FOCUS: TRAINING AND STAFF DEVELOPMENT - Just Rewards/Loyal staff are a precious commodity, so agencies who really commit to making their people happy are emerging as winners, says Mary Cowlett

Keeping agency staff happy in their work and loyal to the company has never been more important. As agencies struggle to recruit high-calibre PR people with good professional skills and in-depth industry sector knowledge, home-grown talent is becoming increasingly valuable.

Keeping agency staff happy in their work and loyal to the company

has never been more important. As agencies struggle to recruit

high-calibre PR people with good professional skills and in-depth

industry sector knowledge, home-grown talent is becoming increasingly


According to many in the industry, the last 12 months have seen efforts

to poach agency staff reach levels last seen at the end of the


’You can almost watch a headhunter work their way around an office,

telephone by telephone,’ says Argyll Consultancies chief executive

Crispin Manners.

Staff expect employers to provide certain levels of financial

remuneration and career opportunities in return for their services. But

it is the organisations that go the extra mile to commit to their people

that boast the best staff retention record, and here is PR Week’s guide

to keeping staff on-side.

Financial benefits

When it comes to rewarding long service or outstanding work, there can

be little doubt that money is people’s number one preference, whatever

shape it comes in.

Last November, the Argyll Consultancies joined OFEX, the off-exchange

share trading facility. Manners says one of the reasons for this was to

encourage all full-time Argyll employees to take equity participation in

the organisation.

’It will allow us to access capital when we need it for expansion, but

it also gives staff a tangible link between hard effort and their

reward,’ he says.

At Consolidated Communications, staff automatically become shareholders

after six months’ service, with the condition that on leaving the

agency, shares must be sold back. The consultancy also ensures that

employees are kept informed of share price and market predictions, with

managing director Alastair Gornall making a financial presentation to

employees every quarter.

Other agencies are also rewarding performance with enticing financial

packages. Rachel Bell, joint founder of Shine Communications, says

’Shiney people’ receive 20 per cent of the agency’s net profits as

bonuses, in the shape of quarterly company and personal performance

payouts, related to length of service.

At Newcastle-based Northern Profile, staff are rewarded with a ’win

bonus’ of ten per cent of the first year’s fees from any new business

they bring in. And account directors and managers are paid a monthly

’portfolio bonus’, of three per cent of fees they work on. Managing

director Nick Brown says this largesse is highly unpopular with his

accountant, but adds: ’It’s how we’ve grown our business.’

Training and personal development

The belief that an employer is investing in your future career can be a

real boost. For several years Ketchum has been running its Ketchum

College scheme, offering a raft of in-house training courses through its

worldwide network, including ’How to run a multi-country account’.

However, to ensure that people on all rungs of the organisation’s ladder

get the right input into their personal development, every year, the UK

office sends a batch of account directors to Camp Ketchum in Florida for

three days of intensive training and appraisal. In addition, Ketchum

Life managing director Jane Boardman is currently doing an MBA, and UK

chief executive James Maxwell, is planning to attend an Omnicom-run

course at Harvard University.

Among other agencies offering excellent training benefits is the Red

Consultancy, which allocates an annual budget of pounds 36,000 for

external training through its Red Brick University. It also gives staff

pounds 600 per year to spend on ’fun’ courses, and invites what joint

founder David Fuller describes as ’industry big hitters’, who are known

specialists in their field to conduct training seminars.

Media specialist Lawson Dodd aims to prevent its working culture from

becoming stale by shaking up its staff benefits every year, and training

is no exception. One year the agency gave individuals their personal

training budget to spend how they thought best.

’It made people think about training and development in a different

way,’ says director Joanna Dodd. And the tactic seemed to pay off, with

staff spending their investment creatively, but wisely.


Being able to satisfy wanderlust, without leaving the security of a

well-paid job is proving more popular with employees. Sabbaticals are

one of the most common solutions to this problem, giving staff a chance

to travel, while the agency gets back an employee who, in theory, has a

renewed appetite for hard work.

Staff at Consolidated Communications are offered three months’ unpaid

leave after two years’ service, while Northern Profile is currently

paying half-salary to one of its employees who is on a three-month

environmental project in Australia.

However, agencies with an international network are also able to

accommodate people’s requests to experience different working cultures.

Countrywide Porter Novelli, for instance, has a scheme where staff can

request office transfers, and Ketchum recently met the ambitions of Mike

Hatfield, former UK head of its corporate and technology practice, by

allowing him to relocate to Chicago.

’We do have a business to run, but we’ll always look to accommodate life

ambitions,’ says Maxwell.

Ketchum also runs a ’Roads Scholarship’ scheme, which enables its

employees to spend two weeks developing specific skills in a Ketchum

office of their choice worldwide. Recent requests have included a

fortnight’s stint in Milan working with the fashion industry.

Health and lifestyle

Increasingly, consultancies are recognising the long and often stressful

hours that go with the job and taking responsibility for the health of

their employees. Many agencies are now offering stress management

training and private gym memberships.

Firefly offers a well-being programme which features a non-contributory

alternative health scheme. This gives staff a wide range of cash

benefits to cope with everyday health care including homeopathy and

chiropody treatments.

’If we don’t take some responsibility for the health of our employees,

we run the risk that their damaged health becomes our damaged business,’

says Firefly managing director Claire Walker. In the past year, the

agency has also introduced measures such as headsets for staff who

regularly conduct business by mobile phone.

Staff recognition

One of the most effective - and probably one of the cheapest - ways to

keep staff happy, is to publicly acknowledge their effort and hard


Countrywide Porter Novelli has a ’Four I’s’ award initiative to

encourage imagination, initiative, improvement and irreverence, where

worthy staff are rewarded monthly with CD tokens or bottles of


Similarly, to recognise best client service practice, this year the

agency established the Vredestein Award - sponsored and judged by its

client of 14 years, tyre manufacturer Vredestein - which gives staff the

chance to win a weekend break in Europe.

While at Argyll, in addition to Employee of the Month, voted for by all

agency staff, managers have the flexibility to give on-the-spot

Excellence Awards, rewarding outstanding effort both publicly and

financially. Recently one employee received pounds 50 for selling in a

double-page feature to the Daily Mail within days of joining the


But some say that internal awards risk becoming predictable or even

patronising, and prefer to take a less formal approach. Shine, for

example, holds quarterly Woof Awards, for newshounds who have gone that

extra mile to get media coverage.


One of the most effective ways to reward loyalty is to award

increasingly attractive bonuses with each year of service. At Firefly,

five years’ service brings a Cartier watch, and after ten years Firefly

staff and their partners receive an additional two weeks fully-paid

holiday to the Caribbean or destination of their choice.

Younger companies such as Bite, which has been up and running for less

than five years, prefer a ’pick and mix’ benefits basket. This enables

employees to trade in benefit points they have earned, for bonuses that

appeal the most. One point is worth pounds 100 of shopping vouchers or

pounds 100 paid into a pension scheme; between three and six points

gains a mobile phone; six points earns gym membership and those at

account director level or above can trade in these points for company


Working culture

Many agencies are looking to extend the business environment beyond a

simple money-making exercise and give staff more meaning to their


Others are looking to be flexible employers, enabling staff to work from

home and those with family responsibilities to work part time.

’One of the most exciting developments over recent years is the way

organisations are looking to get the work and lifestyle balance right,’

says Maxwell at Ketchum UK.

The Red Consultancy gives its people time off to lecture in their

speciality and work for charities of their choice, and Firefly is paying

a substantial portion of the overall sponsorship for four of its

employees to cycle 500 kilometres along the banks of the Nile in aid of

Mencap in February.

The agency is also meeting the costs of medical insurance and

registration fees and is helping to raise money from suppliers. Firefly

hopes that this first exercise in fostering partnership between its

people and charities will lead to other opportunities for employees to

get involved in the future.

Added Extras

Gornall says that Consolidated’s air-conditioned offices was the perk

that finally persuaded at least one member of his team to join the


’It was July, and they told me it was so fantastically cool here, it

made up their mind,’ he says and adds: ’The air-conditioning cost pounds

40,000 last year, but it was worth every penny.’

Many agencies shower staff with cake and champagne on birthdays and even

give people a paid day off work in December to go Christmas


At Bite, staff get a ’Birthday Duvet Day’ - an extra day off if their

birthday falls on a weekday, and the teams at Nelson Bostock and Lawson

Dodd get an office massage every two weeks.

David Fuller at Red says his staff are so keen, the only extras they

need are a lie-in on birthdays and vouchers for buying goodies in the

run-up to Christmas. But Red does recognise that its people are young,

sociable types who need to spend time developing good relationships

outside office hours.

’We have ’hangover amnesties’, where instead of occasionally phoning in

with ’food poisoning’, people come clean and admit they went on a bender

the night before,’ he says. He emphasises that this is not carte blanche

for partying every night of the week, but a way of encouraging

straightforward dialogue within the agency.

The soft benefits that employers offer such as funding social events are

hardly likely to be the deciding factor for whether a disgruntled staff

member stays or goes, but they can go a long way to make the working

week, and a career in PR, seem much more worthwhile.


Agencies which fail to encourage development of professional and

personal skills among employees are the most likely to struggle in the

staff retention stakes.

And while PR is the third most popular career choice for all graduates,

until recently there was a gap in vocational qualifications for those

agencies looking to help staff formalise their skills.

PR people with a post-graduate qualification in a PR-related discipline,

such as a Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma, or those who needed

to combine work with study had limited options.

In autumn 1998, to provide PR practitioners with a solid professional

theory and practice grounding, the IPR launched its PR Diploma


Run at sites in London, Leeds and Edinburgh, the 24-week courses consist

of eight days teaching on a block day release. Students study the

strategic roles and functions of PR and examine the discipline in

practice as a management tool. At the end of the first term, students

sit a three-hour examination on corporate PR, strategic management,

legal framework, ethics and social responsibility. The remaining time is

spent on PR planning and specific PR projects with three assessments of

between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

The course demands a significant commitment from students and their

employers and all 90 places on last year’s courses were snapped up.

’My agency was fantastic,’ says Matt Baily, account manager at Harrison

Cowley in Bristol, who studied in London. ’I had only been working here

for six months when I started the course and the agency paid the course

fees, travel expenses and text books.’ Baily finished second in his year

and received an IPR Education Excellence Award last October.

While Baily is unsure how his employer’s commitment to his future has

affected his loyalty, he adds: ’I am extremely grateful for the time and

money they invested in me and I want to repay them in the quality of my

work.’ Citigate Scotland account manager Lesley Clark took the IPR

Diploma in Edinburgh to gain a professional qualification. She says the

impetus came from her rather than the company, but said it was extremely


’Here, the onus is very much on the individual to take responsibility

for where they feel they want to branch out,’ she says. But, she warns

employers that being flexible in financial support and time off for

study is not enough alone to foster loyalty: ’Loyalty comes through a

number of other things that you experience on a day-to-day basis,’ she


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