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,'
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
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.
CPD SCHEMES AND HOW TO RUN THEM
- 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
- 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.
ICL TACKLES THE ISSUE OF TRAINING
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.'
MANNING SELVAGE & LEE CAREER DEVELOPMENT
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 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