Platform: Don’t let a slump hurt the agency’s backbone - In the event of a new recession PR consultancies should beware of cutting back on investment in training, says John Gage

The public relations industry learned some tough lessons during the last recession. Even now, some years on, consultancies are still finding a dearth of quality in middle and senior management. This is primarily due to the short-termism of some consultancies which balked at seeing bottom lines turn several shades of red and slashed training and recruitment budgets.

The public relations industry learned some tough lessons during the

last recession. Even now, some years on, consultancies are still finding

a dearth of quality in middle and senior management. This is primarily

due to the short-termism of some consultancies which balked at seeing

bottom lines turn several shades of red and slashed training and

recruitment budgets.



A lack of investment in talent remains a problem as clients demand

better quality consultancy from all levels.



Thankfully, unlike agencies in other sectors of the marketing

communications industry, several forward-thinking consultancies, such as

the Red Constancy and Countrywide Porter Novelli, spotted this problem

and decided to ensure that future entrants to the PR industry were given

sound training in order to maintain the highest possible skill

levels.



So how have these consultancies gone about improving their training

structures and filling the skills gap?



Training methods can range from a formal, structured system to a more

informal intuitive approach. Both require a mix of classroom training

and on the job coaching. The formal style includes induction, team

building and motivational exercises aimed at improving specific aspects

of business performance. All activities are subsequently evaluated to

check whether they have improved an individual’s performance.



At the other extreme is an informal structure, which is more an act of

faith - this is where the passion for staff development at a senior

level permeates right through the company. The staff then become

enthused with learning more and pushing to improve themselves. Thus, a

consultancy’s approach to training can and should reflect its size,

circumstances and culture.



But what advantages do consultancies get from better staff

development?



It makes sound business sense to ensure that a consultancy recruits the

best possible staff and offers the best possible training. Consultancies

which are working towards Investors in People standards are required to

adopt the discipline of evaluating their training and development

activities and see the benefits in black and white.



Clients are happier as the consultancy service continues to improve,

staff are happier developing and acquiring more skills, enabling them to

offer a more valued service to their clients and increasing their value

in the job market. In short, good staff development leads to bottom line

growth for consultants and staff.



An investment in training gives a competitive edge to a consultancy.



Prospective employees will not want to join a consultancy where they are

unlikely to learn more skills, and staff will become demoralised and

demotivated if they feel they are being left behind. Clients will then

follow suit and relocate to consultancies which can offer a better, more

rounded service.



With the possibility of an economic slow down around the corner, PR

consultancies must learn from previous mistakes. They must take their

lead from those forward-thinking consultancies and the PRCA and IPR

which have invested time and money into filling the training gaps within

the industry and making it a more professional and credible sector.



It has taken several years for the PR industry to make up some of the

ground lost during the last recession. Staff training and development

give a competitive advantage in the long run.



The prize for those who continue to invest in their staff over the next

few years will be accelerated growth through the next upturn.



John Gage is a consultant at Results Business Consultancy.



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