Good PR training and development must amount to more than filling in 'potholes'

There are smarter ways to attract and retain talent than simply filling in the training and development 'potholes' among your team.

PR agencies must have a diverse set of skills to hand, writes Alison Clarke
PR agencies must have a diverse set of skills to hand, writes Alison Clarke

If you look at what it takes to structure a successful consultancy model, talent comes pretty much top of the list once your market proposition is clearly defined. 

Attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges we face, coupled with the need for that talent to be as diverse as possible – both in terms of gender and ethnicity, as well as broad-ranging industry experience. 

As a result, consultancies of all sizes are committed to learning and development programmes as part of their drive to attract talent and fast-track abilities to grow and develop the consultancy offer. 

Yet in my experience, time and time again, those strategies can be likened only to road-maintenance programmes, where potholes are filled, in the hope of providing a smooth surface to motor on. We identify gaps in an individual’s knowledge or skill set. Then, we plough our L&D investment into filling those gaps, rather than considering for a moment whether we might better serve the individual’s ambitions and the consultancy’s success by investing more in their areas of greater interest and strength. This would forge pillars of excellence, rather than a landscape of generalists.

Now I’m not denying that there are core skills that practitioners should have, and that need to be part of any basic training programme. 

As an industry, we also need to better equip excellent practitioners for team and financial-management roles; these are often woefully inadequate as a result of little or no investment by the organisations that have promoted them. 

However, in an industry built on the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model, we need to celebrate, develop and reward a diverse and complementary set of skills. Clients buy consultancies for their experts, not generalists. They want confident recommendations, they welcome a team with a range of skills and they embrace being introduced to an expert for a key element of a programme’s strategy or delivery. 

Next time you plan the budget around your talent pool, reconsider how development and training needs are identified within the review process. Once you are confident you have the basics well and truly covered, try investing in up-weighting particular skills within your spend. Challenge yourself to avoid the ‘pothole mentality’. 

When you come to review whether your budget has been well spent, you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s likely you will find that staff surveys show that people are more positive about the firm recognising their particular skills and being able to see a career path developing for them. 

You will find clients respond positively to identified expertise that can help their business. You will start to build complementary skills, and individuals will believe they can actively contribute to the success of the company. You might also just keep those great skills within the consultancy for longer. 

Alison Clarke is a business consultant and mentor @pitchwitch

Thumbnail image: ©ThinkstockPhotos

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