PEOPLE: On course - Few training schemes address the needs of the comms sector. But, finds Maja Pawinska, changes are afoot

Lifelong learning is not optional but essential. When sportsmen and

women stop training, they lose their competitive edge, and the same is

true for PR professionals.

The PR industry has come relatively late to the idea of continuous

professional development (CPD). Unlike sectors such as dentistry,

veterinary science and law, which have been ahead of the field where CPD

is concerned, there have been few formal schemes that address the

development needs of those in communications.

Over the past year or so, however, there has been a sea-change in the

approach to ensuring that communications practitioners are constantly

developing and enhancing the skills they need to do their job well.

The impetus is the same thing that has driven the industry to tighten up

its procedures all round. The PR industry is coming of age as a

profession, and professionals need not only strive to constantly keep

pace with developments in their sector, but to be able to shape their


Activities directly associated with an individual's profession, such as

seminars, courses, self-directed reading and any other activity which

produces a positive learning outcome relevant to their profession or

job, such as involvement with a committee or even organising a social

event, can all be classed as CPD.

The obvious knock-on effect is that it also enhances the professionalism

of the company in which they are working, and therefore the industry as

a whole. MacLaurin chief executive Brian MacLaurin says: 'My greatest

passion is to see people coming into the business and enhancing their

learning and growing inside the business. It does the business good

because it creates opportunity internally, and gives people the feeling

they are coming into a career, not just a job.'

MacLaurin allocates pounds 1,000 per employee every year to enable

individuals in the company (from receptionist to board director) to

identify and select training to enhance their ability to operate within

the company at any level. The company carries out a half-yearly full

appraisal for everyone, and individuals can identify areas they would

like to train in. Courses are run internally and externally. The

consultancy draws up a business plan every three years that links back

to the development of its people.

Grant Butler Coomber board director Sara Tye, who is responsible for HR

and training, says CPD is a necessity, not a luxury: 'Our philosophy is

about high-level consultancy and return on investment. We're

results-driven and you can't do that in an industry unless you continue

to develop with it. You will stagnate and your part of the industry will


GBC runs internal courses of AM Masterclasses, AD Masterclasses, and TNT

(Thursday Night Training) for all account executives, every week.

Each of the three courses takes a year to go through. The agency has a

low training budget because 'there is always someone within the

organisation who can do the training, so we don't use too many external

trainers,' says Tye. 'Our finance director did a book-keeping course and

now runs a six-week course on how to run a balance sheet. If someone

asks for a course, we write one.'

Hi-tech consultancy Firefly has been running its CPD scheme for seven

years and spends pounds 250,000 a year on training. It manifests itself

as part of the company's training programme, its new appraisals and

objectives programme, and through its sponsorship programme.

HR director Annabel Abbs says CPD is part of the company culture, and is

keen to stress that it's not just about going on a course. 'It could

mean work shadowing, secondments, even reading a book - most people have

been reading relevant books as part of their objectives, and they have a

budget to buy their own books.'

Abbs says the benefits are clear: 'It's taken the PR industry a long

time to come round to see the connection between investing in training

and the bottom line, but we've certainly seen an impact on profits and

staff and client retention.'

The first generic CPD scheme for the PR industry was launched last June

by the Institute of Public Relations (IPR). It came out of the 1998

survey of members, who called for an industry CPD scheme. The scheme can

complement in-house and agency schemes that are specific to a company,

and follows the growing number of companies who have achieved Investors

in People and the PRCA's Consultancy Management Standard, which has a

strong training element.

Developing Excellence is based on a points scoring system. Participants

score points for CPD activities which contribute to their CPD plan. One

hour of CPD activity is equal to ten points, and the objective is to

score 1,000 points over three years.

The first step is to set out a three-year Development Plan, showing

where you want to be in that time and the training and development that

will be needed to get there. Participants then note the activities they

complete in a Development Record.

One of the IPR members on the Developing Excellent scheme is Bryan

Walker, West Wiltshire District Council corporate communications

manager. He says he was keen to register, because although many local

authorities have achieved Investors in People and have other internal

schemes such as management development, there had been no framework that

fitted his needs before.

'The scheme is flexible enough to allow credit for a variety of

different types of experience, not just conferences and seminars. It's

important that as a working practitioner you take time to stand back a

little bit from day-to-day work and say, 'how does the experience help

me, what have I learnt, and how do I go forward?'. That's difficult

without a CPD framework. It gives structure to running your own life,'

he says.

The IPR has just carried out its first survey of members going through

the scheme, and has found that most members who sign up do so because

they believe it is good for themselves and the industry; to give

structure and guidance to their professional development; and to improve

their skills.

IPR head of education and training Alan Rawel is keen to underline the

idea that CPD isn't just about going on courses, and it doesn't have to

require extra work. 'It's about the intrinsic and holistic adding of

value to what someone does, whether they are in an agency or a

communications function within a company or local authority. Anything

that adds to your own self-worth and development is as important as any

course you can buy out of a brochure.'

Rawel says this culture is often already present in the best Plcs and

local authorities, and it is consultancy practitioners who are better

represented on Developing Excellence. He adds that the scheme is also

applicable to freelance PROs.

One of the big challenges is keeping CPD a priority. This is true for

all companies, but perhaps especially so for consultancies, whose

employees are under pressure to be at the beck and call of clients.

At GBC, Tye says no-one skips the agency's comprehensive and continuous

training programme unless absolutely necessary. All course attendees

must attend each session unless sick, on holiday or at a very important

pitch to graduate, and sessions are given the same priority as key


'You do get days when people don't want to do training, but it's up to

senior people to motivate them to want to do it,' she says.

At Firefly, Abbs says staff and clients must understand that skipping

training is not an option unless absolutely necessary: 'A couple of

years back we got to a situation where so many people were ducking out

of training because of unimportant client meetings that we had to lay

down the law and say training is the most important thing our people


'Clients do appreciate it - we invite them on internal training courses

such as crisis management, so they can see how our culture is focused on

training. Then when they call and the account manager is in training,

they understand,' she adds.

Razor director Chris Woodcock agrees that getting clients involved in

CPD can be rewarding: 'Where appropriate, we develop the communications

skills and expertise of our clients at the same time as we deliver their

programme objectives. Often, this means we end up facilitating

brainstorms or management meetings or providing workshops that are

integrated into their programmes. It can often extend to acting as

professional mentor or confidante to a senior client contact.'

One of the points stressed by many in the industry is that CPD applies

to all job levels within the company: even board directors don't know it

all, but can carry on learning and developing. Firefly, for instance,

has made improving its management skills one of its big CPD themes for

the next year.

'Those skills are some of the most important in terms of retention of

staff and clients - people leave bad managers, not companies,' says


Everyone at Firefly, including the board, has a training programme

linked to business objectives. Everything an individual does that

contributes towards their development is logged on the company's HR

software, and fed back into six-monthly appraisals and three-monthly


At the new Adult Learning Inspectorate, part of the DfEE, internal

communications manager Suzy Powling underlines how crucial CPD is to

business practice, especially for an organisation which monitors adult

learning in the workplace.

'We've done a lot of start-up work to make sure people's skills are up

to date and they can do the work they have to do, including induction

events for people at different levels. We have 70 full-time inspectors

and hundreds of associate registered inspectors who work on a freelance

basis, as well as admin staff, so there are different requirements,' she


'We are planning another series of training events as our first year

unfolds. CPD is vital because we are a new business, and also because

we're providing a service which rests on the idea of continuous

improvements and quality assurance, so we have a duty to constantly

review our own skills,' Powling adds.

The PR industry still has a way to go in making CPD a crucial business

function across the board, in-house and in consultancies, but the

enthusiasm is there and some impressive models are developing. If the

industry is to sharpen its competitive edge, they will need to become

the rule, not the exception.


- First identify the job roles of members of staff, and what everyone

should know at each level. In agencies, for example, you can't be a good

account manager unless you are a good account executive, so draw up a

checklist of what individuals know, and should know.

- Set employee objectives: personal objectives, company objectives and

job objectives. From that their needs will become apparent.

- CPD is great for the individual, but it is meant to be of benefit to

the employer as well, not training for training's sake. CPD programmes

must be closely linked to, drawn up alongside and measured against

business plans.

- Carry out frequent reviews - at least every six months - to monitor

individuals' progress. Exit interviews when people leave and client

satisfaction surveys are also good ways of identifying trends in

training and development needs.

- Be flexible: a CPD programme can't be static. It must evolve with the

needs of individuals, the company, and the industries the company is in

or serving. For large organisations, it must be possible to tweak a

scheme for different offices and countries according to the needs of

that team and market.

- Make it clear that CPD is not something which is imposed on

individuals by management. It is for everyone in the company from the

board downwards, and everyone benefits.

- CPD is, as its name suggest, continuous. It's important to make sure

people are frequently refreshed so they keep on improving.


Computer services company ICL operates in 40 countries. In the UK, it is

split into the corporate headquarters, and then four different

businesses serving different markets. One of its major current projects

is the processing of the UK census forms.

There are three communications people in the corporate press office,

which also oversees the press office teams in the four business


The communications function in all offices across the world places a

great deal of emphasis on CPD, and the scheme is the PR department's own

take on CPD rather than part of an ICL scheme for all staff.

PR manager Europe Daniel Bausor says the corporate press office tries to

advocate CPD in three ways.

The first of these is internal and external courses on good management

skills, for instance negotiation skills. 'From an in-house point of

view, diplomacy and negotiation skills are critical to get buy-in from

management,' he says.

Communications practitioners are encouraged to become accredited through

their country's relevant institute diplomas, and an intranet has been

developed for the press offices across the world.

'We have found that there is a big education process internally -

getting people who haven't had awareness of or dealings with the media

to find out how it works, and developing in-house PR skills, so we have

an area on the site that covers the basics,' says Bausor.

CPD is also put into practice in a less formal way on the job, through

knowledge-sharing between press officers. 'For instance, we are going to

be processing the UK census forms and so I'm working with a colleague in

the infrastucture services business to get broadcast coverage,' says


The PR staff in the businesses have a dotted reporting line to the

corporate press office, but report directly to that business. Their

objectives are therefore set by the businesses, but the corporate office

encourages all press officers to include training in their objectives.

These are reviewed annually.

'The benefits of CPD are knowing what you are trying to achieve to begin

with, and having the criteria to measure against. Things come up and you

don't always have time to get the training in but people are keen to

learn and take responsibility for their own training,' says Bausor.

He also welcomes working with PR consultancies which have similar

values, such as Firefly: 'We encourage people to take up training

opportunities in the industry, and Firefly are proactive in organising

their own seminars which we can learn from as well.'


In April last year, Manning Selvage & Lee launched an ambitious

programme designed to make employee development a top priority

worldwide. It claimed to be the first worldwide career development

scheme in the industry which was directly linked to business


MS&L executive vice-president Alasdair Sutherland started the corporate

development group at MS&L two years ago to focus on employee development

and recruitment, and marketing the agency, 'on the basis that if we

focused entirely on people and made sure they were trained properly and

this became the best place to work, then clients would get to get to

hear about it and hire us.'

The career development programme is designed to make sure employees

understand their role and the contribution they are expected to make to


The programme kicks off with a personal career planner for all

employees. This is used by employees and supervisors to identify and

review career goals and agree on a path for reaching them.

Next, the 360deg performance feedback process involves input from the

employees, their manager and colleague about career goals and progress

made towards meeting them. Employees meet their manager for an annual

appraisal, the career path progress review, and also have six-monthly

informal progress reviews.

Employees are able to take a longer-term view of their career plans,

whether their ambitions are working in another practice or office, or

overseas, or developing a specialism.

'We are careful to make sure development suits the business objectives

of the firm. If we want to increase healthcare, for example, we will

offer people the chance to train and spend time in healthcare,' says


The worldwide curriculum consists of 70 modules for different job

levels, and the aim is for client service employees to have 90 hours of

professional development training every two years.

Training is delivered on and off site, using a combination of senior

staff, outside speakers and external courses, and can be tweaked

according to the needs of different offices.

Every professional employee has a Career Passport as a tangible record

of their career progress.

This logs personal milestones, taking part in seminars and workshops,

receiving promotion, and visits and secondments to other offices around

the world.

'The passport idea has really caught on,' says Sutherland.

'You have to take a car for a service every year and get a stamp, and so

we thought about how we were servicing the needs of our employees - what

they had to show for their years' training. Their career is a journey,

and the better planned it is, the more successful it is likely to


A year after the launch of the programme, an independent staff

satisfaction survey of the company's employees worldwide had some

encouraging results which the company puts down to the success of the


Staff morale was up 30 per cent year on year, and 78 per cent of

employees were satisfied with their jobs. In addition, 84 per cent of

staff said the company offered challenging opportunities, and 83 per

cent believed their training needs were being met.

A similar number saw opportunities for advancement within the company,

and 81 per cent said they looked forward to coming to work in the


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