a younger audience using emotion, technology and clever media relations. The PR aspect spoke particularly to me and was something I thought was cleverly executed. The charity was able to create a platform and outreach a message so topical that the media simply had to talk about, resulting in widespread, global coverage without ad spend.

In summary

To conclude, I truly felt I’d learned a great deal following the exam and some of the theory has started to permeate into my thoughts in my daily role – something I feel is a sign of well thought-out material.

I’m now recognising concepts such as nurture vs kill when it comes to generating and progressing ideas with the team alongside theory discussed in How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp – the latter touching upon physical and mental availability which can be applied to how our clients market.

If you’re interested in understanding how we put our IPA learning into practice or would like to discuss your own marketing, please give us a call on 0161 968 6900 or drop us an email at [email protected].