Platform: Getting training on to company timetables - The only way for the PR industry to maintain high professional standards is to invest in proper training, says David Lake

Discouraged and puzzled - that’s how I felt about the results of PR Week’s recent survey showing that 50 per cent of in-house staff and almost two thirds of consultancy employees received no structured training.

Discouraged and puzzled - that’s how I felt about the results of PR

Week’s recent survey showing that 50 per cent of in-house staff and

almost two thirds of consultancy employees received no structured

training.



Today’s most successful businesses have come to recognise that it is

their people that make a difference. So what is it about the PR industry

that leaves it so wedded to the idea of on-the-job training?



What PR staff really need is a thorough training programme that engages

in the minute detail that is at the heart of our work. PR staff need

strong interpersonal skills, first-class counselling abilities and good

technical skills underpinned by a clear understanding of the needs and

motives of the media.



Only then can they be expected to achieve excellence in the execution of

programmes for their clients by working with imagination and initiative

and striving for continual improvement. And they have got to do all of

this while maintaining a healthy irreverence which will secure the much

needed independence and objectivity that is the hallmark of the best

consultant.



Judging by the ill-informed response of too many of the interview

candidates I meet - some alarmingly senior - most of the industry still

seems to be living in the vain hope that employees will ’pick up’ on how

the media operates.



Small wonder then that so many PR practitioners are surprised that

journalists are offhand with them. Too few consultants really understand

what is going on and as a result, too many remain oblivious to the fact

they’ve rung up just as a journalist is trying to finish a piece for an

evening deadline.



But the problem of timing is not the end of the story. Because the art

of effective story selling is rarely taught in the industry, too many PR

people take their client’s point of view and ignore the journalist’s

need. Poor sales technique undermines many a good story. The PR industry

owes it to its clients - and the media with whom it works - to do

better.



So why don’t PR staff get properly trained in media relations? Every

conversation I’ve had on the subject comes back to cost, but it

shouldn’t.



Doing a good training job in this area doesn’t have to be expensive.



There are many training activities that employers could and should

consider.



Firstly they should offer site visits to newspapers and TV stations so

that PR staff get to know how the media operates, the kind of stories

they’re looking for and the different deadlines they work to. Employers

could also invite journalists to come and give talks, so that staff can

see things from a journalist’s perspective.



Any ex-journalists within consultancies could be used to set up training

sessions where ’inside’ knowledge can be imparted to others, or they

could set up role play ’interview’ sessions, so PR staff can see story

angles from a journalist’s point of view.



Staff should also be made responsible for keeping on top of media

developments, and for spreading learning among their colleagues.



Finally, experienced staff should help newcomers think in pictures and

dig out those all-important examples, case histories and anecdotes from

reluctant clients.



Training in this most traditional area of the PR profession needs the

most up-to-date techniques - and, if you plan it right, that should mean

more mouth than money.



David Lake is managing director of Countrywide Porter Novelli in

Banbury.



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