Ongoing employee development gets a polite nod — if that — at most small to mid-sized PR agencies. And that’s a shame, since it’s one of the highest ROI activities agency owners can engage in, along with systemic business development.
While I haven’t worked at endless agencies in my career, a couple of them have been deeply committed to employee development. Additionally, I did a stint at Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc., a company generally regarded in the construction industry as the leader in terms of employee development. All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I’ve got opinions.
Good training programs follow career arcs. If the first time employees encounter your training is when they’ve been there a few years or gotten promoted into management, then it’s not a good program. Better to have less to offer at each level and something at every level than to aggregate all the training into launchpad stuff like courses for new account execs, supervision 101, etc.
Employees on a track to management (or more specifically, on a track to positions with significant P/L authority) should be trained together no matter how many offices you have to fly them in from. Can’t fit ‘em all into a big hotel meeting room? Then break ‘em into multiple groups but the big idea is to get all these people together to meet and exchange experiences. They’ll learn, but they’ll also forge personal friendships and work relationships that will help the company. If you have an account coordinator making a decision, it’s unlikely to have a huge impact on the company — but a newly minted VP? You want him/her to know lots of other people in the organization so ideas and experiences can be shared.
Don’t be afraid to make it rigorous and make it a full-time job for a while. This applies most to training for people going into significant P/L roles — they should have to work their ass off while in training with homework, reading assignments, group activities and (this is crucial) little or no interruption by their “normal” work duties while they’re training.
Related to above: Make success during training part of a successful career at the firm.That means two things:
- Grades of some sort — If you do very well at some aspect of training, that’s noticed, noted in your record and can positively impact your career; and
- Proactive personnel management — It’s OK to suck at some stuff you’ve received training in, but if you are an otherwise average employee who doesn’t grow based on the training resources spent on you, then it’s management’s responsibility to ask “Do we need someone else in the job?”).
Don’t just teach public relations. I shouldn’t even have to say that, but it’s surprising how narrow practitioners sometimes view their own industry. A good account executive, for example, ought to know — really know, at a professional level of competency — how to be a good project manager. He/she should know enough about classic rhetoric to be compelling when asked to make a case. He/she should be comfortable with Excel and be on the way to knowing how to schedule and budget work in a way that generates profit. He/she should know enough about business to not embarrass you in a conversation with a client CEO, and should understand how the agency makes money. (Hint: It’s not “doing PR.”)
And since I mentioned how narrow some people view the industry, I’ll admit my own narrow-minded bias: I think everyone needs to be taught business-development skills appropriate to their career level, even at large firms where the practice is walled off and relatively isolated from day-to-day execution. Why? Because employees who understand how the firm makes money and understand how to spot and prosecute an opportunity are very valuable over the long term.
Tags: PR management
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