The power of the PAC

Shanil Chande, head of agency sales at TabMo, reflects on an inspirational few days at the Participate, Associate, Communicate conference.

Participate, Associate, Communicate (PAC) is an annual conference organised by the International Advertising Association (IAA) to discover, nurture and promote the wealth of talent that exists in the world of advertising. Held in the suitably prestigious surroundings of Oxford University, for 28 years it has brought together some of the brightest minds in the industry, from speakers and judges to the delegates themselves, who continue to exceed expectations.

Nothing quite prepared me for how rewarding and career-enhancing PAC would be when I attended for the first time as a delegate in 2015. So much so that, for the past four years, as a member of the IAA Young Professionals Committee, I’ve helped with the organisation of the conference. Aside from the pleasure of working with an exceptional group of individuals as part of that process, it’s important to ensure that other advertising executives can also benefit from this influential event.

What makes PAC so special?
On a practical level, delegates take a live brief from a client; Reebok fulfilled the role this year, alongside its agency, Mediacom. Previous participants include Google, GE and MasterCard. Working in groups, the delegates prepare a pitch and, at the end of the three days, present these ideas back to their peers and the client.

Work on the brief is interspersed with a series of talks by respected and experienced speakers from across the industry, designed to help guide attendees down the right path and shape their responses. This year we welcomed new speakers Malcolm Devoy (chief strategy officer at PHD EMEA); Susie Hogarth (head of futures at Flamingo); Gemma Hitchens (content director at the Financial Times)l and Richard Phillips (head of content at National Geographic Partners) to join our already star-studded bill.

Pitches that captivate the audience
This year, many of the delegates were also the target audience for Reebok. Witnessing the passion that went into their final presentations served as a useful reminder that if teams believe in the products and ideas they are pitching, they are far more likely to captivate their audience.

It sounds obvious, but it’s all too easy in our day-to-day jobs to become cyclical in the way we present ideas both internally and externally. Additional food for thought came with the recognition that people are far more engaged with a presentation they have helped to shape themselves – in other words when there is a strong sense of ownership.

Hard work, networking drinks – and sunrise yoga
Another particular stand out this year was the sheer amount that delegates managed to achieve in three days. They gelled as teams (having not known each other prior to this process), attended eight hours of talks from senior industry personnel, formulated their concepts, researched the market, created a deck and presented this to 60 of their peers. On top of that, many networked over a drink or two at the college bar in the evenings, while there was a strong turnout for PAC’s first ever (TabMo-sponsored!) sunrise yoga session, aimed at helping people unwind and focus ahead of a hectic day.

Real-life learning
Taking stock at the end of an inspirational few days, it’s clear that foregoing the classroom and putting the learning experience in a real-world context is invaluable (elements of the winning PAC pitch are sometimes seen when the ‘real-life’ campaign is launched). It’s often the first time that delegates will be this closely involved in all levels of the pitch process; tactics that cement and accelerate their knowledge.

Also indispensable is working with a group of people who wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to put their heads together and pit their wits against the ‘competition’. This enables delegates to share their industry experience, as well as challenge each other on what the final response should look like.

As a concept, PAC is a microcosm of the overall advertising industry that encapsulates all that is good about this sector. And by absorbing the resources at its fingertips to ensure that it continues to progress and move with the (rapidly-changing) times, it is highly fruitful on every level for everyone involved. If this event represents the ‘gold standard’ of advertising, it’s crystal clear that the industry is in good hands.

To find out more about PAC and the IAA Young Professionals, contact