Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA

Tom Holmes talks to Paul Bainsfair, Director General of the IPA

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman Creativebrief



Tom Holmes talks to Paul Bainsfair, Director General of the IPA. 

Paul’s 34 years of agency experience began at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1977 where he started as an account executive and rose to being its CEO within ten years. After successfully steering the agency through the recession, and with the agency at the top of the new business league table, he left to co-found Bainsfair Sharkey Trott with John Sharkey and Dave Trott in 1991. Widely recognised as one of London’s most successful independent agencies during the 1990s, BST was eventually sold to Omnicom in 1998. 

Between 1999 and 2009 he took on various senior, UK and European facing roles at TBWA, which included: a merger and acquisition programme; direct responsibility for 35 offices and 3,000 staff; and TBWA being named Best Global Network in 2003 and 2006. 

In 2008 Paul moved on again to become Non-Executive Chairman at Lean Mean Fighting Machine. In January 2009 he joined Iris, the UK’s largest independent integrated agency, first as Partner and CEO of Iris Europe and then as Chairman of Iris Worldwide.


Creativebrief: As Director General of the IPA what are your key responsibilities?

Paul Bainsfair: I stand on the “bridge” of what is a very effective trade body “ship”, with an expert crew. My job is to make certain that we are heading on the best possible course to ensure that our members receive the very best service to help grow their businesses and improve their profitability. This means constantly checking that we are meeting their needs and structuring our offering accordingly.

Creativebrief: Your career that has spanned Saatchi & Saatchi, Bainsfair Sharkey Trott, TBWA, Lean Mean Fighting Machine and Iris what have been the high points?

Paul Bainsfair: I was lucky to join Saatchis just before their famous ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster. It turned the agency into a household name. Working there was all about ‘can do’. Learning from people like Tim Bell and Charlie Saatchi taught me that anything is possible. Starting Bainsfair Sharkey Trott was the realisation of the classic adman’s dream. There’s nothing like running your own agency. We launched during the recession of the early 90s. We built a good creative reputation and enjoyed a lot of success. We were also proud to be named the UK’s most profitable agency 3 years running (by Kingston Smith in their annual review). After acquiring BST, Omnicom merged us with TBWA. This was at the start of the 2000s and the talent at TBWA was amazing. Trevor Beattie, Carl Johnson, Johnny Hornby, Simon Clemmow, Gary Lace, Andrew McGuinness, Ed Morris, Ben Priest to name a few. TBWA London became one of the most awarded and admired agencies of that time. Most recently I have worked with Lean Mean Fighting Machine and iris. Both brilliant companies with outstanding cultures that are good exemplars of how agency models have adapted to reflect the impact that technology has had on the advertising world.

Creativebrief: Do you think the UK advertising industry is still a world leader?

Paul Bainsfair: Yes, indeed. As a proportion of GDP, the UK has the largest creative industries sector in the world. The UK advertising industry generates £7.8 billion of UK Gross Value Added (GVA) rising to an estimated £15.8 billion, taking account of the direct, indirect, and induced impacts of our industry. As a sector, we creatively punch massively above our weight – we are consistently in the top two most awarded countries for creative awards, with the IPA Effectiveness Awards considered the most rigorous and prestigious in the world. Having said this, our members are all too aware that it would be suicide to rest on our laurels

Creativebrief: What other markets do you see around the world doing great work?

Paul Bainsfair: You have only to look at the winners of the 2011 Cannes Awards to see how far South America and the Far East have come in terms of creativity. No one in this world has a monopoly on good ideas. It is therefore down to us all to help create a climate in the UK in which original highly creative and effective work can flourish. 

Creativebrief: In the current economic climate what are your predictions for the UK advertising industry over the next 12 months?

Paul Bainsfair: The IPA Bellwether Survey has historically provided a remarkably accurate predictor as far as the UK economy is concerned. While ad spend currently seems to be holding up, it is disturbing how low client confidence in the future has fallen. Most of the factors influencing this are not only beyond our control but also arguably beyond even our Government to influence. All we can say is that, in the circumstances, our members will be working hard to ensure that the advertising they produce for their clients is as productive and cost-effective as possible.

Creativebrief: Over the longer term, what are the big challenges facing agencies and, therefore, the IPA?

Paul Bainsfair: Agencies have to be able to take on board and advise their clients on what is an ever more complex and rapidly changing marketplace. At the same time our members are finding their fees continuously under pressure from procurement departments. This poses a considerable challenge – to be asked consistently to do more, on less, is not a sustainable model.

Creativebrief: How has the IPA membership offer changed?

Paul Bainsfair: The IPA offer is continuously developing to meet our members’ needs. We have evolved from an organisation which historically concentrated purely on the requirements of “traditional creative” agencies to one which encompasses just about every aspect of the modern communications industry. This is reflected in the considerable expansion which has taken place over the last 10 years in the number of specialist policy groups in which our members participate  – and the massive range of different training courses we now offer, tailored for individual disciplines as well as those core, common topics which every agency will need. 

creativebrief: Are there particular industry disciplines the IPA would like to focus on?

Paul Bainsfair: Our guiding principle is to move with our members and support them wherever they go. Our President, Nicola Mendelsohn has stressed the need to ensure the industry, as a whole, focuses on where its future lies and we will be supporting this in our seminars, training and other activities.

Creativebrief: What are the main benefits of IPA membership?

Paul Bainsfair: There are three broad areas where we support our members and the industry. Thought Leadership, Business advice and Professional Development. The IPA’s overall aim is to make our members more professional and, critically, more commercially and financially successful via our package of services (e.g. legal advice, information centre, training and development programme, awards schemes, events, etc). While it is estimated there are over 10,000 companies in the UK claiming to be advertising and marketing agencies, the 252 companies which make up our membership, not only account for 85% + of the nation’s advertising spend but are marked out by their dedication to effectiveness, professionalism and continuous improvement (via the IPA CPD programme).

Creativebrief: What initiatives is the IPA doing regionally?

Paul Bainsfair: We have members all around the UK and we treat them equally regardless of their location. We hold dinners, training courses and ad hoc events each year in various cities around the UK. We also make it our policy personally to visit and discuss how the IPA can help their business with each of our members at least once every two years. 

Creativebrief: What initiatives is the IPA doing internationally?

Paul Bainsfair: While the IPA’s membership is restricted to the UK, we are well aware of the potential offered our members by emerging economies overseas. The IPA has just completed its third mission to China and has led a fact-finding trip of members to Silicon Valley, which was supported by the Government through UKTI. Further member visits are planned to major events in the USA in the New Year. We are also in talks to introduce the IPA Foundation certificate to most European markets (through The EACA) as well as in India and Australia.

Creativebrief: What do you think of intermediaries?

Paul Bainsfair: Intermediaries play a valuable role in today’s pitch process. The vast majority are highly professional and competent in what they do.

Creativebrief: What are your thoughts on pitching and/or remuneration?

Paul Bainsfair: The IPA New Business and Marketing Group has been working closely with ISBA in order to address historical concerns relating to the pitch process. Our joint goal has been to make what is an extremely expensive (and often wasteful) procedure fairer and more efficient for all parties. Notable outputs from this project have been the joint-industry ’6 Pitch Principles’ card and ‘The Good Pitch’ website: which aim to help advertisers get the best out of the process in the smoothest and most cost effective way possible. Everyone wants to be paid a fair reward for what they do. It is in the interest of all parties to ensure proper levels of remuneration both to allow the creation of the best possible work and to provide a reward for the benefits it brings. As yet, no one has found a perfect formula in this area. What we can say, however, is that beating an agency down to subsistence levels has never been a recipe for good service or effective advertising.

Creativebrief: Is this an area which could be improved for all parties?

Paul Bainsfair: Yes, most definitely – hence the IPA/ISBA project described above.

Creativebrief: If there was one thing that you had to achieve at the IPA, what would it be?

Paul Bainsfair: As the focus of many leading advertisers moves towards emerging markets like Asia and South America I would like the IPA’s positioning to be that of a World leading Centre for know-how in Brand building and advertising effectiveness. Making the UK the go to place for the world’s leading marketing and advertising agencies.