"Since we continue to lead in expertise, scale and geographical spread, we feel a special obligation to continue moving our industry forward. Part of the way we do that is by training our people rigorously in the art, science and business of branding. As the Academy demonstrates so well, we set very high standards, but we’re proud of the results we get—and the professionalism we produce—through our workshops."
What is the Interbrand Academy?
The Interbrand Academy is our way of upskilling our people and expanding their capabilities. That doesn’t make it unique in the larger world of business, but it does make it special within the branding world. I’m not aware of anyone else in the industry that has committed to or invested in this area to the extent that we have.
But in order to really appreciate the role and impact of the Academy, you have to consider what we do in a historical context. Since the 1970s, Interbrand has defined what the branding business would be about by bringing multiple disciplines such as naming, design, valuation and strategy together under one roof. As the first organization to integrate these disciplines, we pioneered a new category—and gave branding respectability and permanence.
Since we continue to lead in expertise, scale and geographical spread, we feel a special obligation to continue moving our industry forward. Part of the way we do that is by training our people rigorously in the art, science and business of branding. As the Academy demonstrates so well, we set very high standards, but we’re proud of the results we get—and the professionalism we produce—through our workshops.
How does the Academy work?
The Academy is really made up of three different types of training. Our two workshop products are Workshop 1, which is aimed at “rising stars” in their first 3 or 4 years in the business and Workshop 2, which is our premium product, if you like, aimed at senior people—leaders and potential leaders. We’ve been doing Workshop 1 for the past five years and Workshop 2 for the past 3 years.
Then we have a general skills program aimed at more particular subjects rather than the kinds of craft skills the workshops offer. In these regional workshops, we take one subject we think is important across the whole network and run the same program but on a regional basis.
But the backbone of the Academy is really our module program. We’ve got 23 different training modules at the moment covering every craft and subject you can think of within the areas of creativity, account management, client service and strategy. These modules are generally taught in small groups, face-to-face by local or regional experts in individual offices.
So those are the three elements of the Academy: the two Workshops, our general skills program, and the training modules, with the modules being at the heart of the Academy. We based and built the Academy on the belief that training is best when it is face-to-face and interactive. With an eye to the future, we’re already looking at extending our offer into the e-learning environment.
We refer to the Interbrand Academy as our center of excellence. Its goal is to help deliver greater professionalism in all aspects of branding. So, it’s cross-disciplinary. It’s not just for strategists, client service people or creatives—it’s for all of our client-facing people. We allow for broad admittance in terms of function and career stage. We realize that learning doesn’t stop at any age and we’ve designed the Academy to benefit people from quite literally their first months in the business right through to our most senior managers. And that’s what our most recent workshop in London was designed for—to challenge, train and develop our most senior managers.
How are workshop delegates selected?
The original format was application-based, but we shifted the format this year on Workshop 2 to being invitation-based. This was so that we could be as selective and directly involved as possible in identifying the most important current or potential leaders within our business—and then offer those individuals a privileged training opportunity.
This year’s course ran for three and a half days, but with travel time and such, it takes participants out of their offices for about a week. That makes the whole exercise a big investment for us. To provide a general idea of who attends, this year our delegate list included four managing directors or CEOs, seven strategy heads, four creative heads, two client service heads, two practice heads—and with representation from around the globe. In terms of seniority, these are our current and future leaders, and gathering them in this way was the whole intention behind Workshop 2. In our original brief for this course, we expressed a desire to look out into a room and see the people who are going to be leading our businesses five years from now. So, it was important for us to be able to identify and invite the people we wanted to invest in.
What is the workshop experience like?
So those are the people we gathered and we then gave them three and a half days of intensive learning. The thing that was really different about the London workshop (compared to previous Workshops) was that, in addition to investing in getting our delegates there, we also invested our own time in training them—our most senior leadership actually taught the courses. And we had some fantastic guest speakers as well. Martin George (formerly of British Airways and Bupa and now Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer at the Post Office in the UK) spoke enthusiastically about being a client and the ideal agency/client relationship. Another great speaker was Caroline Hayter from Acacia Avenue who was talking about Behavioral Economics and the importance of emotion, memory, and heuristics on consumer behavior. People found it quite intriguing in terms of how this affects the customer journey and choice.
But, mainly, delegates worked on a real brand challenge in three syndicates over the course of the workshop, which amounted to a kind of pitch simulation. They ran focus groups on the second night and presented their recommendation to the judges and the “client” (a role played by Simon Bailey, our European CEO) on the final day—which prompted some spirited debate.
The syndicates were up and working until well after midnight on a couple of those evenings, but it's a bit like a real pitch in that there’s a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and excitement that comes with that. It’s hard work in terms of the hours, intensity, learning, and running from task to task, but people also have a lot of fun. They’re inspired, they’re energized, and in that state of mind, work becomes sort of effortless in a way.
But it’s not all work, no play. We took a boat trip down the Thames from Embankment to the Tower of London, passing the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, and London Bridge, followed by dinner. So, we did do a little bit of socializing. And during our late evening working, the pizzas arrived, fish and chips were eaten—but these were small interludes in our otherwise pretty busy course.
It sounds like these courses really bring people together. Can you speak to how workshops like this foster relationships and reinforce OneFirm unity?
It’s so important for that. On the one hand, we are sharing consistent approaches to all of our training, so whether you’re doing a module in an office in Shanghai or a module in New York or in Sydney, you’re learning the same thing. In terms of quality of output and consistency of approach, the Academy is absolutely essential. The other thing that happens when you do a workshop like this, is that you get a fantastic sense of being OneFirm in reality. "Even though we are a global organization, if you put 19 people from the network in the same room, many will inevitably be meeting each other physically for the first time. I did a hand count in the beginning of the workshop to see how many people already knew each other and discovered that, on average, people knew about a third of the others in the room.
So, in addition to being a great learning experience, the workshops are also a great networking experience. Many of these people will become friends over those few days and they’ll make friendships that will last well into the future. People not only come away energized, enthusiastic and positive about interbrand and what we’re doing, but they really enjoy having a chance to meet colleagues from around the world as well. The network they build by attending events like this allows offices to collaborate or get help from other regions by having individuals to go to directly, rather than having to go through our system for that. We also provide them with workspaces on the I (Interbrand’s intranet) that allow them to continue to communicate and share, so that connections can be strengthened. These workshops are important for OneFirm on many levels.
How do you think the courses impact Interbrand’s everyday output, after the fact?
Despite being tough on the delegates, the effect is overwhelmingly positive. You can see it. You can feel it. When I returned to the office in Shanghai, people who had attended were buzzing from the experience and excited to put what they learned into practice and share it with people. That’s how you push your business to evolve.
People work with our tools, ideas and constructs all year round but they never really get the chance to step back and question those things and investigate why they do the things they do and whether they’re doing things in the best possible way. This course gives them that opportunity. It’s quite reassuring for people to feel that they’ve tested the tools themselves and can see that they work.
We are in a business that thrives on new ideas and innovation, but there’s also a need for continuity and consistency in the way we manage brands. It’s not just about coming up with new ideas. It’s about embedding our existing thinking and making sure that we really stick to it.
So yes, we introduced delegates to ideas like Behavioral Economics and, yes, we explored what clients really want, and, yes, we’ve tried to give delegates a commercial understanding of the business, but the real big wins on this course were about embedding our existing thinking and getting people to feel confident about things we already have in our network that allow them to do their job well.
In Interbrand offices around the world, senior leadership constantly emphasizes Digital, our Toolbox, our Manifesto and the OneFirm concept. And it’s because we know that if we do those things and we do them consistently, we will win, we will succeed, and we will be profitable and successful as a business. So, in terms of reassuring people, building confidence and embedding that knowledge, this workshop did that—and it did it brilliantly.
So internally, it’s really about turning theoretical tools and tenets into something actual and experiential and, from an external standpoint, would you say that Interbrand Academy provides an ideal model for training and educating that other organizations could emulate?
We started this conversation by saying that Interbrand is a leader—that we are definitive within our category and, in fact, created this category. What’s unusual about our category, however is that—unlike the advertising world—we don't have any industry organizations. There is no equivalent of the 4 A’s in the US or the IPA in the UK. So, since there isn’t an industry organization that reflects the branding world, it means that training and professional development initiatives have to be done on a company-by-company basis; we have to do it ourselves. And, given our position, we feel we have a responsibility not just to train people for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the whole industry.